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Telepathy in space

How a contemporary ballet doubles as a voyage of self-discovery

Published on October 29, 2007

  Ahighlight of the "da:ns 2007" festival at Singapore's Esplanade Theatre last weekend, Batsheva Dance Company's contemporary masterpiece "Telophaza" led the audience into undiscovered dance territory.

Not only was this intriguing spectacle offered, but local professional dancers were also given a rare opportunity to participate in the world-renowned Israeli company's masterclass at Esplanade's Rehearsal Studio - a practice any local performing arts promoter would do well to keep in mind when foreign companies are in town.

"Telophaza" had a clear structural framework: set pieces performed in unison by a number of dancers were interspersed with overlapping episodes. For the sequences en masse, dancers grouped in waves, performing the same steps one wave after another, or making repeated movements like bending over and bouncing in sync.

At times, the dancers broke rank and performed multiple combinations. A number of different solo, duo, and group dances went on at the same time on different parts of the stage. Yet, they fitted altogether seamlessly. Brilliantly choreographed by the company's artistic director, Ohad Naharin, the performance gave the audience both a unified visual experience and the choice to also focus on any specific part of the big picture.

Another intriguing aspect was the use of live video. Individual dancers took turns looking into cameras that projected close-ups of their faces onto four screens in the upstage area. One by one, they left the camera and entered into a continuous dance, making space for the next face to appear. Then, a dancer's feet were zoomed-in on.

Later on, four cameras were taken to centre stage to capture the movements of a dancer from four different angles on the screens. Looking "through a different lens", the audience saw something they could never hope to witness with the naked eye, even from the best seat in the house.

The new dance-going experience didn't stop there, but progressed from visual to physical. At one point, the disembodied voice of a character named Rachel asked the audience through loudspeakers to imitate gestures on the screens, whose energy increased from a slow-moving wrist to a tapping of the body.

Towards the end of the 70-minute production, "Rachel" returned for the second time to guide the audience through more movements and thoughts - touching body features while pondering certain questions. For example, a request to close our eyes or touch our chins was accompanied by an invitation to think about the money we had in the bank, then about whether we were enjoying ourselves, thus juxtaposing spiritual and materialistic values.

After Rachel's final command, "Now, dance!", almost everyone rose to their feet. Though some looked shy, the laughter indicated everyone was having a good time.

The piece ended with a surprise: a couple lying in a corner, making love. Their faces were projected on the screen before they parted and left the flickering stage, the woman making her way along a row of chairs from one seat to another. Like its name, "Telophaza" - suggesting perhaps "telepathy" and "phase" - the performance threw light on the ephemeral nature of all that seems unified. Dancers came together and then split like cells dividing, suggesting new birth.

Unlike other previous stagings of "Telophaza", however, the costumes here were everyday clothes: vests paired with shorts, or short dresses, rather than the colourful unitards shown in promotional photos. Although surprising to the audience at first, the new costumes fitted the show well, helping us connect to the performers and making it easier to join in when invited.

The fresh garb was also proof that Naharin never stops reworking his "finished" choreographic works.

Added only a day before the Esplanade performances was the section called "Industrial", featuring various mechanical sounds that beautifully accented the dancers' superb musicality. They moved with the sounds as one, as if the clanks and the bangs were being created from their body movements - as if they were the music themselves. Moreover, great virtuosity and immense power were portrayed with the mastery of Gaga, a movement technique designed by Naharin.

The following afternoon, Gaga was used in the 75-minute masterclass of improvisation without music led by Yaniv Abraham. Participants - including this temporarily retired ballet dancer - were told to cultivate a feeling of floating in all joints before taking movement from the wrists to the elbows, and eventually through the whole body. This brought back fond memories of Rachel's exercises the night before.

The class was highly active - no pause until the very end - yet it was also meditative with participants given ample time to really experience and feel each movement. From their original positions, the dancers were encouraged to spread out and use the space in ways foreign to your average dance masterclass - like speaking gibberish, for instance. Both minds and bodies were set free. Although everyone was sweaty after 75 minutes, there was no sign of strain or struggle. Only pleasure and satisfaction filled the air of the quiet studio.

Feeling for myself how this multi-textured movement can give off so much sensuality, it's easy to understand why the Batsheva Company offers audiences worldwide so much pleasure.

Thanks to The Esplanade for facilitating participation in the masterclass.

The writer can be contacted at min_ballet@hotmail.com.

Jasmine Baker

 Special to The Nation

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