Over the last decade, Ohad Naharin’s choreography has become more ritualistic and less emotionally involving. His steps have been formalized into a system of steps he calls Gaga. (In fact, a film, Mr. Gaga is now playing in New York City, if anyone is interested in the life and work of Naharin who was a truly charismatic performer.)
“Last Work” was a cool, hypnotic look at his dancers’ interactions which, sad to say, change them not a bit. They were intimate, danced duets, formed strange statuesque pileups and wandered about as if lost. The curtain could have come down anytime during the ballet, so uninflected was the choreography.
The centerpiece of “Last Work” was the image of a single dancer, in a blue costume, jogging on a treadmill far upstage while the rest of the troupe, dressed in chic practice outfits by Eri Nakamura went through its paces in a performance area defined by two lines of upright panels lining each side of the stage (designed by Zohar Shoef). The dancers’ outfits changed later on which, for some reason, made it seem as if there were many more dancers on stage than there really were.
Even though the jogger was not center stage, the consistent pace of her steps became a cool metronomic image to focus on when Naharin’s choreography spread unfocusedly across the large Opera House stage. But, in the end, her presence became a gimmick rather than an organic part of the ballet.
The musical score, edited by Maxim Waratt, rarely supplied reliable melody or rhythm, making the dancers’ movements seem even more arbitrary and lacking in emotion. The dancers allowed movements to flow from the floor up to their fingertips. They fell to their knees in painful looking slides. Partnering duties were not defined by gender. Duets just happened, but were neither cold confrontations nor romantic encounters. At one point the dancers gathered in a pose reminiscent of iconic stacking of heads in Nijinska’s “Les Noces.” Dancers wielded tape which was unraveled to gradually corral the company into ever smaller units. All the while, the troupe did not get any pleasure out of their movements, even the more sensual ones, wearing their faces like masks of tragedy.
All the gimmicks of pacing, the odd combination of steps and dancers and the lack of any overarching message eventually made “Last Work’’—the title is also a gimmick—difficult to concentrate on. Only the jogger pleased for her athleticism and endurance. She certainly wasn’t dancing.
A choreographer can only create so many works with indifference to the inner lives of his performers, although I don’t think “Last Work” will be Naharin’s last work for his Batsheva troupe, a group of sensationally individualist performers.
Batsheva Dance Company: “Last Work” (February 1 – 4, 2017)
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, in Brooklyn
For tickets, call 718-636-4100 or visit http://www.BAM.org
Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission