Audiences have literally gone gaga over Israel's Batsheva Dance Company ever since artistic director and choreographer Ohad Naharin took it over in 1990. Sold-out venues and standing ovations are commonplace for the Tel Aviv-based contemporary-dance troupe co-founded in 1964 by the legendary Martha Graham.
It is not just that the company is filled with world-class dancers and that Naharin's choreography is both surprising and seemingly boundless. Audience reactions may also be largely due to Batsheva itself going Gaga. That is, the company has adopted Naharin's unique movement language and training system of that name. Gaga seeks to unleash the body's untapped agility and capacity for control. The dancers' movements emanate spontaneously from an area between the navel and the groin that Naharin refers to as the Lena. From there, movement flows outward into traditional and non-traditional dance phrases incorporating gesture and, at times, a bit of quirkiness.
"We explore multi-dimensional movement, we enjoy the burning sensation in our muscles, we are ready to snap, we are aware of what we are made of, we are aware of our explosive power and sometimes we use it," writes Naharin on Batsheva's Web site.
The company brings the explosive power of Gaga to the Benedum Center on Thu., Feb. 5, for a performance of Naharin's acclaimed Three (2005).
The 70-minute, intermissionless work for 17 dancers has been described in broad terms as exploring themes of beauty, nature and existence. It is a description Batsheva co-artistic director Naomi Bloch Fortis says the company accepts, but feels is open to individual interpretation.
"In every work Ohad creates there is never one story, one message, one feeling or one interpretation," says Fortis, by phone from Tel Aviv. "It is always full of ideas, possibilities, and stories coming in and out. For me personally, the work is a journey. It starts somewhere and ends somewhere completely different, taking me and my emotions along with it to different places."
The title Three references the work's three sections. The first, "Bellus" (beauty), set to Glenn Gould's recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, features several solo dances. Judging by a DVD of excerpts from Three, Naharin's choreography for the solos is filled with ticks and pops of movement, accompanied by small, slowly developing motions that erupt into dynamic bursts of energy.
Three's second section, "Humus" (earth), takes a different tack. It's introduced on video via a television held by a dancer, then launches into a 17-minute synchronous group dance for nine women, set to ambient music by Brian Eno. The choreography has the women leisurely moving as one unit, all over the stage, periodically punctuating their motion with violent body jerks, chest-pounding and forceful marching.
Three concludes with another group section for the full company, titled "Secus" (this and not this). Set to music by a variety of performers, including Kaoru Inoue (a.k.a. Chari Chari) and The Beach Boys, "Secus" is part duet, part improvisation-inspired show-and-tell -- nudity included -- and all Gaga in its purest sense.
Batsheva Dance Company is arguably one of the top three contemporary dance companies in the world. Its stop in Pittsburgh, as part of a U.S. tour, is the jewel in the Dance Council's season. In Three one can witness what has made audiences worldwide go gaga.
Batsheva Dance Company presents Three 8 p.m. Thu., Feb. 5. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $22-50. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org