Directly after their Sadler’s Wells performances last week, the Israeli company Batsheva presented a smaller show, Mamootot, in the more intimate setting of Riverside Studios. With the audience seated on all four sides of the dancefloor, it opens with a woman simply standing and staring. In her towel romper-suit, she looks like some unearthly Teletubby. Gradually, she revs herself up until she is doing cartoonish walks, splay-legged runs and squatting hops with flipper hands, all punctuated by sudden, introspective freezes. The effect is both bonkers and brilliant.
This is what choreographer Ohad Naharin calls his “gaga” style. It combines the discipline of an adult, the articulation of a robot and the energy of a toddler, and the Batsheva dancers wear it like a second skin.
In the subsequent section, set to idle guitar strumming, all nine performers maintain strict unison; in this wild style, that is some achievement. Later, to wailing vocals, one supine woman wriggles woozily along the floor like an alien larva, while four others look as if they are powered by the erratic static given off from the electronic score. The final female duet appears as if through a splintered mirror, the couple’s moves alternately matching and fragmenting.
This is dancing that not only impresses, it puts a twitch in your limbs. But the studio setting lays bare any flaws. When the dancers sit among the audience, or shake hands with them, the po-faced self-consciousness feels both overdone and underwhelming. The plain studio lighting helps show the dancing but hinders the choreography, which cries out for a glow of theatrical magic. With its many episodes varying wildly in energy, scale and purpose, this is a very bumpy ride indeed: choreography that is all over the place, as gaga as the dancing.