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Lincoln Center Festival.

Lincoln Center Festival Batsheva Dance Company, Yasmeen Godder and The Bloody Bench Players, Saburo Teshigawara, STREB Extreme Action New York State Theater, LaGuardia Drama Theater, Rose Theater July 2006

Three Israeli companies--Batsheva Dance Company, Yasmeen Godder and The Bloody Bench Players, and Emanuel Gat Dance--were the highlights of the 2006 Lincoln Center Festival, which presented a mostly strong selection of dance. A weeklong run by San Francisco Ballet included repertoire and the highly anticipated, if underwhelming, New York premiere of Mark Morris' Sylvia. STREB Extreme Action, Saburo Teshigawara, and Bill T. ]ones/Arnie Zane Dance Company also offered festival fare, showing radically different approaches to performance. (The productions by Gat, Jones/Zane, and SFB were reviewed previously.)

Choreographer Ohad Naharin and Batsheva strike a harmonious chord with New Yorkers, evident in their frequent outings to the Big Apple, alternating between Lincoln Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music. Telophaza, a New York premiere, employed an impressive cast of 40 that felt like a village populace. Sometimes moving en masse, the dancers, folded at the waist, bopped to Mediterranean pop, or wrung all they could from Naharin's thrusting, angular dance steps. They cleaved into tribes marked by unique movement phrases and different hued or patterned unitards that changed throughout, sidling across the stage by rocking from heel to toe. Four video screens broadcast closed-circuit feeds of dancers' faces; onscreen, they seemed to scrutinize the audience even though their backs faced us, in a manner of mutual surveillance. The soundtrack ranged from Bruce Springsteen to a folksy ballad for guitar and xylophone. In one scene, performers paced a circle around a changing, spotlit soloist, whose bursts of indulgent movement alternated with rest, paralleling the searing Jeff Beck guitar solo. Audience participation, a regular Batsheva feature, included "Rachel" (Rachael Osborne) intoning Simon Sez commands, which a surprising percentage of the audience heeded, culminating in dancing in the aisles. In the finale, two naked performers' heads appeared live and close up on video while another darted about desperately in the partial cover of strobe lights. Telophaza thrillingly exemplified Batsheva's large-scale works--precise, rhythmic group actions alternating with intimate scenes; varied, entertaining music; juicy passages of Naharin's distinctive idiom; and of course his fantastic dancers.

In Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder, Yasmeen Godder and The Bloody Bench Players summoned the power of art to filter and magnify events in real life. Taking inspiration from news photographs, the dancers animated scenes of torture and abuse, or underscored the fine line between emotions or states of being. A celebratory gesture of raised arms morphed into surrender and a plea for life. The dancers' faces reflected tension, then fear and panic, the longer they held a pose. Captor became captive. Power, be it militaristic, sexual, or sometimes both, equaled pleasure. By the end, the performers had exhausted the normal limits of endurance, their red faces streaked with tears, their hair wild and clothing disheveled. In a gut-wrenching false ending, a woman cradled a man's limp body as the rest of the cast took their bows, signaling that tragedy persists alongside daily life. Avi Belleli's moody live music heightened the tension, and the set--partially unrolled lengths of wood-grained linoleum and a thicket of tumbleweed that disintegrated-perfectly and surreally encapsulated the current political clime.

Surreal in a different way, Saburo Teshigawara's Bones in Pages evoked a twinge of nostalgia for performance art in the early '90s, when this piece premiered. Loaded metaphors abounded, summoning allusions to visual artists Joseph Beuys and Joseph Cornell--fanned-open books lined a wall, a raven stalked the stage, dozens of shoes carpeted the floor, shards of glass jutted upward from a tabletop. Teshigawara began the piece as an art installation, which made sense as his stiff-limbed rendition of modern and ballet came across as an afterthought. Two phantom-like women emerged to haunt corners of the stage. But the real star was the raven, who shadowed Teshigawara and whose talons clacked on the floor during respites from the music that ranged from industrial white noise to romantic, orchestral swellings.

It seems that gravity won in STREB vs. GRAVITY. From the opening scene when two people belly-flopped onto chunky foam mats from a catwalk about 30 feet above the stage, to the closing scene featuring dancers flinging themselves off a giant hamster wheel, it wasn't much of a contest. Not that it wasn't at times entertaining--who doesn't enjoy seeing people slam their bodies repeatedly onto the floor, or smash their faces against a plexi screen, for a brief time, anyway? But the segments ran long, and the cumulative effect was sensory numbing. Designed by Michael Gasselli, the hamster wheel and a half-wheel used as a seesaw deserve special mention for their sculptural beauty. The performers surpassed all calls of duty in their highly committed tasks and tumbling exercises, but on the whole it felt more like craft than art. See

Susan Yung
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Author:Yung, Susan
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance review
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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