08 January 2007

Jump and fall

Waiting for Beckett
Valerie Lawson / The Sidney Morning Herald

"Dance first. Think later. It's the natural order," said Samuel Beckett. And it is the right order in January, as dance opens the Sydney Festival this weekend, followed by a mini-fest of Beckett plays.
Not that dance and thinking are mutually exclusive. Far from it in this festival, which has brought the intellectual choreographers Akram Khan and Ohad Naharin to town.
Neither Khan, the wunderkind of British dance, nor Naharin, who leads Tel Aviv's Batsheva Dance Company, take the easy option when it comes to dance making and talking about their art.
Naharin shuns generalisations and almost scolds when asked what dance-savvy audiences and "virgin" audiences would see in his work Telophaza, opening at the Capitol Theatre tonight.
"It's less about whether they've experienced dance and more about what kind of experience they've had otherwise," he said.
"Have they been using their imagination? Are they capable of abstract thinking? Do they have connection to form? Do they realise the subtext of things? What kind of expectations [do] they bring? How intelligent they are; how sensitive they are. That's much more interesting than whether they've seen dance or not."
He says he chose the title "for the way it looks, and that the meaning of it comes from biology, from our body, from regeneration."
Naharin's early mentors were the founder of the Batsheva Dance Company, Martha Graham, and the French choreographer Maurice Bejart, both of whom taught him about exaggeration, he said, but the most important dance figures in his life today are his dancers.
"They are very intelligent and musical. They really love to dance, and don't really separate the dance from their life. They are eager to learn, very creative. Many of them are capable of choreographing, and many of them do."
But what they cannot do is nurture their vanity, for Naharin bans studio mirrors wherever his company works.
He even lived without a mirror at home for seven years, as he believes "the use of the mirror spoils the soul".
Three-quarters of the dancers in his troupe are Israeli, and although Naharin was born in Israel he became a US citizen as he developed an international career.
His cross-cultural background runs in parallel to Akram Khan's. London-born with Bangladeshi grandparents, he is based in Britain but his work is in demand from the Netherlands to China.
Collaborating with Khan in Zero Degrees is Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, whose background is Moroccan and Flemish. Opening last night at the CarriageWorks, Zero Degrees takes the audience on a physical and metaphorical journey from Bangladesh to India.

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