’VIRUS’ SPREADS • Brooklyn Paper


Israel's Batsheva Dance Company gives its U.S. premiere of 'Naharin's Virus' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music through May 4.
Gadi Dagon

As hostilities in the Middle East reach an intensity not seen
in decades, Brooklyn Academy of Music presents the U.S. premiere
of "Naharin’s Virus" performed by contemporary dance
ensemble, Batsheva Dance Company, in collaboration with Arab-Israeli
musician Habib Alla Jamal.

Choreographed by artistic director Ohad Naharin, "Naharin’s
Virus" is an adaptation of Austrian-born Peter Handke’s
1966 absurdist play "Offending the Audience."

Batsheva’s general manager and co-artistic director, Naomi Fortis
says, "The play was considered very provocative. The actors
are on a bare stage and they talk to the audience. There’s a
lot of conflict and contradiction. They contradict each other
all the time. It’s all about waking up the audience and destroying
the boundaries between the actors and the audience."

The piece is performed by nine women and seven men wearing costumes
by Rakefet Levy: tight, white bodysuits from their knees up and
black tights from their knees down. Large portions of Handke’s
text are recited by one of the dancers. But Fortis, who spoke
to GO Brooklyn by telephone from Israel, insists the dance is
not about philosophy, although it does contain many ideas.

"The text leaves a vacuum that’s filled in by the dance,"
she said.

"The inspiration is the human body and movement. You can
take the text and music off, and it’s still very strong on stage."

"Naharin’s Virus" begins with a set that consists of
an empty stage-length chalkboard. As dancers recite their personal
narrations and Handke’s text, they perform explosive movements
together and in solos, often sprinting back to the chalkboard.

The dance is accompanied by traditional Arabic folk music arranged
by Jamal.

Astonishingly, it was during the riots in Israel in December
2000, that Naharin and Jamal decided to work together.

"We had decided to celebrate a decade of Naharin’s artistic
direction with a three-week tour and 36 performances all over
Israel," Fortis recalls.

"Both our junior and senior companies were going to perform
and we decided to go to big cities and little kibbutzes and four
to six Arab villages. Then came the Palestinian uprising and
the uprising of the Israeli Arabs. So the program to go to the
Arab villages collapsed."

Because the company knew the Arab-Israeli in charge of cultural
activities in Nazareth, Batsheva was able to go there and perform
for an Arab audience.

"We had originally wanted a mixed audience, but after the
riots and shootings in Nazareth, we realized we couldn’t have
a mixed audience, so we decided to perform for an Arab audience
only," Fortis said. "We used a much smaller theater.
It was not adequate technically, but we decided we had to do
it. We created a special program and performed before 200 people."

After the performance, Naharin conducted an open dialogue with
the audience, which Fortis called "political and interesting."

As an homage to Batsheva, their Arab hosts reciprocated by performing
their own dances, accompanied by Arab musicians playing traditional
folk music.

At that time Naharin was at work on "Naharin’s Virus"
and planned to use Klezmer (traditional Jewish) music for the
piece. But after hearing this music, he decided to ask Jamal
and his group to record their traditional Arab music for Batsheva.

Fortis believes "it’s very sad that this [collaboration]
becomes such a big issue. It should be the most usual thing –
a part of our lives – unfortunately it’s not done on a regular

Aside from the obvious tensions between the Israelis and the
Arab-Israelis, this is also because the mostly religious Arab
population does not attend contemporary dance performances, Fortis

On the other hand, Batsheva has an enthusiastic audience among
Israelis, many of whom are young and anticipate performances
as a "cult" event.

Batsheva Dance company was founded in 1964 by Baroness Batsheva
de Rothschild and Martha Graham.

With the appointment of Ohad Naharin as artistic director in
1990, the company launched into a new era, becoming an international,
contemporary dance ensemble renowned for its bold, sensual and
artistically intrepid works, sometimes becoming the meeting place
for artists of all disciplines – composers, filmmakers and lighting,
set and costume designers.

Batsheva’s repertoire focuses on works by Naharin. At the same
time, the company hosts guest choreographers ranging from established
artists like Jiri Kylian and William Forsythe to young, emerging

"Naharin’s Virus" has been performed internationally
– in Israel, Denmark and France – to great acclaim.

"In Israel people sometimes take the play personally. They
are nervous," said Fortis. "But in Denmark we saw the
Queen smiling." Fortis attributed this edginess in Israel
to the political climate. But she also said, "Different
people can see [’Naharin’s Virus’] totally differently. One should
come with a bare heart and use the imagination."


"Naharin’s Virus" will be
performed at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House (30 Lafayette
Ave. at Ashland Place) on April 30, May 2, 3 and 4 at 7:30 pm.
Tickets are $20, $30 and $45. A BAMdialogue with choreographer
Ohad Naharin follows the May 2 performance. Habib Alla Jamal
& The Galilee Band will perform May 3 and May 4 at 9 pm at
the BAMcafe. ($10 food/drink minimum). For tickets or more information,
call (718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org.

More from Around New York