Ohad Naharin, the artistic director and choreographer of the Batsheva Dance Company, Israel’s premier contemporary dance troupe, is recognized world-wide as one of the most innovative dance-makers of his generation, still churning out dances that are always intensely physical and witty with a kind of icy sexiness.
In that way, he might be the dance world’s version of Quentin Tarantino – a little brash and in your face with violence seeming to bubble under every surface (of course with Tarantino, it tends to erupt in very graphic ways), and a daring audacity to treat nothing as sacred.
Like Tarantino’s best characters, in Batsheva the men have a quiet cool and the women are bad-ass.
You can never really decide, from movie to movie if Tarantino is digging further into his classic themes or merely rehashing previous material from another angle. I mean, “Django Unchained” was an awesome film but almost scene-by-scene, it smelled suspiciously like its predecessor, “Inglourious Basterds.”
Batsheva’s new work, “The Hole,” is in many ways a patchwork of elements seen in previous pieces that have been reconfigured in a provocative, original space: the company’s studio. As Naharin said at a press preview about a month ago, “We wanted to welcome you into our home.”
It’s not the first time the company has done so, but it’s the first time they’ve transformed the space so completely – constructing an elevated stage in the center, erecting walls behind the audience and even suspending a metal grid from the ceiling for clever use in the latter half of the hour-long piece.
Despite the radically new environment, there’s a familiarity to the various puzzle pieces (at least for those who follow the company closely, which, in Israel, are many): There’s the part where everyone takes a solo turn freaking out in the center, the part where softer, classical or folksy music cradles a tender duet, the counting section (this time with some Arabic thrown in) and the overall concept of separating men and women into roles and alternating the casts (both are present in the work but depending on which show you see, either the ladies or the gents take center stage).
But it’s Naharin so, of course, none of it is supposed to mean anything (he’s famously against interpretation, as Susan Sontag would say). So don’t you dare assume that the segregation of genders reflects the wave of anti-women incidents in Israel in the last few years. And just because the men are yelling at the women from the perimeter of the space in Arabic while the women yell back in Hebrew doesn’t mean he’s trying to say something about the political situation.
It is just what it is, like “Inglourious Basterds” is just a Holocaust revenge fantasy that’s both haunting and beautiful and “Django Unchained” is just a slavery fantasy that’s both a bit comical and epic.
And “The Hole” is all of that. Naharin manages to create work that are increasingly, and impressively, cinematic. The way he plays with perspective in this work is stunning; all three dimensions of the space are put to good use, which is a rare achievement in dance.
Ultimately, one doesn’t fall into “The Hole” the way Lewis Carroll tosses Alice into Wonderland – it’s not that bewildering or unexpected. But burrowing into it is still a satisfying evening of watching Batsheva do what it does best. For Naharin loyalists, it may not surprise, but it doesn’t disappoint.