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Batsheva Dancers Speak Out: Project 5

photo by Gadi Dagon

The Batsheva Dance Company’s male cast (Shachar Biniamini, Matan David, Doug Letheren, Ian Robinson, and Tom Weinberger) performing Project 5 is definitely something to see if you have not already had the pleasure and if you have, well, Project 5 is worth seeing again.  During a recent engagement at the Joyce Theater, Batsheva showcased alternating casts—a female and male cast—performing Project 5:  a collection of pieces of various put together—similar to Decadance (2007)—into an hour-long, enticing buffet of sights, sounds, and, of course, emotions.

A still, solitary male-figure with a shock of longish blonde locks clad in a cropped black jacket and high-waisted, knee-length pants (costumes for George & Zalman, B/olero, and Park by Alla Eisenberg) sets the stage for George & Zalman (2006), which started the performance.  Set to a musical backdrop of “Für Alina” by Avro Pärt and accompanied by a chopped up repetition of Charles Bukowski’s poem “Making It,” read by Batsheva dancer Bobbi Smith, made for a soul-searching experience.  The vogue-like poses, stilted and newly fresh with each repetition and changed blocking on the stage encouraged the audience’s eyes to search—for patterns, for a semblance of theme, for something to hold onto—like Steinbeck’s intercalary chapters in Grapes of Wrath.  The unison sections allowed the viewer to relax and listen more deeply to the Smith’s crisp voice.  The pairing of the poem and the organic, almost too-feminine at times, poses that these long, strong-bodied male dancers struck commented not only the state of the life of an artist, but also of Israel—both are fragile.

Photo: batsheva.co.il

Set to an electronic version of Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro,” arranged and performed by Isao Tomita, B/olero (2008) was uncomfortable to watch.  The two dancers, shifting weight from foot to foot, and hip-swiveling across the stage, seeming to engage, while disengaging from each other and the rest of the world was eerie, at best.  Ohad Naharin’s (the artistic director of the company for two decades now) gaga-based choreography is usually rather well-received; however, this piece fell flat.  It was vaguely reminiscent of Mark Morris’s first act of The Hard Nut—quasi-contemporary, while being over the top referentially.

Photo courtesy of IsRealli

The movement sections in Park (Excerpt from Moshe, 1999) broke away from the previously slower, rhythmic tone of the first two pieces in Project 5, making this piece into a sort of breathe of fresh air.  This trio was beautifully executed, but the most stunning element about it was the speaking section—similar to Smith’s vocals in George & Zalman.  The three men approach microphones and intensely spit out rapid-fire Hebrew sentences and then slowed to a desirous utterance for “sushi, hummus, [and ice cream].”  A five-minute video of the five male dancers “sleeping” and then crawling “off-stage” was projected as a semblance of an intermission to set up Black Milk, the final piece in Project 5.

Black Milk (1985/ 1991) flowed like its costumes by Rakefet Levi—long folds of a tumble of harem pants/ skirt and was set to “Etude no. 3 for Marimba” by Paul Smadbeck.  The movement was tribal and ritualistic—a bucket containing something like an Ahava mud-mask was passed around and each dancer anointed himself with the clay from his third eye down his chest.  The movement was raw and the men looked like hunted deer as they hurled themselves at one another.  There were small moments of tenderness and moments of panic—a single one of the dancers grabs the bucket and furiously washes off the ritual clay—he distinguishes himself from the others, just as Naharin has set his company apart from all others.

Post by Haley Greenwald-Gonella

Haley Greenwald-Gonella is a classically trained dancer with a BA in dance from the University of California, Irvine, as well as a BA in English. While at UCI, Haley had the pleasure of studying under Donald McKayle, Dr. Jennifer Fisher, and Loretta Livingston. Haley is also a yoga teacher and a freelance arts journalist/ critic working in New York City. She recently received her MA in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) at the University of Southern California, where she studied under the direction of Sasha Anawalt.

Comments (2)

  1. Felix A. November 8, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    I went to see Project 5 (the female) Batsheva in the Dansenshus Oslo, Norway, and was very disappointed. The choreography was weak and very predictable, I could tell on forehand what the next move would be. The first piece was like a comical version of Minus 16 using the repetition of the Passover prayer in a modern way, and it was danced with certain arrogance that was not pleasant to watch. The bolero was cheap, the music sounded home made and not in harmony and the choreography was not on the level that you expect of a company of international level. After the start of the third piece it was clear that the theme of the evening was repetition. Although the dancers where strong in there expression the choreography was unclear, had no real direction and did not really go anywhere. The video during the break was ‘cute’ but felt for me more like a school project of and BA Fine Arts video student than a the work of an established artist. In the last piece a felt again a very strong arrogance reflected from the dancers towards the public. Choreographic wise I felt thrown back 15 to 20 years in dance history the theme of the piece got dragged out way to long and you just wanted it to be over, and here again a lot of repetition like in the first 3 pieces. The choreographic material was poor and after the first minutes the intension of the piece was clear already.
    Over all I was disappointed and a bit shocked after seeing this program ( I have seen the company dancing more interesting pieces in the past) a company with a big international name bringing a program that is so weak that it looked almost like amateur province theater.
    Although I have to say that the 5 female dancer were strong and are definitely very good dancers, and they did more than there job out there.

    • Felix A. November 8, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      Sorry for the poor spelling, it kind of late her and posted it without rereading it.
      Next time I will ready it twice before to post.

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