BECKET — Like the House of Windsor, the House of Batsheva has recently been blessed with a new addition to the family. L-E-V, the contemporary dance company making its US debut this week at Jacob’s Pillow, is the offspring of Sharon Eyal, a former dancer with and house choreographer for the Israeli-based Batsheva Dance Company, and Gai Behar, whose background includes fun but distinctly un-royal-sounding jobs such as “rave events producer.”
The group is performing the hour-long “House,” a 2011 dance originally commissioned by Batsheva. In her opening night welcome, Pillow director Ella Baff warned the audience that we would not likely “feel in the middle” about the piece.
Indeed, “House” is frank and bold, the dancers clad much of the time in designer Ma’ayan Goldman’s “fashions” of nude body stockings, some ornamented, amusingly, with S&M-worthy touches: a garter belt on one man, a corset on a woman; in the middle section, one couple teeters around on sky-high heels. The woman ends up, save for her golden heels, completely naked. If you wonder whether there could be much difference between body-revealing costumes and nudity: Yes. Much.
Batsheva director Ohad Naharin’s gaga dance technique — an intense, highly self-aware style of movement — is a driving force in Eyal’s works and in her own buttery dancing. Eyal provides delicious little solo entr’actes in between the work’s three main ensemble sections; encased in a sleek, black unitard, she undulates her torso, snaking and reaching her arms as if the air is thick. (Sometimes another dancer will arch precipitously back and just hover, as if suspended in aspic.) Less “come-hither” than “come if you’d like, but you don’t know what you’d be missing,” Eyal here is regally cool: She may be the madam of a brothel specializing in fetishes, or the ringmaster of a menagerie of exotic creatures.
In our role of observers, the experience wavers between clinical — like physicians gathered in a surgical theater — and voyeuristic. Avi Yona Bueno’s shadowy, secretive lighting — particularly during the kinkier goings-on — seems to place us in a dank movie house, a porno flickering in front of our glazed eyes. (But what about that naked woman? Is this a comment on the objectification of women? On our passivity as she is being objectified? Or is the woman being idolized, and, if so, where is the line between reverence and abuse?)
The dancers transform again and again, now feral animals roaming, now tribesmen and women enacting ancient rituals. At other times we might be peering through the windows of a crack house, the dancers looking feverish, dreamy but stoned, stepping gingerly over or leaning precariously against one another. Or, now blank rather than dazed, they may be mannequins come to some sort of eerie sentience after hours.
Occasionally, when the drumbeat in Ori Lichtik’s riveting score is amped up until we feel a visceral thump-thump-thump in our sternums, we could be wallflowers at a techno rave, the music driving the onstage revelers into frenzied relentlessness.
Despite the performers’ largely deadpan delivery throughout, “House” is in no way indifferent: This would have made the piece intolerable, or, worse, mediocre. Though seemingly adrift, it’s a tightly choreographed work, and the dancers — all Batshevans at some point — are both precise and wild (it would be interesting just to watch them make peanut-butter sandwiches). Nor is “House” some kind of masterpiece, but it is a seductive dance, fascinating in a monotonous-yet-compelling way. Contrary to Baff’s prediction, I do feel “in the middle” about it, yet when the curtain closed I was ready to see it again. There is much to puzzle over, indeed, but there is much to savor, too.
Janine Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.