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Batsheva Dance Company

'Anaphaza'

by Jenai Cutcher

July 25, 2003 -- New York State Theater, New York

The Batsheva Dance Company’s performance of “Anaphaza” at the New York State Theater last Saturday night brought people together. By the time the work was over, audience members who had been strangers to each other 90 minutes earlier were discussing current politics in Israel, speaking in Hebrew about the performance, or complimenting one of several women chosen to participate in one section of the dance. This bonding experience is ironic, considering the name of the piece is derived from the biological term “anaphase,” the ambiguous stage of mitosis in which chromosomes have divided and occupy opposite poles but are still part of the same cell. Various stages of separation and inclusion are explored in each of the short sections that make up the entirety of “Anaphaza.”

In the opening, all 24 dancers share the same pulse to create one giant organism. Dressed in dark suits and seated in chairs forming a semi-circle around the stage, the dancers progress through a stream of accumulative movement that includes standing and singing words to a Passover song, twisting in and out of their chairs, puncturing the air with arm and head gestures, and sitting with elbows on knees, heads bent low. Once the dancers have stripped their suits down to shorts and halter tops, the cycle is broken.

One brief scene after another takes hold; a succession of frantic solos that keep a single overhead spotlight hopping around the stage, a playful duet for a boy, a girl, and their pants, and a single-file line of dancers marching diagonally across the stage, clapping empty water jugs together on every other step. Choreographer Ohad Naharin’s vocabulary makes the movement itself look anarchic. Dancers’ limbs twist and swirl and torsos arch drastically, all appearing to rebel against the stable, governing core that keeps them firmly over their feet.

The segments incorporating elements other than dance were seething with dry humor. An emcee, who could be a direct descendent of Lurch from The Addams Family, informed the audience in his eerily distant voice that the piece could not continue until we rose to our feet. Then:
“If you believe in reincarnation, you may be seated.”
“If you make over $250,000 a year, sit down.”

This process immediately split the audience in two polar opposites, those sitting and those standing, the latter diminishing with each condition. (The one that wiped out over half the audience was, “If you do not like the place where you work, be seated.”) Though we may have felt a separation when the possession of a certain trait caused us to sit down, joining in this common activity and being invited to actually acknowledge each other made us feel united.

The piece as a whole was the same way. Most scenes were short and transitioned quickly, leaving little room for subtlety. In the midst of some, it was hard to fathom its relevance to the piece, as disconnected as it was from the three previous phases.

In retrospect, however, it is clear that Naharin wove numerous themes through “Anaphaza.” The water jug walk echoes a metronome recording that accompanies six women in the beginning. Traditional celebratory events, like Passover and birthdays, play a role but are also skewed with cynicism. And whenever things get heavy, simply dance, drum, or sing.

For all its hyperbolic presentation, “Anaphaza” leaves one wondering what it truly wants to be. Maybe that’s the most accurate corollary to the anaphase analogy and the source of the piece’s adolescent charm. Much like daughter cells forming from the mother cell, “Anaphaza” exhibits both desire and hesitancy to break free. After its spirited performance, even the audience was feeling the same way.

Edited by Malcolm Tay.

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