Batsheva Dance Company at the Joyce

Project 5, choreographed by Ohad Naharin,  featured five dancers.  In four shows during this season, only women performed the dances.  In nine shows, only men performed the dances.  We got to see the men.  I’d have loved to have seen the women, but arrangements just fell through.

The performance consisted for four pieces.  The first, George & Zalman, was performed to Avro Part’s Fur Alina while a woman recited an excerpt from Charles Bukowski’s Making It.  The words were spoken in the form of a game whose name escapes me at the moment.  It went something like this:

Ignore all concepts.
Ignore all concepts and possibilities.
Ignore all concepts and possibilities. Ignore Beethoven.
Ignore all concepts and possibilities. Ignore Beethoven and the spider.

And the poem went on, parodying American society’s advice to ignore what’s beautiful or fearful or human for the “higher” values of “making it”, getting a job, a house, a car, “a belly full of beans” etc.

Each dancer had his own individual set of movement phrases for each phrase of spoken word, and these were repeated each time the poem started up again.  For some phrases, all five men fell in to formation and struck a pose in unison.  At times the spoken word paused and one of the men would dance a solo.

And the men?  Breathtaking.  Each one was beautiful and though their bodies varied in height, their builds and their movement styles were all similar.  Our friend Lynda, who has studied and  loves gaga (the dance language developed by Batsheva), told us that this is probably the result of the training that Batsheva dancers undergo for years in the company’s Junior Ensemble before they can be accepted to the actual company.

I loved the costumes, which were off the beaten path.  All black, they were almost tuxedo like, yet casual enough to move beautifully with the dancers.  The shirts were waist length with a V neck and the pants were knee length.

The second piece, titled B/Olero was a highlight for me.  The music was Tomita’s airy synth version of the Ravel classic.  I am a sucker for this piece of music in any way, shape or form, and Naharin’s choreography lived up to the standard set by the music.  Two men performed this piece, their movement somehow mechanical and fluid in the same breath.  So many of Naharin’s movements are so simple and may almost be the kind of thing that kids might cook up while blowing off steam in the school yard, yet I rarely if ever see movement like this on the concert stage, elevated to the status of art and executed with such beauty and grace.  One little snippet of movement that has stayed with me had both men in a second position plie while their forearms circled from their elbows, suggesting the movement of gears in a machine.  The entire dance reminded me a tiny bit of Rioult’s Bolero, which also seemed to celebrate the beauty of the machine, though I felt that Naharin’s had a special sultriness to it, which made a nice contradiction to the theme.

Clever use of video to set up the five minute pause  (that I’m assuming was needed for costume change) between Park and the final dance, Black Milk.  A projection screen dropped and we saw video, shot from overhead, of the five dancers sprawled out on the floor in their rehearsal clothes, as a timer counted down the five minutes.  At about the four minute mark, one of the dancers began wriggling on his back toward the other end of the frame and as the five minute mark drew close, all five dancers began to wriggle out of the frame.

The evening ended with Black Milk, which seemed to me to be about an initiation into some sort of tribe or cult (or possibly the army?), and toward the end of the dance, the initiate seemed to have second thoughts about his choice to join.  The dance begins with one man, separate from the other four, eventually being drawn to them until all five kneel at the edge of the stage.  With great solemnity, each pausing to catch the gaze of the man next to him before he acts, they pass a bucket full of olive green paint.  One at a time, they appear to be sanctifying themselves by dragging the paint in a ritualistic fashion over their faces, their bare torsos, and the white linen of their skirts and pants.  As the dance builds it begins to take on violent forms; at one point it appears that the initiate is having his head repeatedly slammed into the floor by one of the men in the cult.  As the dance winds down, the initiate rushes to the same bucket which is now full of soapy water, and he frantically scrubs the green goop off of himself.

I’d gone to see this company because I’d heard such gushing amongst the dancers whom I know, saying that it was extraordinary.  I was really glad that the performance lived up to the accolades and I look forward to seeing the company perform again.

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