Dance, Reviews, Stage

Last Work – Batsheva Dance Company (Melbourne Festival)

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A man faces away from the audience, seated, hunched over, and frantically moving his right arm up and down. There could be an awkward, sexual explanation for his actions, but when he turns around, it’s exposed a much more confronting option. He’s cleaning his menacing black rifle and is ready to fire.
This climactic moment in Batsheva Dance Company’s Last Work brings its undercurrent of Middle Eastern politics to the fore. Protesters positioned outside the Victorian Arts Centre prior to the Tel Aviv-based company’s performance at the Melbourne Festival suggested the company wanted the audience to “forget” the unrest between Israel and Palestine. But the truth was opposite – the piece stripped raw the devastation of conflict in a way that only people with an insider perspective could ever present.
Amid the brilliant, intricate, ballet-based contemporary dance performance, in which every part of the body from fingers to toes was engaged in a unique style called ‘Gaga’, the piece built into a powerful message about the futility of conflict.
A lone runner pounds a treadmill for the entire piece, going nowhere, but retaining focus and steadiness. Was this continuity a symbol for the oblivion of the Western world to the terrors of war? A suggestion that life goes on amid the chaos? A simple nod to the monotony of gym exercise compared to the wondrous ways the dancers use their bodies? With no interpretation prescribed, it’s open to endless choice.
Batsheva artistic director and choreographer Ohad Naharin’s is also not afraid of stillness, with many slower, meditative moments testing patience. Off-kilter balances defy gravity, limbs extend to extremes and bodies coil like springs from floor to sky. Much of the dancing was solo, with lifts and partner work scarce.
In an intoxicating group scene, the performers were literally wrapped up in masking tape, entwined together across the stage – perhaps symbolic of being caught in conflict – innocent or not.
An effective stage design by Zohar Shoef included partitions for the dancers to enter and exit from, while the costumes by Eri Nakamura spanned the colour palettes of blue and purple, before the dancers stripped down and changed into stark black and white.
A pounding soundtrack by Maxim Warratt was a non-intrusive background, keeping the focus on movement.
After the frenzied nod to war, the never-ending treadmill runner waved a white flag. Was it in surrender to armed forces, a sign of victory that the world never stops despite devastation, or that there is a goal for peace from all sides in conflict?
Like all great art, there is no true answer. Batsheva’s achievement was not only to have the audience in standing ovation for its display of exceptional dance, but for shining a light on human behaviour and provoking the hard questions.
[box]Batsheva’s Melbourne Festival season ended yesterday.[/box]

One response to “Last Work – Batsheva Dance Company (Melbourne Festival)

  1. What a stunning photograph! And thanks for the review. I liked the idea of the white flag.
    End of death, murder, conflict – peace above all!

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