The curtain rises without warning. Thousands of patrons hush as Basheva company members begin moving slowly in a cluster that faces upstage. The house lights are dimmed but never fully blackout. It is as if the choreographer is calling upon the audience to be less passive in their viewership. We are not granted permission to sink into the comforting darkness of traditional theater lighting.
Ohad Naharin, the house choreographer of Batsheva Dance Company, presents Venezuela, an evening-length work, in which, according to the event page, “Naharin and the dancers explore the dialogue and conflict between movement and the content it represents.” Though it is not included in the printed program notes, this is important context.
Venezuela follows the provocative nature of Naharin’s other works. Dancers whip around the flags of several countries in the air and then forcefully hit them against the ground. Jarring, hyperphysical movement that often stems from pelvis (a trait of Naharin’s movement language) permeates the work. The most disturbing element of the night occurs when two white dancers rap the lyrics of The Notorious B.I.G.’s Dead Wrong into a microphone while holding each other. This artistic choice is clearly deliberate, leaving the audience to determine whether it is acceptable or not. Their dance is meant to illicit outrage on some level, and perhaps that particular song is chosen to suggest that this content displayed on stage is, in fact, dead wrong, and should not be palatable to the audience.
The 80-minute piece is split into two sections, both identical in choreography but differing in music and props, thus contextualizing the movement separately. One notable part of this repetition is that different dancers perform individualized roles in the second half, and it becomes clear that personalized movements which previously looked impossible to duplicate (an extreme leg extension with nuanced expression of the upper body, an articularly buoyant series of jumps, etc.) can be performed expertly by other company members. Though Naharin’s movement language is grounded in improvisation, this choreography is entirely fixed in place. It is exciting to watch multiple dancers perform the same hugely challenging physical feats with nearly alarming accuracy of detail.
As a whole, Venezuela expresses two starkly similar opposing worlds. It calls upon the audience to gauge their own comfort levels on what content should be represented on stage, and if that can be separated from the movement alone.