A woman in a blue dress, with a long braid trailing down her back, runs on a treadmill, without slowing her pace or changing her focus. For the entire performance, she runs endlessly through space. She is beautiful. But why is she running? Is she running towards something or away from it? Will she ever stop running? When did she start? Why won’t she stop? With no answer hinted at, there is no choice for us but to settle into the questions, and allow this Everywoman’s plight to wash over us.
Batsheva Dance Company’s latest offering ‘Last Work’, choreographed by artistic director Ohad Naharin, is a meditation on movement; it is as simple and as complicated as that. The running woman provides the only constant throughout the hour-long dance piece; the rest is a push and pull between solo and group performance, between chaos and calm, between the grotesque and the beautiful.
The piece explores the spectrum of human movement, and human emotion, and the relationship between the two. There is no real plot, no real characters, and no clear message – and that, I suspect, is just how they like it. The movement – a unique style called “Gaga” – has roots in ballet but is unmistakably contemporary. It is a strange and gorgeous form of dance, where every single part of the body is utilised: limbs extend improbably, fingers and toes become entangled and ensnared, bodies balance and spin in strange shapes, dipping into the ground and shooting off into space, as frenetic as they are still.
The piece moves through three sections – the first is repetitive and meditative, as though in a dream, with the dancers all clad in beautiful blues and purples. For the second section, they shed their colour in favour of white, with some of them in black robes, and the piece moves into a more grotesque sphere. It is here that bodies turn into nothing but shapes and lines, a tremendously strange experience which left me wondering if the dancers onstage were even human, or real. The final section descends into chaos: the music turns from an undercurrent of disembodied sounds – which complement the moment and do not distract – to an onslaught of sound, equal parts rock concert and nightmare. The score, composed by Maxim Warratt, has a similar effect to that in Requiem for a Dream: it is the magic potion that underpins everything, subtly manipulating emotion until you can no longer hide from your own head.
War plays a big role in the chaotic finale; from an Israeli dance troupe, which had protesters encouraging us to boycott the show on our way into the Arts Centre, it is impossible not to contextualise the piece within Middle East conflict. The performance descends into terror, with bodies and libs flying everywhere. It all concludes in near-silence, with only the sound of a roll of packing tape being unwound as it ensnares every performer in an insidious, complex web. The running girl keeps going, through everything; despite being handed a white flag in the final moments of the show, she refuses to stop.
All of the dancers are incredibly accomplished, and work beautifully as an ensemble. Each performer has his or her own heartbeat, but when they combine into a pulsing, single organism – as they often do – it makes for some beautiful moments. This is an ensemble which thrives as a team.
Lighting from Avi Yona Bueno is beautifully subtle, moving through hazy blues and purples to warm white to semi darkness to terrifying brightness. The design worked seamlessly with every other element of the piece, specifically Zohar Shoef’s stage design and costumes from Eri Nakamura.
Last Work is an accomplished and brave piece. It makes us think about a lot of things, and is the sort of dance that will mean many different things to many different people. It is a piece which fits between passion and politics, suspending the search for meaning and message in a strange, dream-like space of feeling and bodies and human experience.