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Personal Is Political for Israeli C

May 1, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin insists he didn’t set out to create a political piece when he chose to use Arabic music in his latest work.

But personal is political, Naharin says, and the latest round of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians _ now heading into its 20th month _ had just begun. By the time ``Naharin’s Virus″ made its Israeli debut a year ago, hundreds had already died in the fighting.

``I don’t differentiate personal from the politics because it is all tangled up together,″ Naharin said earlier this week. ``Your passion has a lot to do with politics.″

Naharin has brought his Batsheva Dance Company to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the U.S. premiere of ``Naharin’s Virus.″ Security guards frisked patrons at the door Tuesday night; bags and purses were examined.

As the lights dimmed in Brooklyn and Arab folkloric music swelled and filled the hall with chants of ``jana″ _ Arabic for ``paradise″ _ the audience broke into applause.

Naharin called his collaboration with Arab Israeli composer Habib Alla Jamal ``the strongest statement that we respect each other, that we love each other.″

``This music is actually so familiar in Israel. We’ve heard it all our lives,″ said Naharin, whose company is based in Tel Aviv, Israel. ``These are people that we live with. This is music that came from the land of Israel.″

But peace is not what comes to mind with a work entitled ``Naharin’s Virus.″ The dance was adapted from the 1960s Peter Handke play, ``Offending the Audience,″ written during the Vietnam War and at the time of the first Palestinian uprising.

``You will see no spectacle. Your curiosity will not be satisfied. You will see no play _ there will be no playing tonight,″ a narrator stiffly warns.

Indeed, there is a solemnity, a tension to Naharin’s latest work. The set is sparse. The dancers are sheathed in putty-colored body suits that reach to the tops of their thighs and stretch over their hands, giving them a fluid, organic, almost inhuman quality.

At the start, a lone dancer inches along the blackboard that serves at the only backdrop on the set, outlining her figure in chalk. She leaves behind her silhouette _ her void _ and the word ``you″ scrawled like an accusation in both English and Hebrew.

However, as in life, there are others to fill in and take her place, and the blackboard quickly bustles with graffiti (including the letters PLASTELINA, an anagram of Palestine).

Feet bang against the board like gunfire. One dancer’s furious scribbling in red resembles the bloom of blood from a bullet wound. At one moment, dancers sway, hands held up to their mouths as though issuing a silent cry.

There is no story behind ``Naharin’s Virus,″ and the piece challenges the viewer. Naharin, a former Martha Graham dancer, is chiefly interested in form and movement. His dances emerge after long hours in a laboratory of collaboration, giving a facetious meaning to the title ``Virus.″

The company _ nine women, 10 men _ skitter, squirm and slide across the stage, not unlike how a virus might actually insinuate its way into the populace. Dancers move together _ and then each breaks out in a spirited, frenzied solo.

Like life, Naharin said.

``All of us, many of us, flow down the river. We have the force of the river taking us down in unison, but we can individually do what we want in the water,″ he said. ``It’s one example of the use of other forces than just our own to make us move.″

Batsheva performs at BAM through May 4. Jamal and his Galilee Band will be performing at BAM’s cafe Friday and Saturday.


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