60 minutes is not a long time, but BATS manages to evoke love, playfulness, fear, hate, loneliness, and more. It truly is like going to a movie. Not one word is spoken. Yet, plenty is communicated about how we interact with and affect others through choreography, visuals, and music. This is tap, Sebastian Weber style.
Bats, on the other hand, do speak. According to Smithsonian Magazine, neuroecologist Yossi Yovel and his colleagues recorded a group of 22 Egyptian fruit bats, Rousettus aegyptiacus, for 75 days. They found out bat squeaks were not just to warn of danger from outside but were more about how they related to each other in the community. Among the communications were squabbles over sleeping positions in the cluster, food, invasion of personal space, and the telling off of males for making unwanted advances. They sound a lot like us, don’t they?
Bats all look alike
The opening of BATS appears simple. Dancers sit. They each are busy performing tasks. They almost disappear except for their faces and arms in their sleeveless black costumes. First, you are drawn in merely to see the expanse of movements one can do just with arms and hands. Then you realize they are also performing percussion. This dance company is so tight that it feels a bit like The Borg. But, as connected as they are, it’s clear each member still retains their individuality.
Rather than being part of a hive, bats live in communities, sometimes called cauldrons, of up to 100 members. Bats explores all the possibilities that that can bring. It’s fun being part of something. You have a sense of belonging. It’s even better if it’s an open and accepting group. You feel empowered and comforted. What happens when you are doing your thing and don’t notice that the rest of the group has left the building? Do you turn to your phone? When your people find you, do you turn away from your phone? Is physical reality more addictive than digital reality? So much thought-provoking choreography and so well-done! At one point the dancer turned and her shadow was next to her. She had to decide whether or not to interact with it.
When I talked to Sebastian Weber in 2021 he was working on the piece. If you remember, it came about because of a sensory experience. You can definitely feel this. You are also challenged to distinguish between what’s real and not real. There is one moment when a dancer is performing the moves of a tap dancer in her bare feet. You hear someone tapping. You know it can’t be her, but you still feel like it is.
And this is my OMG moment. BATS gets the use of technology just right. With video art from Holger Förterer, video streaming by Raphael Hahn and set design by Michiel Jansen, the lighting and interactive video mapping is spot-on and very well done. Again, you are not sure what is real and who is reacting to what or whom. You truly lose yourself in the screen, and the projection and person become one. The music made me feel I was in a spaghetti western at times. That’s not a bad thing at all.