There are several startling moments, beginning with the opening scene, in Batsheva Dance Company’s Last Work, which recently ran at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The curtain parts to reveal a woman in a royal blue dress, with her hair pulled back in a pony tail. She is far upstage at house left and facing the near wing so we see her in profile. She is running on what must be a treadmill, because her pace does not seem to vary and she seems to be genuinely exerting herself. Then one, and then two dancers, wearing shorts and shirts of muted colors, wander in from the wings low to the ground, almost crawling. The woman in the blue dress keeps running. She runs for the entire length of the piece. All the while, seventeen dancers of the Tel Aviv-based group appear to visually create and physically enact distinct scenes that don’t seem to adhere to a narrative. At times, the ensembles seem like allegories, as when the entire troupe lays their hands on one male dancer, fingers spread so their palms are to his skin; or the dancers are on their backs, the lighting now filtered indigo as they cycle their legs in the air, not exactly mirroring the runner — more refracting her.
I’m genuinely surprised when they walk to the back of the stage and quickly strip off their clothing to be momentarily naked (the tan lines are such a humanizing detail that they stop being performers for a moment and become people). After this, some of the men don long, priestly black robes, while others put on a tutu, and some others sit to become brief spectators. At other times, I’m taken inside a Berlin nightclub — the kind that plays unremittingly repetitive electronic dance music so people can lose themselves — as the dancers weave in and out of the small enclaves they form, doing head rolls, splits, and my favorite move, deep squats in a turnout position with their legs at 90-degree angles. I’m not surprised to find out that the choreographer I associate with that move, Martha Graham, was the company’s first artistic director.
However, the final scenes were the ones that I think brought the entire house to its feet. The music had become surreally and subtly martial (the soundtrack was designed by Maxim Waratt, and Grischa Lichtenberger provided original music). Then, one dancer set up a microphone and yelled indecipherable sounds, while another energetically waved a white flag, and another set off fireworks — all at the same stage latitude. The performer manning the microphone took out a roll of brown tape and taped the microphone to the stage, using long strips wrapped around the stand and attached at acute angles to the floor. He then wrapped everyone else — for that scene, littered around the stage and unmoving — in tape, circling each dancer around torsos, over and under shoulders, until everyone was bound to each other my long tendrils of tape. It made me think of that song by The Police that calls out “poets, priests, and politicians” for using words to bind us and violate us. That scene was a timely but dystopian image: the combination of running that gets you nowhere while standing still allows you to be placed under someone else’s power. This clearly resonated with the audience, which when I left, was still clapping.