“The illusion of beauty and the fine line between madness and sanity. The panic behind laughter and the coexistence of fatigue and elegance.”
In Hebrew, these are some of the words which introduce the mini-ballet Echad mi Yodea by Ohad Naharin, the director of the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv.
Echad mi Yodea (Who knows?) presents us with a semicircle of dancers seated in darkness. They sit on chairs, dressed in dark, perhaps hasidic costumes and black hats. The dancers rise in a wave and arch their bodies, then all but the last, who drops to the floor, sink back into their seats. In this piece which takes its name from the famous Jewish chant, after each upheaval the group shouts in Hebrew some familiar words from jewish Passover over a hypnotic quasi Drum and Bass arrangement, leaning forward and clenching their fists. The seven-minute ballet finishes with the dancers feverishly tearing off their costumes and throw them, along with their hats and shoes, to the centre of the stage. The climax of the piece is in this final position: the dancers stand bare, shameless in their underwear, and deliver the last words of the Hebrew verse. This verse very precisely follows a liturgy from the Haggadah de Pessa’h, listing several Jewish teachings. Its cumulative form seems to address itself to children, asking from One to Thirteen: Who knows what one means One? Then two, three, etc.
One is our God, you must answer throughout a Seder. We associate Two with the two Tablets of the Law. With Three, the Patriarchs, with Four, the Matriarchs. We associate Five with the Torah books, etcetera. Overall, the message is the physical, spiritual and mental liberation of a community, in a recitation which can also be seen as a memory game.
Hence, in this eponymous ballet (whose nerve was a hot topic of discussion throughout its performance as part of celebrations for the jubilee of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1998): “every movement is charged with meaning, and has the capacity to hypnotise with just a simple row of swaying, theoretically insignificant, dancers” assures Ohad Naharin.
Echad mi Yodea became the most well-known work by an israeli choreographer.
Source : L'Arche Magasine