Batsheva dancers in Max, photo by Gadi Dagon
In Ohad Naharin’s Max, which had its NYC premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Wednesday evening, ten dancers move fluidly from striking gestural language to full-bodied, kinetic movement; from tight clusters to chaos spread throughout the stage; from speed to stillness. The piece explores the pains and pleasures of being alive. With the exception of one sinister grin from the entire cast, Naharin does not rely on facial expressions to reveal emotion. The layering of movement, sound, and lighting are at the heart of this structurally rich and intensely mesmerizing work.
Max is less theatrical than some of his other works, such as Decadance and Telophaza. There is no narrative, the stage is bare, and the dancers wear simple black shorts and earth-toned tank tops. Movement cues come from jarring, high-pitched noise, the sound of uneven breathing, thunder, silence, and most prominently, Naharin chanting in unfamiliar languages (or perhaps it’s simply gibberish). This chanting often sounds like a numeric recitation, which fuels the repetition and accumulation of movement phrases that include both simple gestures and sensual, full-bodied shifts and thrusts. Although Naharin’s voice is initially monotonous, it becomes more forceful as the string of movement builds. The layering effect is thrilling: one dancer’s phrases – seemingly straightforward on their own – are perceived as more complex when accompanied by the other dancers’ respective movement phrases. The whole stage sweeps from one extreme to another in the flash of an eye.
Instead of creating transitions with movement – which can often feel forced – Naharin marks them with blackouts. The effect is refreshing and suggests that Naharin does not feel compelled to make connections between one sequence and another. A quirky duet between two dancers lit in green fades into an individual’s exploration of her limbs and the space around them, which is replaced with the full ensemble moving in lush, vigorous strides across the stage under deep red light. In all of Naharin’s choreography, the dancers display internal awareness along with an understanding of their surroundings; their collective and individual presence is palpable. Max is powerful for its honest exploration of extremes, free of flourishes and theatrics.