November 23, 2012 6:54 pm

Batsheva Ensemble, Sadler’s Wells, London

A stamp-collection assembly of passages from two decades of Ohad Naharin’s creations for his company
Tel Aviv's Batsheva Ensemble©Chris Nash

Tel Aviv's Batsheva Ensemble

I have known livelier protests. In Paris in 1968 they threw things. In New York in the 1980s we were spat at. In the London Coliseum they released mice. This week in Rosebery Avenue, for the Batsheva Ensemble from Israel, there was well-organised surveillance, shouts about the conflict in Gaza, and a 35-minute delay in starting.

My own protest is about a programme that offered what we were told was a survey of the choreographic output of Ohad Naharin, director of this junior branch of Tel Aviv’s Batsheva troupe, and apostle of Gaga, a training method for these dancers.

No design. A grab-bag of music, largely popular, with two irruptions by that ferocious bore Vivaldi. Eight very gifted men. Eight slightly less impressive women. A generic “modern dance” manner that insists upon energy, somehow predictably swings between manic joviality and introspective gloom, in-the-main-dismal outfits, superb discipline in ensembles, adequate lighting and a sequence of choreographic excerpts that do too little for the cast and even less for Naharin as a dance-maker.

And a finale of egregious camaraderie, where all the performers (in black suits and trilbies) seek female partners from the near-the-stage stalls and behave with utter charm while guiding their new chums through the steps.

The star of the evening, for me, was the generously proportioned lady from the audience who eclipsed the rest of them in wit and sheer (dare I say?) mass appeal. It was, you may understand, that sort of evening.

But what sort of evening was it, in effect, for a viewer seeking some understanding of the troupe, or dance satisfaction? No doubts at all about the skills of the dancers. They are dedicated, energetic and, among the women, rather anonymous. This stamp-collection assembly of passages from two decades of Naharin’s creations for his company is self-defeating: we know how admirable are his artists but learn nothing about his choreographic manner save its energetic slickness, its reliance upon clichés, and a dire earnestness that clogs the dance when not yielding to an unappealing friskiness. And his portrayal of a group of women as a squad of automata may be owed to some local convention, but it does not ring true.


www.batsheva.co.il

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