Under house lights, spectators made their way to their seats at the Arlington Theatre. The speakers blare with a sudden, loud “BANG! CLANG!” It could have been a truck or a plane crashing into the theater but turns out to be the beginning of the complicated soundscape that accompanies Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company’s evening-length work Sadeh21.
Brief solos introduced the audience to each member of the company. From a precarious backbend where the crown of a dancer’s head nearly touched the floor to a smooth gliding lift of one leg into a 180-degree side tilt to a sudden leonine fall to the floor to a deep fourth-position squat with the hips tucked beneath — these movers packed so many surprising variations in quality, texture, and rhythm into a single movement phrase that the audience was left shaking its collective head: How do they do that?
Batsheva’s dancers marry classical virtuosity with relaxed feet and intensely expressive heads, toes, and fingers. They are soft and vulnerable, fierce and direct. On Tuesday, dancers connected with each other through inventive partnering that recalled the awkward truth of relationships: the fights, the camaraderie, the raw desire, the fumbling and longing beyond the pas de deux or the romantic love scene.
In one section, the men whirled and leapt in black strapless gowns behind a line of well-muscled, imposing female dancers. The women traced tiny circles with their hands that swooped into great, powerful swaths of their arms; they flexed their muscles, thrust their hips, danced a tiny Charleston that swelled into enormous kicks and lunges, and bopped around in unison, their faces each reflecting a different attitude: curious, devoted, dedicated, amused. It was life in a body, distilled into its quirkiest essences.
The piece barreled on for over an hour without even a pause. At its culmination, a tall male dancer appeared atop a white wall that ran across the back of the stage. He fell backward, disappearing, in a chilling moment reminiscent of a suicide. Then, he climbed back up and did it again. More dancers appeared on the wall to perform cannonballs, twisting dives, and arcing leaps, maintaining an easy pace. Each preparation and departure was clearly visible — some even held hands as they jumped.
This work created a visceral experience that surely meant something different to every viewer who saw it — a combination of texture, speed, organization, composition, and tension that all worked on multiple levels. This was not a narrative, but an abstraction, a distillation of human experience. You could try to assign it a meaning or story, but it feels best to just bathe in it, like you’d bathe in the ocean or a mystical bout of lovemaking.