Deca Dance: Perth Festival Review

Deca Dance, By Ohad Naharin, Performed by Batsheva Dance Company/ Batsheva Ensemble Dancers, Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA, Until Feb 13.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS

Batsheva Dance Company, Deca Dance. Photo: Toni Wilkinson

Batsheva Dance Company, Deca Dance. Photo: Toni Wilkinson

Batsheva Dance Company, founded by Batsheva de Rothschild in 1964 and initially advised by no less a luminary than Martha Graham, has risen to become one of the world’s finest pioneers of contemporary dance under artistic director and choreographer Ohad Naharin.

The company is performing two works at the Perth Festival 2014. Deca Dance is unusual in that it’s a sampler of Naharin’s choreography from over 20 years, although it feels absolutely like a completed piece in itself, rather than a medley of greatest hits.

It begins while the house lights are still up. A lone dancer in a tailored suit arrives on stage without fanfare, and starts to boogie to the sort of soft, piped lounge muzak you might hear in an elevator.

This seemingly freestyle routine incorporates almost every style you can think of – from pointe to break dancing – and as it progresses from pre-curtain light entertainment into a kind of juddering marathon, the solo reveals both the intense private elation of expressive movement as well as the fierce compulsion it can inspire.

It’s a telling moment. Perhaps dancing is as inevitable as life itself; and choreography a kind of preserving commandment – a way to tame The Red Shoes or the bite of the tarantula. That impression is amplified two sequences later in a cheeky bit of audience participation. (As a theatre reviewer I see such devices all the time, but it’s a revelation – comic and joyous – to experience it in dance.)

Ohad Naharin’s imagination is often mischievous and always on the side of life. Deca Dance is something of a deconstruction of his choreography, laying bare the elegance and the unpredictability of creative process. The title sequence, for instance, uses three lines of dancers to create a dance from scratch from an escalating series of one to ten beats, juxtaposing the sublime and the ridiculous (probably only Naharin could get away with having ‘mooning the audience’ as a dance step).

The fluidity and contrast of the movement keeps you spellbound. A pas de deux in early modern dress can leap from the precision and grace of ballet to awkward clodhopping,  a quintet that seems to be based on Biblical scripture encapsulates the drama of fraternal discord, the austere repetition and synchronicity of a chair dance embodies the endless tension between conformity and dissent.

I don’t really know enough about contemporary dance to talk in detail about the technical innovation on display, but I can say Deca Dance left me fascinated, energised, and filled with delight at the possibilities of the human form pushing against, and surrendering to, all kinds of limits.

Unlike the popular perception of contemporary dance, it’s also great fun.

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