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Jack Anderson

Batsheva Twice

"Project 5"
Batsheva Dance Company
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
Sept. 21-Oc t. 3, 2010; female cast Sept. 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 23 at
8 p.m., Sept. 25 at 2 p.m., Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m.; male cast Sept. 24 and 25 at 8 p.m., Sept. 26 at 2 p.m., Sept. 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 30, Oct.1 and 2 at 8 p.m., Oct. 3 at 2 p.m., $10-$75
Tickets: (212)242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, Sept. 26, 2010

As a choreographer, Ohad Naharin, the Batsheva Dance Company's artistic director, often likes to play games and create artistic puzzles, taking bits from one dance and mixing them with another and putting old choreography to new artistic uses. He did this adroitly in "Project Five," a work from 2008 for five dancers based upon material from four older compositions.

On Tuesday night, "Project 5" began with "George & Zalman" (2006) in which five black-clad women repeatedly struck odd positions to plaintive piano music by Arvo Pärt and the recorded recitation of a poem by Charles Bukowski that advised "Ignore all possible concepts" and went on to urge, "Just make it, babe." Both music and words were repetitive. The text was also accumulative, adding new words to the end of each repetition. Stoic choreographic repetitions made this a tribute to survival, to just making it, babe.

Then came "B/olero (2008)," to a synthesizer version of Ravel's score, one of music's most famous examples of repetition and accumulation. Here, two women kept going in and out of choreographic synchronization.

Three women in "Park," an excerpt from "Moshe" (1999), to music by Pan Sonic and Naharin, gestured with automaton-like regularity. They also chanted incomprehensible (to me, at least) phrases into a microphone and one woman gestured like a rabble-rousing politician.

A slide projection announced a five-minute pause and a digital clock started counting down the minutes while the audience could contemplate the image of the dancers stretched out on a floor. But this was not a slide, as it first seemed; it was a film in which the dancers moved slowly out of sight, giving way to the finale, "Black Milk," a 1991 revision of a dance from 1985 to rippling marimba music by Paul Smadbeck.

The five live women, now in white, smeared themselves with black paint from a pail, and ran and jumped about until one woman returned to the pail, which now had water in it, to bathe and presumably cleanse herself.

When I went back to Batsheva on Friday, the evening began with five black-clad men assuming odd positions to plaintive piano music and poetic recitations. Then two men kept going in and out of synchronization, after which…etc., etc. This was "Project 5" all over again, this time with a male, rather than a female, cast.

Presumably, some of the choreographic games Naharin played in "Project 5" involved showing how the same movements can look different on different bodies. They certainly did so here, even though much of the movement seemed rigid and automaton-like on both the male and female bodies and both casts danced with admirable precision in what could be termed a progression from mechanism to a human ceremony of soiling and purification.

Yet there were differences in effect. Or did I only think so after seeing "Project 5" twice? In any case, the female version emphasized the choreography's ritualistic aspects and the women could have been priestesses. The men, while retaining a sense of ritual, brought greater urgency to the steps, hurtling about at times as if pursuing or escaping something, and they made the political posturing in the "Park" episode especially sinister. (But amidst the otherwise mysterious and incomprehensible chanting, did I actually hear the words "sushi" and "hummus" rise up?)

Naharin played clever choreographic games. But given the hints of mechanization, demagoguery, and redemption, I wish they had seemed more dangerous games so that the ways these men and women reacted to their challenges could excite emotions as well as pique intellectual curiosity.

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