“Once my family loved, really really loved, to dance.”
This is the repeated refrain of “YAG: the Movie,” Batsheva Dance Company’s first production adapted especially for the screen, presented online until June 2 by New York’s Joyce Theater. Choreographed by Ohad Naharin, “YAG” had its world premiere in 1996; this filmed adaptation was shot at Batsheva’s studio in Tel Aviv in October 2020, directed by Naharin and filmed by video artist Roee Shalti.
Once I loved — really really loved — watching dance (and I used to work at Batsheva Dance Company, so I got to see quite a lot). Thanks to COVID-19, I haven’t seen a live dance performance in a very long time. It’s a thrill to see Batsheva again, and interesting to see the ways the camera changes the experience of watching dance. The tactility of watching dancers move in space in real time in front of you is not the same — but it’s replaced by the intimacy of seeing the dancers up close. We see the texture of their body hair, the slow drip of their sweat, the softness of their expressions. Sometimes the camera moves through space and we almost get to feel as though we’re dancing along with them. We see what the choreographer wants us to see, and the film direction becomes another layer of choreography.
Batsheva Dance Company is an internationally renowned contemporary dance company based in Tel Aviv. Before the pandemic (and with any luck, again soon) they toured the world with their distinct and influential choreography, made famous by House Choreographer Naharin, who propelled Batsheva to international stardom when he joined as Artistic Director in 1990 (Gili Navot, who formerly danced with the company, has been Artistic Director since 2018). Naharin is also the creator of Gaga, the movement language that’s studied worldwide by dancers and non-dancers alike.
“YAG” presents us with dialogue in Hebrew (with well-done English subtitles, a benefit of the screen) that lists members of a family, some of whom have died. A tableau that could be interpreted as a family portrait bookends the piece, which is filled with imagery of death, time and sensuality. It’s full of the vivid and evocative physicality that has made Naharin’s choreography, and Batsheva Dance Company, household names in the world of contemporary dance. There are striking visuals: dancers walking along a line of fortune cookies, crushing them underfoot; a nude man lying flat beneath a wooden plank on which a woman dances, wearing his clothes. Filmed in a small studio with an international cast of six dancers from Batsheva’s Main Company (Yael Ben Ezer, Sean Howe, Londiwe Khoza, Igor Ptashenchuk, Yoni (Yonatan) Simon and Hani Sirkis), this version of “YAG” presents a private and personal performance.
As Naharin describes it, the piece is about “love of dancing, longing, transformation of emotions into pure movement, dancers infusing content I have not written, refinement and exaggeration, family, touch, texture, flow, laughter at oneself, death, time, body, passion, imagination, fortune cookies, nudity … red, groove, control, pleasure, giving up.”
“YAG: The Movie” is 45 minutes long and is available until June 2 as part of the Joyce Theater’s 2021 Digital Season. Tickets available here.