Last Friday I saw Hora. If you want the short version; it was good, very, very good. If you want the slightly longer version, keep reading. If you want the really, really long version, I will try to oblige. I discovered from this article in the NYTimes that the word Hora not only means “hour” in Spanish, “slut” or “whore” in Norwegian, apparently is like “howdy” in Japanese and is some type of Indian astrology and also a Roman goddess. But the most obvious and significant Hora is the Israeli/Jewish dance.
Given that the Batsheva Dance Company and Ohad Naharin (the choreographer) are Israeli, it’s kind of tough to avoid the comparisons. However, there really aren’t any in any literal sense. I’m also trying to figure out if there was any connection between their performances here in Canada and the visit by Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s nice to think that the Prime Minister of Israel travels with the dance company. Or that he likes to be able to highlight Israeli contemporary dance while globetrotting. But I’m not entirely convinced.
I think the more obvious connection to mine is Gaga, the movement language developed by Mr. Naharin.
While I’m not quite 100% certain that I understand Gaga fully, after watching the videos, I think I have a better understanding of Hora. Which is what we’re here to talk about, right?
When it starts, there are 11 dancers sitting, evenly spaced apart, on a wooden bench along the back wall of the stage. The stage itself has been kind of transformed into some large bright green square with no visible entries or exits. The dancers all rise together and slowly walk forward, they turn to their right, hold a pose as if they are resting their arms on a counter (or possibly playing like a kangaroo or T-Rex, animals with short arms that are held loosely in front) and then turn to the left assuming a pose kind of like some sort of construction crane or back hoe.
The only reason I mention it in such detail is that it gets repeated four or five times during the course of the performance. Which turned it into some kind of touchstone for me. I still wasn’t able to figure out if it had any other more significant meaning and I somehow doubt it. To me, Hora really was just about moving bodies in and through space.
This concept of moving bodies in and through space was most obvious when all 11 dancers veered from the line and each did something different and original. I’m certain that there were a bunch of moves that were repeated, but by having so many dancers on stage and having them all do different things it was extremely hard to focus on one dancers or one movement.
That sort of thing happened numerous times over the course of the performance. But every now and again something (or someone) would squirt out and do something solo-like, or duet-like. One of the one’s that jumped out at me as being particularly well-done was I decided to call “The Twins.” A section where Ian Robinson and another dancer who didn’t quite have as a distinctive haircut go all out at 60 miles-an-hour doing these wild funky chicken type of moves that ended up reminding me of the Mirror Scene by the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup.
There were a bunch of bits like that. A part where all they all end up in a similar position to how sprinters crouch before a race, except that they are using the tops of their toes instead of the bottoms (ouch). Another one where they sit on the stage with their legs extended perfectly flat, and their knees at an exact 135 degree angle, while spinning in absolute unison. And a third where the woman who I referred to as “The Russian Spy,” actually stood on her toes, twice, despite not wearing toe shoes.
It was obvious from the get go that they knew how to dance and move way better than a bunch of stuff that I had seen recently. In going through the bios of the dancers (in a vain attempt to try and figure out who was who) I was happy to see that that Bobbi Smith had previously danced with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Mr. Robinson with Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (Go Canada!).
Another thing that made the performance rather kick-ass was the soundtrack. Back in the 70s and 80s (and 90s as well, but by then I had stopped keeping up with pop music) there was this guy Isao Tomita who performed some of the better known classical music cannon on synthesizers. At the time I wasn’t a big fan (I was much more into guitars and drums) but I quite vividly remember coming across his records at the time.
One of the things I’ve realized about dance performances, is that it does help every now and again to offer the audience some kind of hook to hang their collective hat on. Or in slightly clearer language, something with which they can identify. And actually as I write those sentences I realize that in fact it has nothing to do with any other members of the audience, and everything to do with me.
I like it when there is something that I can identify with, or make some kind of association. Since for the most part the movement itself is extremely difficult to describe – at some point I’d love to have an opportunity to try and do a play-by-play of a performance in much the same way that a sports broadcaster would. I see lots of similarities – having some identifiable music makes it extremely easy to make that connection.
Back when I was younger, I would scan the program to see what music was being used and make a judgement on how good the performance was likely to be based on the music. Now it’s way more complex, but as a similar type of rule-of-thumb if they’re dancing to live music, it’s got a better chance in my book of being a better performance than if using pre-recorded stuff (but I digress, Hora did not have a live band).
Nonetheless, since I find it easier to make an emotional connection to music, getting something recognizable aids immensely. Which is not to say that I was able to figure out any specific connection between the music and the movement. Quite the contrary, I would go so far as to presume that the music was laid on top of the piece after all (or most) of the moves had been thought out. In the same way that you would first figure out the menu for a dinner party before deciding on the playlist.
Sometimes dance can be movement for movement’s sake. I think that Hora is one of those cases. I’d love to be able to sum it up in one pithy statement, or witty phrase. But, unfortunately I’m not that good a writer. I also would have loved to be able to talk about the specific dancers more, because they truly were spectacular, but unfortunately the tiny jpg headshots on the Batsheva website don’t really correspond with my memory of what the dancers really looked like. And I’m certain there are tons upon tons of other things that I missed. Nonetheless Hora is pretty gosh darn kick-ass and while I realize that it is unlikely that the Batsheva Dance Company won’t be coming to Montreal next year, I do eagerly anticipate their next visit.