With Chicago Dance Month in full swing, there is no shortage of awe-inspiring dance to see. At the Harris Theater of Music and Dance, German repertory dance company Gauthier Dance, touted by its director, Eric Gauthier, as Stuttgart’s Hubbard Street, presents “Mega Israel,” a compilation of works by renowned Israeli choreographers Hofesh Shechter, Sharon Eyal-Gai Behar and, of course, Ohad Naharin. Naharin is regarded as the father of Israeli contemporary dance and mentored Shechter and Eyal during their stint in the ensemble he has run since the 1990s, Batsheva Dance Company. Gauthier’s mixed-repertoire bill, its Chicago premiere, does not disappoint and marks. The versatile and charismatic group of sixteen dancers uses their technical and expressive prowess to illuminate the powerful and vigorous dance that has emerged from Israel over the past two decades.
Established in 2007, Gauthier Dance serves as the resident dance company for Theaterhaus Stuttgart, and prides itself in performing work by director and former soloist for the Stuttgart Ballet Eric Gauthier, as well as a long list of internationally renowned choreographers, including Mauro Bigonzetti, William Forsythe, Jirí Kylián, Itzik Galili, Paul Lightfoot and Sol León and Hans van Manen. Gauthier’s multitalented and captivating dancers hail from locales ranging from Cyprus to Rio de Janeiro, representing the highest level of talent from around the globe. The company’s technical and artistic range is apparent in their masterful portrayal of Israeli dance aesthetics that stem from Naharin’s movement language and pedagogy, Gaga. Gaga is rooted in the freedom and pleasure of movement at its very essence. It calls for dancers to move from the deepest and truest aspects of their being and somatic experience to portray the rawness of the human spirit, shattering any artifice or pretense.
The program leads with Hofesh Shechter’s “Uprising,” originally staged in 2006. With lighting design by Lee Curran and sound by Vex’d and Shechter himself, seven male performers explore the intersection of insecurity and aggression through charged, and at times, tense interactions. The highly athletic movement set to jarring, electronically distorted percussive sound sparks questions about the role of the collective and the individual in the illusion of control or loss of it. In bare feet, t-shirts and trousers, the performers convey a simultaneous desire for companionship and urge for dominance challenging the nature and outcomes of machismo.
Next up is the infectiously cool work “Killer Pig.” With its ensemble of six female dancers donning flesh-toned unitards that reveal the body’s intricate architecture as it delivers movement that debunks clichés of female dancing, which perfectly complements Shechter’s “Uprising.” The piece was crafted by Sharon Eyal, who was a dancer and resident choreographer for Naharin’s Batsheva for many years, and Gai Behar, a multidisciplinary artist perhaps best known for his production of rave parties and art events in Tel Aviv’s underground scene from 1999 to 2005. Now known as L-E-V, this duo achieved their international breakthrough with “Killer Pig,” which was initially commissioned by Norway’s Carte Blanche in 2009, and have gone on to present their building repertoire of works worldwide. The adaptation of “Killer Pig” performed by Gauthier, featuring music by Ori Lichtik and lighting by Kevin A. Jones, is condensed to thirty minutes but does not fall short of the synchronized structures and visceral surges that characterized its original version.
The final work is Ohad Naharin’s signature dance, “Minus 16,” which has captivated audiences around the world since its premiere in 1999. Perhaps best typified by the iconic image of sixteen dancers sitting in a half-circle of chairs wearing black-and-white suits and performing full-bodied gestural movement with full-on abandon, “Minus 16” is iconic of the inventiveness and dynamism of Israeli dance. By combining broad-ranging moods and musical influences along with Naharin’s Gaga style, the piece “offers an intense experience for both the dancers and the audience which has lost none of its appeal” according to Gauthier’s program.
Gauthier’s exquisitely executed “Mega Israel” is perfect for steadfast fans of Israeli choreography, or for those looking to broaden their awareness of the iconoclastic dance that has emerged from this region. (Alyssa Motter)
Gauthier Dance’s “Mega Israel” at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. April 5-6, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm. $55-$135. Tickets: harristheaterchicago.org/tickets/upcoming-events.