As the lights went out, a hush fell over Royce Hall and gradually a humming sound began to grow. A single dancer walked across the stage with an air of indifference, every footstep resonating through the hall in the near silence. At center stage, she ditched her aloof facade for a sudden burst of movement and athleticism.
For its 50th anniversary, the Batsheva Dance Company brought its “Sadeh21” tour to Royce Hall. The contemporary dance group from Israel teamed up with choreographer Ohad Narharin to create the experimental dance show. The word Sadeh is Persian and translates to “hundred.” Sadeh is most commonly recognized as the festival which falls 50 days before the Persian New Year.
The 75-minute performance was divided into 21 pieces starting with experimental “Sadeh1″ through “Sadeh6,” followed by the playful abridged “Sadeh7″ through “Sadeh18″ and finally ending with the politically driven “Sadeh19″ through “Sadeh21.” The dances each fluidly connected to one another, yet definite tonal differences in sound, lighting and movement easily distinguished the pieces from one another. The name of each piece was projected onto a tall wall behind the dancers.
The performance is best described as an exploration of atypical sound and the movement and human relationships that exists within those sounds. “Sadeh1″ was an unsettling mixture of near buzzing silence, punctuated with a slamming door sound and the dancers own occasional clapping. In “Saddeh2,” a dancer yelled numbers out to the crowd as the other dancers formed groups in those numbers.
The experimental sounds, while interesting in their originality, tended to be confusing and at times uncomfortable to listen to. “Sadeh19,” for example, was set entirely to a track of a woman screaming, and “Sadeh6″ featured one of the dancers whining in gibberish in the middle of the stage as the other dancers bounced around him. Audience members quietly chuckled, unsure of whether or not the man’s high whining voice was meant to be comical or not.
The actual content of the dances was also a combination of awkward movement and athleticism. The stories within the pieces themselves were at times unclear, but the emotion and electricity in the movements evoked something very human. Occasionally fights with audible slapping, hair-pulling and pushing would break out on the stage. Though the meaning of the stage fighting was easily lost, the artistic choice was compelling to watch.
The dancing itself was a visual feast of talent. Sometimes, the dancers would leap through the air with highly athletic power moves, and other times, they would dance in pairs caressing one another to express sexually-charged movements. At one point, a dancer paraded around the stage in a duck-like waddle for about two minutes. From the simple to the complicated moves, the way dancers showcased their bodies’ abilities was endlessly impressive.
Like the audio for the show, costuming and staging were minimal, so the entire focus was on the dancers form and movement. This choice, however, was perhaps a bit underutilized since the set and costuming could have helped communicate the story more cohesively.
As a collective work, “Sadeh21″ plays on poignant emotion to engage the audience in a social commentary. The woman’s screams in “Sadeh19″ as well as an all-male militant marching-based “Sadeh20″ point toward a violent world, and by the heart-wrenching ending that is “Sadeh21,” the audience has absorbed the potent message. The only problem is that this commentary was occasionally lost in the abstract nature of the show, and a clear and discernible conclusion wasn’t easy to find.
For the dance enthusiast, a showing of “Sadeh21” is a must. However, the show is not easy to watch. The events on stage are always compelling and breathtaking, yet the price paid is comfort. The experimental aspect of the show can easily lead the viewer to feel uncomfortable and also confused, but at the very least, the audience can expect more than a full hour of captivation.
– Kelsey Rocha