During a performance, dancers generally don’t stand a foot in front of you and stare deeply into your eyes, or hold your hand for an unexpectedly long time, or sit next to you while one of their fellow company members performs a solo. But in Mamootot, they do.
With the audience set up on all four sides of the small performance space, and with a lighting design that keeps everything brightly illuminated throughout the hour-long work, the spectators across the way become the set and become performers in their own right. Watching people react to what’s happening in the center of the room becomes part of the experience of Mamootot, which ultimately is a visceral and intimate one.
Like several of his other recent works (Three and Max in particular), Ohad Naharin plays with extremes of all kinds – groupings, dynamics, musical styles, and costumes… or lack thereof. The impression one gets is that there is a connective thread between these recent works. But rather than feeling repetitive, they end up feeling like explorations of different aspects of a related theme. What that theme may be is the question and Mamootot, the first of the three works to be created, may hold a clue to the puzzle.
A long solo initiates the piece, comprised of Naharin’s signature quick gestures that while mostly abstract and spastic, contain hints of something familiar and personal. Amidst a series of thrusting arms and random leg positions might sit a moment that suggests some type of interaction or relationship. After a second it’s gone, but we’re left with the impression that there is something human within this chaos.
The same might be said of the work as a whole. Naharin shifts quickly and effortlessly between complicated group sections, done in perfect unison (in a way that no other company can approach), to solos that marry abandon and control in surprising harmony.
The music similarly may be the blaring beats of a pop song, the driving rhythms of an electronic recording, or barely audible atmospheric sounds, or non-existent altogether. Naharin often pairs the loudest parts with the stillest sections and the most virtuosic parts set to silence. Extremes like this show up at all levels of his work and just because it starts to become a recognizable pattern doesn’t mean it’s predictable.
It’s a tool that defines Naharin as a choreographer, forcing the audience to shift quickly to new realities, always refocusing attention (now look at one person, now look at nine moving as one, now listen to the heavy breathing of the dancer suddenly sitting to your left).
And as a result, Naharin creates extremes of possibilities and the space in between where anything can happen and meaning is left ambiguous. Throwing viewers from one end of the spectrum to the other of unrelated and nonsensical movements forces us to fill in the gaps of how they relate and what it all amounts to. And while you may not walk away with an answer, Batsheva inevitably leaves an impression that, indeed, there is something human within this controlled chaos after all.