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Ohad Naharin's Tabula Rasa

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Ahmanson Theater, Los Angeles
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Presented by Dance at the Music Center

It was quite a journey for twenty minutes of dance. Even had everything worked out properly, the trip up to LA from San Diego to see one piece of work verges on insanity. But it felt completely necessary and I didn’t even think twice. Well, that’s not entirely true. I thought twice. Especially when the Amtrak train that was supposed to bring me into Union Station (across the street from the Music Center) a comfortable 45-minutes before the show decided to be an hour and a half late, thus making me miss the performance that night.

Gratefully, the Dance at Music Center Program Director Renae Williams Niles switched my tickets to Saturday night, though this required an early departure from Santa Barbara, where I was visiting family, and a rather tense race against the clock (and through LA’s inexplicable Saturday rush hour) to arrive at the theater a mere 15 minutes before curtain.

Given the numerous challenges, this thing better be worth it. Dammit.

Over the past several years, I have become what you might call obsessed with the Batsheva Dance Company from Tel Aviv, Israel. Ever since catching their work “Three” at UCLA in 2007, I’ve been on a worldwide mission to see as much as possible. For the past three summers, I have seen them perform in Israel (aided by the fact that I have relatives there) and even managed to help bring them to San Diego in 2009. In my humble opinion, Ohad Naharin is the most inventive contemporary choreographer working today. Period.

The company’s current works are defined by stark aesthetics, a rather cold, distant attitude, and sharp, tight ensemble phrases interspersed with extremely physical solos. Dancers rarely touch if even acknowledge each other. But I had heard rumors of an earlier time, whispered talks of work filled with lusciousness and sensitivity. From Ohad? Hard to believe.

That work is Tabula Rasa and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago brought it to LA in what I figured may be my only chance to see this 1986 work and understand where Batsheva has evolved from. How can I appreciate and fully grasp the range of this choreographer without spending twenty minutes with his early masterpiece, the one that perhaps put him on the international map, that signified a singular voice and hinted at the directions he would eventually take the company?

The work is stunning. It’s funny to say that it is full of motion since, well, its dance. But it carries a sweeping momentum that is thrilling. Similarly, the simplicity of the second section, the ballsy choice to allow so little motion in contrast demonstrates that Naharin’s brilliant use of understatement has been there all along. In dance, we so rarely have the opportunity to track the growth of artists, save for the major modern masters. What a special experience to take a glance into the past and get some personal eye-witness context of an artist that has captivated me so much.

Delayed trains, LA traffic, whatever other obstacles stand in the way, dance has a way of making it all worthwhile.