Deca Dance: Dancing the line between madness and sanity

Deca Dance
Batsheva Dance Company
New Zealand Festival
St James Theatre
Until March 24

Deca Dance opened with a quote about “the illusion of beauty” and that the dances would explore the fine line that separates madness from sanity. The dancers proceeded to do just that, looking at the precarious nature of human relationships, touching on the primitive, the political, the intellectual and the comic.

The opening piece had 20 dancers in a semicircle wearing suits and hats performing a series of vigorous routines, like Mexican waves, at the same time singing a Jewish folksong which got more and more frenzied. The dancers then proceeded to discard most of their clothes and shoes throwing them into a heap in the middle of the stage creating a visual link to the piles of shoes and clothes which feature in images of the Holocaust.

But not all the dances had such heavy symbolism. One of the sequences involved a dozen of the cast choosing women from the audience who then danced to popular music including a tango and a Dean Martin number. The sense of participation and inclusiveness was roundly applauded by the audience as the women developed a confidence on stage to perform along with the company’s dancers.

Not all the dances had large numbers on stage though. A trio performing to a Vivaldi piece provided a taut and tense work with the dancers responding to internal external forces that seemed to impact on them. The three dancers reacted and responded to the others' moves, supporting one another, creating a knot of energy which continually erupted with new moves and lines of energy.

One of the dances was reminiscent of versions of The Rite of Spring with the men attired in baggy pantaloons. There is a sense of the primitive ritual with the men anointing their faces and bodies with coloured dye. The huge leaps they engaged in were a mixture of elegant ballet moves mixed with the frenetic dancing of the Whirling Dervish.

The final work in the programme had echoes of the Phillip Glass opera Einstein on the Beach with a counting routine where the dancers created their own semaphore language for the numbers one to ten (deca) a work which was both comic, dramatic and mesmerising.

Like many contemporary dance companies, the Batsheva dancers had a sophisticated approach to the music, both classical and modern. At times they responded directly to the music, with their movements following the rhythms, while at other times they worked against or across the music, creating much more dynamic and incisive displays.

The most impressive thing about the Batsheva dancers was the sheer energy as they performed highly skilled and energetic moves with split second timing and with apparent ease, although the sprays of sweat creating mini halos around some of the dancers made one conscious of dancers taking themselves to the edge of exhaustion.

John Daly-Peoples attended the New Zealand Festival thanks to The New Zealand Festival and Quality Hotels

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