Batsheva Dance Company @ Festival Theatre
8:30pm, Sat 8 Mar 2014
Once again, I feel obliged to trot out my usual admissions regarding Dance: moreso than any other medium, I feel completely lost when it comes to explaining my response to a piece of dance. After all these years, I still feel like there’s a massive disconnect between how dance makes me feel, and the words I struggle to associate with them… and, more perplexingly, I still lack any ability to “see” real talent or excellence. Hell, I’m convinced that some of my favourite k-pop performers are great dancers, a statement that I suspect any real dance aficionado would scoff at.
A side-effect to that blindness is that I wouldn’t know a “good” dance company if they performed in my lounge room; but I sure do know what excited Festival Patrons sound like. And so, during the Festival Launch last October, when David Sefton announced that Batsheva Dance Company was returning to Adelaide (their previous visit was just before I became intoxicated by all things Festivalian), the cooing of the audience told me all I needed to know: Sadeh21 was going to be a must-see.
A mad dash across town saw me approaching the Festival Centre a comfortable handful of minutes before the scheduled start of the performance; there were very few people milling around outside the Theatre. Odd, I thought, given the strict lockout policy on the performance… but then I saw a pair of protesters, quietly holding pro-Palestinian placards and gently proffering information leaflets. The few people in front of me turned their shoulders and shunned the protesters as they shuffled by.
Inside the Centre, I quickly cool and de-sweat before taking my seat; there’s two women in the seats to my right, and I offer a quiet greeting as I sit down: they stared icily at me in return, returning to their conversation in what I assumed was Hebrew. A moment later, two young men sat to my right, also speaking (what I assume to be) Hebrew; again, a frosty greeting, and they mutely stared at their phones until the lights dropped.
Surrounded by people, and with the friendliest of intentions, I felt alone. But then Sadeh21 began.
The staging is simple: a featureless wall spanned the stage at about half the depth; upon it flickered the phrase “Sadeh 1”. A woman strutted across the stage, breaking stride only to toss her head back. More people start crossing the stage; they all have physical ticks, jerks, or impossible bends, before returning to their measured paces.
Minutes into the performance, and I was astonished: bodies aren’t supposed to move like that.
Subsequent pieces also confound: after “Sadeh 2” appears projected onto the wall, I realised that we were going to be watching twenty-one fragments of dance. The gorgeous low funk choreography of Sadeh 5 was tempered by the prolonged and painful illegible babbling of a man in Sadeh 6; as a result, the skipping of Sadeh 7 through 18 felt like both a disappointment and a relief.
But then came the rigid lines and militaristic overtones of Sadeh 19, and my mind immediately went back to the quiet protesters outside the Festival Centre; back to the dancers, and there was no glory to be seen in those lines, no joy in the choreography. And then, as if for the first time, I noticed the wall: ominous, foreboding. Sadeh 20 slapped me back into the moment, with the constant sound of screaming in the accompanying music unsettling me, drifting focus away from the physical performance… and willing this episode to stop, taking the music with it.
Then to Sadeh 21: as credits rolled up the wall, the performers clambered to the top of the wall, only to fall off (to the back of the stage) and return again. There’s an odd moment when someone in the audience starts clapping in the middle of the credits sequence; it’s not until we see “the end” projected on the wall (after the dancers fall for the last time, never to reappear onstage) that the rest of us started applauding, realising that person had the right idea.
Sadeh21 was a bloody amazing experience: each of its nine pieces had something different to offer (both physically and aurally), and most of the movement was just stunning… the flexibility and balance and everything on display was really something else. But those two pieces that didn’t work for me – Sadeh 6 and 20 – really upset the balance of the performance… and it’s interesting, in retrospect, to realise that it was the aural accompaniment that triggered my negative reactions.
Those other seven pieces, though? Fucking brilliant.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 8, 2014