If you’ve ever wondered what the dancescape in Israel looks like, wonder no more. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is presenting the two most influential Israeli choreographers in an all-Israeli program at the Harris Theater this weekend. Ohad Naharin, Artistic Director of Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company and Sharon Eyal, Batsheva’s House Choreographer will each premiere new works (or re-works) for eager Chicago audiences. Naharin’s THREE TO MAX, an HSDC premiere, is a re-invented, mash-up of his previously choreographed pieces (Three and Max) and Eyal’s Too Beaucoup (“too too much”), a world premiere, is a sequel to Bill, a piece she created last year for Batsheva. HSDC is also the ONLY American company to present Eyal’s work. Too put is simply – this is HUGE!
HSDC worked with Naharin briefly last year while on tour in Tel Aviv to clean Tabula Rasa for the Winter Series. Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton watched a rehearsal for the second company run by Eyal and was fascinated. “I was intrigued by watching her rehearse,” he says. “I thought she was really wonderful with the dancers in how she engaged them. Ohad and I worked together a lot at NDT (Nederlands Dans Theater). I left NDT in 2004, so I wasn’t really aware of his latest work…I thought it would be interesting to see a collage of his works.” Lucky for us, Edgerton’s idea to combine both artists in one all-Israeli program came to fruition. The evening will also switch up the format a bit. Instead of the (what-has-become) normal lay out with three works and two intermissions, this show will house two longer works with only one intermission.
RB had the chance to sit in on a couple of rehearsals back in February as the company was just starting to piece together the choreography. Ms. Eyal and her partner (in life and work) Gaï Behar were watching the dancers memorizing a short section set to pulsing techno beats (part of a larger soundtrack by Israeli DJ Ori Lichtik). Let’s call it the walking section. The HSDC dancers were walking to the fast beats, switching directions, right hand up, look left…there seemed to be no pattern to the movement and when you add the fact that they will be wearing wigs and white contact lenses and are rehearsing with no mirrors*, I wondered how they were going to do it. If you miss one count, you’re screwed. And then I thought, it’s Hubbard Street, they can do anything. They can, but from the looks of it, it wasn’t going to be easy. Eyal giving notes: “It’s not just you doing the steps. It’s about something bigger than us…we experience something together in this moment. You must connect in physicality all the time, from the beginning.” This physical connection is cultivated by the dancers taking class in the Naharin-created Gaga technique**. She teaches Gaga class, but then enters into her own aesthetic for rehearsals. As I mentioned before, the dancers costumes (created by Behar) add to the mystique of this work. Clad in nude unitards, adorning white bob cut wigs and wearing custom-made white contacts, the dancers look like freaky alien creatures dancing in a way we’ve never seen. Like their postcard says: THIS IS NOT YOUR MOTHER’S HUBBARD STREET.
I sat down with Edgerton (whose sparkling eyes and welcoming smile are now known as the face of HSDC) at their West Loop studios to talk about the upcoming, ground-breaking program.
RB: This program sounds really exciting. Has anybody in the US seen the works in Ohad collage – or is that all new to us?
GE: Some of them might have been seen in some configuration of Batsheva’s rep, but what Ohad is so clever at and he’s really genius with is creating a whole new environment and a whole new piece. That’s the beauty of it. It becomes something on its own and that is to Ohad’s credit…his ability to refashion work and make it its own entity.
RB: Why is this important for HSDC to present?
GE: Ohad has been quite a focus for modern-contemporary dance for a while. He’s been important to HSDC over the years, having a lot of his pieces in the rep. I think not a lot of people know the work of now…what Ohad is doing today. They know Minus 16. That has become his signature piece for HSDC and for different companies around the country, but there’s more to Ohad. I think to put the stable of these two Israeli choreographers on to the American stage…these are the most prominent Israeli choreographers known today. It’s exciting for me…just to have this little idea that gets put into such major work. It’s fun to see people get excited about it. That’s my payback. I think it’s a cultural experience. It’s totally a different feel of work that these two choreographers…it’s different than anything we have in the United States. Nobody can be capered to that and I think the uniqueness, the individuality of this is exciting. It’s infectious. It’s like studying another culture.
RB: Do you think it will shock the regular HSDC audience, specifically Sharon’s piece?
GE: It is definitely a progressive program. I think you will connect to it or you won’t. Musically there’s techno music happening, there’s variations within the music that may resonate with some of the public and some not. We were (on tour) in Irvine, CA…immediate standing ovation. Without one person not standing. That’s something. Rather they get it or they don’t, they just feel the energy of what’s happening on stage …and the look of it is so unusual, that it’s fascinating. If you really delve into the choreography, it’s incredibly complex. It’s fascinating to realize…sometimes they’re dancing on the music, sometimes not on the music, sometimes in unison…and where does that come from? There’s an intense energy connection between all of them that they are going to feel and know from one another that when one person twitches, they’re going to twitch. That kind of intense concentration and energy is infectious.
RB: Do you see a change in the way they dance together after doing something like this, because the connection is so strong? Do you find that the dynamic in the company shifts?
GE: Certainly. With every piece, the company is enhanced and developed. That’s my goal – to challenge them and they’re better for it the next time around for whatever else is put at them. With each work, it’s my goal is that they come out of it with more knowledge of how to take on the next challenge and it will definitely build the level of the company as we go forward.
HSDC Spring Series at Harris Theater, March 17 – 20
Tickets: hubbardstreetdance.com or 312.850.9744
*A note about the lack of mirrors: the mirrors and windows had been covered up for class and rehearsal. The dancers have immersed themselves in the Naharin-created **Gaga technique. Naharin began developing this technique while recovering from a back injury. It is sensory-based and uses structured improv to engage the dancers mentally and physically, so they become totally aware of their bodies and the energy around them. It is definitely a unique way of moving. Since I didn’t fully understand it, I went on a quest to find out as much as I could about Gaga. Here are some of the things I learned…
Glenn Edgerton, HSDC Artistic Director: “It’s energy-based technique, where the dancers are feeling one another from a distance. They’re feeling their space around them, they’re feeling the energy of the person next to them. They move with the same intention, the same likeness, the same idea…but without a visual. The mirrors are gone, so it’s about sensing. It’s a sensory-perceptive-based technique.”
Zac Whittenberg, dance editor TimeOut Chicago: “The movement comes from the direction. You’re moving to accomplish a task. For example, in class the direction could be to imagine that your body is a hollow envelop emptied out or a cartoon parade balloon. Then the teacher can manipulate the image to create the desired movement, like…pretending you have sand in one limb, hot liquid in another, cold liquid in another…then pour all the ingredients together. It’s not about where your eyes look. The head is the fifth limb.”
HSDC dancer Benjamin Wardell: “It’s not about how it looks. It’s an approach to the body largely based on improv. The goal is to raise awareness of every part. It loosens your body up with different ways to learn your body…and get maximum range.”