You can own a movie and re-watch it whenever the mood strikes. You can own a book and can pull it off the shelf when inspiration hits. You can own a painting and can glance at it every time you pass. Those things never change. Which doesn’t mean that you don’t discover new things upon multiple viewings, but the work itself won’t alter. And whether you watch that movie once or ten times, in the course of a year or over five, well, that’s entirely up to you.
Live performance is another thing altogether, dance in particular. The ability to revisit a particular work in and of itself is a rarity. Unless you live in a major dance center with major companies that host home seasons and have a repertory large enough to rotate on a regular basis, the opportunity to see a work multiple times is available to few. And even if you are lucky enough to see a work multiple times, chances are that casts will change and even perhaps a bit of the choreography itself. And because it’s live, anything can happen. Which is why we love it. In essence, you never really watch the same thing twice. And thus, you can’t own a dance. You can revisit a dance, stop by to say hello, check in on an old friend and see how he’s doing and what’s new in his life, but you can’t move in.
The first time I met “Max” (choreography by Ohad Naharin and performed by the Batsheva Dance Company) was in 2007 at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv. The second time was a year later, also in Tel Aviv. The third time was in San Diego, CA in February of 2009, and the most recent meeting was last month, in December of 2010, back at Suzanne Dellal.
He looks more or less the same, as good as I remember him, though of course a few things have changed though I can’t entirely put my finger on them. He’s still passionate and intense, but in a quiet way, a bottled-up energy that is always on the verge of explosion. As I remember, there seems to be a cloud always hanging over Max’s head, threatening to release a storm. And yet, there is still that twinkle in his eye, a sense of mischief.
He continues to speak that gibberish language, undecipherable and yet somehow vaguely familiar – a tongue that perhaps you learned before you were born. It’s ancient and angry and somehow more descriptive than any vocabulary you already know.
Though I’ve visited Max several times before, perhaps more than any other dance piece that I haven’t myself been a part of, I keep forgetting how precise he his. How razor-sharp those movements are, how quickly they slice, how unexpectedly they appear. It’s startling.
I forgot how quickly my heart beats when I’m with Max. I forgot how magnetic he is – those moments of accumulation and repetition that trick me into a trance while still keeping me guessing (one…, one-two…, one-two-three…, all the way up to ten and then he starts again – see below or here). I forgot that even in darkness, he makes me feel illuminated.
It’s all too rare to have such a simultaneously kinesthetic, emotional, and psychological response to a dance. Only masterpieces deliver such a potent combination and I do believe this is one. As only powerful performance can do, it remains in your body, not on your shelf.
And grateful am I that while I can never take Max home with me, or see him on-demand, or dust him off for another look any time I choose, I have been able to visit him every now and then, to see this living, breathing piece of art grow and evolve, and allow him to reach out, grab my shoulders and shake me again and again.