Ohad Naharin and Yasmeen Godder Bring Us Order and Chaos From Israel

The Joyce and the Kitchen host the curious choreographers

One word that might be used to describe Ohad Naharin’s choreography and the members of Batsheva Dance Company who perform it is “insistent.” That doesn’t mean that Naharin’s Project 5 is showy or delivered glossily to the audience the way a chorus line shows its stuff, but that every move is perceived as a demanding task, however fluid its dynamic or tender its context. So full-bodied, focused, and exact are the dancers that you can imagine the sweep of an arm cleaving an invisible rock.

Project 5 (2008) anthologizes five earlier works of Naharin’s—one of them, Black Milk, dating from 1985, five years before he left New York to return to his homeland and take over the Tel Aviv–based Batsheva. At some performances during Project 5’s two-week run at the Joyce, the cast is composed of five women; at others, five men assume the roles. New Yorkers who can see both casts will undoubtedly be tempted to make comparisons to do with gender, but there’s no doubt that both will be equally powerful.

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s "Project 5"
Gadi Dagon
Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s "Project 5"
Sara Wilhelmsson, Inbal Aloni, and Shuli Enosh in Yasmeen Godder’s "Singular Sensation"
Paula Court
Sara Wilhelmsson, Inbal Aloni, and Shuli Enosh in Yasmeen Godder’s "Singular Sensation"

Details

Batsheva Dance Company
Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue
212-691-9740, joyce.org
September 21 through October 3

Yasmeen Godder
The Kitchen
512 West 19th Street
212-255-5793, thekitchen.org
September 23 through 25

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The terrific opener, George & Zalman(2006), advances by accumulating a series of poses; each of the women in the cast I saw has her own sequence, but one or two moves pull them into unison. The music is Arvo Pärt’s “Für Alina”; in addition, the recorded voice of company member Bobbi Smith reads an abrasive poem by Charles Bukowski that establishes and controls the accumulation. The text inaugurating the first move begins with “Ignore”; after five additions, it has become “Ignore all concepts and possibilities, Beethoven, the spider, the Damnation of Faust.” You get the point.

Between each addition, the dancers (wearing short, trim black dresses by Alla Eisenberg) re-group, and this constantly changing organization of the space keeps your eyes and mind busy and entranced. Also, you can play with the idea that the poses may reflect the words—at least sometimes (the women smack their abdomens on “a bellyful of beans”). As the piece progresses, each of the five (Iyar Alezra, Shani Garfinkel, Bosmat Nossan, Michal Sayfan, and Smith) has a brief, arresting solo that’s subtly different from those of her colleagues.

Naharin makes interesting musical choices. His 2008 B/olero is set to Isao Tomita’s refiguring of Maurice Ravel’s famous “Bolero” for synthesizer. It sounds almost delicate with its tinny percussion, wobbly flute tones, and kazoo-like sounds, and its otherworldly ambiance contrasts intriguingly with the power of Alezra and Smith. There’s no pause between this and the preceding piece. The two women wear the same black dresses as before and inhabit the same set of medium-height dark gray walls. Whether they’re moving in unison or counterpoint, they’re grounded—their legs often wide apart, their knees bent. Schooled in the training technique, Gaga, that Naharin has devised, they’re both powerful and highly flexible in every muscle and joint. When they stride or thrust a leg out into space, they seem to devour an unexpected amount of space. Their bodies seem heated, malleable in spite of their boldness; movement travels through them like branching currents, opening up new avenues of flow.

That’s true of Garfinkel, Nossan, and Sayfan in Park (an excerpt from the 1999 Moshe), which is set to equally pungent music by the Finnish duo Pan Sonic. The lighting (by Bambi and Naharin) hits the three in the face. Standing mics are brought in for them, and they chant in unison words I can’t understand, angling their hips and shoulders into stopped poses, jetting briefly away from the mics and then returning.

The final Black Milk (1985/1991) comes after a five-minute pause (counted down on a projected video of the motionless or barely moving recumbent women). This is a very different sort of piece—more of a ritual, less involved with repetition. Now the women wear full, draped pants by Rakefet Levi with matching bandeaux around their breasts. The music is Paul Smadbeck’s “Etude no. 3 for Marimba.” In the beginning, one woman (Garfinkel) is separated from the group, and the others are clustered around a large pail. After a few moments, they line up and sit downstage. One by one, each dips into the pail and smears her cheeks and the front of her body with thick, shiny, gray paint, after which, with a meaningful look, she passes the bucket to the next woman. The act and the increasingly driving music spur them to rushing about, leaping, jumping straight up. But in this piece, they also touch one another. Sayfan presses herself against another woman’s back and lays her head on her companion’s shoulder. One dancer lies down and another repeatedly sits her up and pushes her down. Garfinkel may be an initiate. In the end, she again kneels by the pail and starts splashing its contents on herself. A miracle! Now it’s clear water, and she washes herself clean. A fit ending to work that clears dance of excess and makes it thrillingly legible.

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Another Israel choreographer has been showing her work here—several blocks west of the Joyce at the Kitchen. Where Naharin contains intensity in pristine forms, Yasmeen Godder lets chaos rule within highly flexible boundaries. A choreographer cannot, for instance, plan exactly how thick green paint will splatter on a performer’s head, when another bites down on the green balloon he’s been holding in his mouth. She can’t be sure just how limbs will thrash and tangle when three dancers fall on one another in an erotic adventure so close to an improvised wrestling match that it’s doomed to fail.

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