Last week, Batsheva Dance Company brought artistic director Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21 to BAM as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. The 75-minute work, whose title means “Field 21” as in “field of study”, consists of 21 segments that emphasize the individuality of each dancer. Although all 18 dancers train in “Gaga”, Naharin’s movement language and training method, Batsheva is not a cookie cutter dance company. There is a unique, explosive energy unlocked within each performer at different moments throughout the work.
On a stage split horizontally by a white wall, bodies curl, twist, and bend in every direction. Rubbery spines and light footedness allow for abrupt shifts. The whirling limbs of one dancer are mesmerizing, but are suddenly replaced by another. Naharin’s pacing choices are noticeable; you can’t settle into any particular section for too long before the dancers, costumes (neutral or brightly colored shorts and tops), and sounds all change.
The mood is melancholy, with hints of humor and absurdity. A woman walks rhythmically with a pronounced lift of her hips with each step she takes. A man’s gibberish seems filled with a desire to be understood, but also with fits of giggles. Men in flowing, black gowns leap elegantly as a line of women do a groovy sequence of moves. Tender moments shared between two dancers seem less about plot and more about the combination of external forces pushing them together and emotional quivering from deep within.
Projections on a screen mark the start of each “sadeh”, but after the first six segments take up nearly an hour, the audience chuckles (and perhaps is relieved) when the screen shows that the seventh through eighteenth segments have been combined into one.
There are no formal bows in Sadeh21. The dancers aren’t performing for our entertainment, but rather for each other. And the ending is strikingly serene and powerful. Each dancer climbs atop the white divider and leaps gracefully to a fall that we don’t see, continuing the climb-and-fall pattern as the credits role on the screen below. This is their world – filled with beauty, joy, sorrow, and humor. We’re allowed to have a look, but it’s their playground.