Gaga didn't quite blow the mind away

REVIEW / DANCE

DECADANCE (da:ns festival)

Esplanade Theatre/Last Saturday

Batsheva Dance Company brought the house down in rock concert style with its performance, Decadance. The audience lapped up every single moment.

Who would not? On stage were 17 sensuous bodies that twisted, extended and leapt expansively with a heady and carefree attitude to an invigorating soundtrack that shifted constantly from genres as disparate as surf rock to Vivaldi.

Excerpts of Batsheva's seminal work strung together in Decadance.
Excerpts of Batsheva's seminal work strung together in Decadance. PHOTO: MAXIM WARATT

The Israel-based company has indeed become a leading brand in the dance world. Its well-known movement technique, Gaga, has won the hearts of many dance practitioners and enthusiasts the world over with its emphasis on tapping into deep personal sensations within the body to elicit a flurry of powerful movement.

At its best, Gaga is visually arresting because it embodies the delicate and nuanced as well as the meaty and visceral. In addition, Gaga also allows space for one's inner psyche to manifest.

When watching someone execute the Gaga technique, the experience is moving because the gamut of human emotion is also made visible.

Batsheva delivered the goods as promised. But, at the same time, something was amiss.

The most striking thing was how the imaginative and emotional worlds of the dancers were not unlocked to their fullest potential on Saturday's performance. Their bodies were impressive, but the emotional responses stemming from inner sensation felt diminished. The cast bordered on being physically showy while neglecting that very important intuitive sincerity that makes the Gaga technique so pleasurable to watch in the first place.

Amid the showiness, dancer Hsin-Yi Hsiang was one of the few who stood out in that night's performance. She was total in her treatment of her performance. Her scintillating focus and physical exactitude made her presence much larger than her pint-sized body and the rest of the cast.

Decadance's format was also one that hindered development of thematic depth. The 90-minute performance was basically a seamlessly strung together collage of 10 excerpts of Batsheva's seminal works (hence the prefix Deca-). Credit must be given to artistic director Ohad Naharin for stringing together these excerpts to create an experience that stood on its own and also did not feel jarring.

Still, Singapore was offered only a sampler of Batsheva, never quite delving into an experience that was mind-blowing. I cannot help but feel a bit short- changed, knowing that Saturday night's offering was not a display of the company at its maximum potential.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'Gaga didn't quite blow the mind away'. Print Edition | Subscribe