Batsheva Dancers Speak Out: Project 5
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.
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.
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.