Hora: Batsheva Dance Company, Edinburgh Playhouse
It is utterly exhilarating watching a piece of dance this unpredictable. It surprises you with every twist and turn of the wrist or head. And in the hands of a troupe as skilled, focused and strong as Batsheva’s dancers, Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s Hora is as thrilling as it is powerful.
Anyone expecting a full-frontal political assault from Hora must be disappointed; the show is packed with humour, not least in the perky joie de vivre of the movement to a cheeky synth-n-whistling version of John Williams’ theme from Star Wars, in which our dancers groove like a bunch of off-duty Imperial Stormtroopers vogue-ing at a gay disco in Blackpool. It’s hugely uplifting. The female dancers spinning satellite-like on their bottoms to Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathrustra (aka the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) is another witty nod to pop culture.
Isao Tomita’s gloriously wibbly synthesiser arrangements of a celestial host of composers’ greatest hits, including Mussorgsky, Rodrigo, Greig, Sibelius and Debussy, range from spiky and cold to subaquatically dreamy. This is the second piece of dance at this year’s Festival where I wish the sountrack was available to buy (Ballet Preljocaj’s And Then, One Thousand Years of Peace being the other – incidentally a performance much more overtly political than this).
But the dance is compelling. In places it’s incredibly moving. There is love, passion and despair; angular, zoomorphic shapes held at impossible angles; Wagner’s Valkyries massed in formation forming a perfect flight sitting in splits across the stage is a striking image, and there is perhaps most power in the line of dancers individually shot down and rising again, walking relentlessly to the front of the stage. Walking into the line of fire.
On the penultimate day of the record-breaking 2012 Edinburgh International Festival (11 per cent more tickets sold, a nine per cent increase in sales income compared with last year), this performance against an empty green backdrop by dancers in unmatched shorts and vests sparks with energy. A spine-tingling climax, it demonstrates that passion and wit, poise and strength can in themselves make great dance on an international stage; lavish sets and costumes aren’t required.
The other thing we learn during this performance is that people do a great injustice to complex political issues by reducing them to a facile chant. I stop paying attention at the fourth outburst from anti-Israeli protestors and have lost count altogether by the end, by which time the house lights are barely coming up as those individuals leave the auditorium.
The dancers freeze-frame while the interruptions are dealt with, then resume with more focus and determination than before. They look exhausted by the standing ovation at the end, which goes on and on. It would be much better to see it uninterrupted, but what stays with you is the performance, not the sideshow.
Shouting at dancers really won’t change the world. Art just might.