Why Is Naharin’s Work So Mesmerizing?
After seeing Ohad Naharin’s Decadance performed by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, you don’t come out of it saying This part was good and that part wasn’t. You come out of it having experienced humanity in a raw state. When Ebony Williams in bizarre feathery get-up on stilts, lip synchs to a song of grunts, sighs, and yells, there is something both artificial and ruthless about the way she uses her whole body and face. The recorded sounds seems to come from her gut, spiced up by a touch of Eartha Kitt and Harpo Marx too. The scene is almost funny, but it’s too mesmerizing to laugh.
Cedar Lake invited Naharin to spend three months with them setting Decadance, which is a compilation of excerpts of previous works. The dancers (all of them technically fantastic) have journeyed deep into themselves to get to a place of rawness. His demands go beyond pretty or beautiful, an aesthetic that is shared with Graham. But the movement sometimes looks like krumping or butoh. I think the hypnotic effect has to do with the vulnerability he encourages in his dancers. It gets to something essential about being human—or even animal. In the beginning, when they line up downstage for an excerpt from Naharin’s Virus, their gloved hands look like paws—until each dancer explodes, one at a time, into their personal version of condensed fury.
Another aspect of Naharin’s work that draws you in is the inventive ways he pulls audience members onto the stage. This time, I was one of those led by the hand to the performing space. I don’t have to tell you that it is quite a mental and physical switch from sitting and watching to being under the lights. My personal guide looked at me with fierce eyes that told me what to do. And yet there was room to play; you felt an instant camaraderie with the other dazed souls onstage. My guide turned out to be Shani Garfinkel, who is actually from Naharin’s Israeli company, Batsheva, and had joined Cedar Lake temporarily as both dancer and his assistant.
The program continues until July 1.
The Mothers Made Me Cry
After seeing various casts of Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet and American Ballet Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty—and reading lots of reviews—I feel like the mothers have been overlooked. Everyone talks about the different Juliets and Auroras, but Darci Kistler as Lady Capulet really brought the tragedy home, and Susan Jaffe as the queen was the emotional center of the new Sleeping Beauty.
Kistler gave extravagant weight to her every gesture. She had to practically rond-de-jambe around her huge dress, and she did so with generous sweeping arms. Maybe because of her grandeur, when she reacted to the deaths—first of Tybalt, then of Juliet—you felt the tension between her position in life and her immediate grief.
Susan Jaffe was a noble and radiant Queen. When the King, in a fit of rage, ordered Catalabutte (his chief minister) killed, Jaffe went into slow-motion action to calm him. She took his hand and placed her check tenderly in his palm. That did it. The feeling of her cheek in his hand appeased him, and he could now forgive. It seemed like all is OK in a land where a wife’s touch can bring down a king’s ire. It’s like a little shadowing of the Lilac Fairy mitigating Carabosse’s vengeful death sentence.