Twenty dancers. Forty-five back-up crew and staff. Selections from eight different works using excerpts from over 20 different pieces of music. In the hands of lesser men, Deca Dance would be a garbled mess. But Ohad Naharin, artistic director and choreographer of the Batsheva Dance Company, eats chaos for breakfast.
When the Israeli company arrives in Charleston, it will have one day to get used to its Gaillard venue. It will be switching to Deca Dance after the recent performance of an entirely different work in Germany. The pace will be frenetic and security is tighter than a nun's butt. Naharin takes it all in stride.
"Deca Dance is something I've been playing with for some time," he says. "It's a modular piece that keeps changing. I can reconstruct my work and create something coherent from the broken pieces. That gives me, the dancers, and audiences pleasure."
The Naharin-spawned modules span 15 years of Batsheva's life, from 1992's Mabul through 2007's MAX. The Spoleto show weaves the excerpts together in a series of what the choreographer calls "little dramas."
"I tell many stories. I don't feel obligated to finish them but to make a coherent work in terms of the composition."
Despite the fast-paced changes from one piece to the next, audiences won't leave the performance feeling like they've experienced the dance equivalent of a McDonald's dollar menu. But if they're looking for a grand story arc, they won't find it. So who will get the most out of a Batsheva show?
"We don't target our work," says Naharin, "we just do what we can do best. If an audience member is alert, open to have his imagination and sensation challenged ... if you have a sensitive ear, the ability to recognize structure, texture, order and organization ... this is what I offer."
For four decades, Batsheva has been acting as a cultural ambassador for Israel, hitting hundreds of different spots across the globe. Its brand of bewitching dance highlights fluid movements in unison, original twists on traditional moves, and the blending of popular and classical music. And while the company tours abroad for three months of every year, Naharin has found a balance between the grueling international performances and his own composition work. "Sometimes the touring is tough. We need to create fresh feelings and a positive atmosphere when everyone gets tired of touring. But we enjoy the challenge, even when there's a crisis."
On hand to help avert a crisis are two security staff who will vet the venue and protect the company. It's part of Batsheva's routine because the company is supported by the Israeli government. "This is not strange in hostile countries," Naharin says, "but it's not so necessary in America. Here everyone's a target of terrorists, not just us."
The artistic director is as unruffled by his tight prep time as he is about the security precautions. "You can do a lot in one day," he points out, comparing the last-minute technical rehearsals to pulling fish out of water. "The fish are already there; you just have to lift the net," he explains. "If you don't lift the net you won't get the fish." —Nick Smith
BATSHEVA DANCE COMPANY'S DECA DANCE• Spoleto Festival USA • $10-$80 • (1 hour 40 min.) • May 26 at 7 p.m., May 27 at 8 p.m., May 27 and 28 at 2 p.m. • Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, 77 Calhoun St. • 579-3100