Dance Matters: Ladies (or Lords) of Gaga

August 24, 2010

If forced to choose, would you opt to watch five spectacular men or five sublime women dance a full-evening work by one of the world’s most sought-after choreographers? New York audiences are faced with this enviable dilemma as Israel’s celebrated Batsheva Dance Company tours both male and female casts of Ohad Naharin’s Project 5 to the Joyce Theater September 21 to October 3.


Although the work was originally made for women in 2008, Naharin decided to set it on the company’s men as well. “There is no movement that belongs to a gender; there is no gesture that belongs to a gender,” he says.


To create Project 5, Naharin assembled a series of previously choreographed pieces from his rich repertory. B/olero (2008) pairs two alluring dancers with a hypnotic synthesized rendition of Ravel’s famous melody. “Park,” from Moshe (1999), builds tension with three dancers who channel their explosive power into super-charged, dynamic movements and riveting chants. In George & Zalman (2006), Naharin’s meticulous craft is uncovered as all five performers accumulate chains of idiosyncratic gestures to a gradually building text by Charles Bukowski. And in Black Milk (1985/1991), which opens with a ritualistic atmosphere, the quintet’s meditative postures give way to sweeping runs and soaring leaps.


With only a short film interlude offering the dancers a breather between the first three excerpts and the full-throttle Black Milk, Project 5 is a particularly demanding evening for its five performers. Ariel Freedman, a Juilliard alumna now in her third season with the main company, says, “I feel the weight of being one-fifth of the performers.” Ian Robinson (“On the Rise,” October 2008), one of Batsheva’s newest members, feels similarly. “It’s challenging because there are five dancers and we’re dancing all the time. It’s like a really small, tight family for an hour.”


Indeed, while Project 5’s structure may push each cast to its physical limits, this chamber format provides a rare opportunity for audiences to become closely acquainted with a handful of dancers drawn from Batsheva’s 21-member roster. Dancing alongside only four others, Freedman says, “you feel that everything is quite exposed, and everything you do can be easily seen.” The upside for the viewer, notes Robinson, is that “you get to see all the individuals as well as the group power.”


Performing within this context has magnified Freedman’s desire “to bring total presence and awareness” to each moment, even while sitting still and staring at the audience at the start of Black Milk. This heightened level of investment is natural for Freedman and her fellow company members, who train daily in Naharin’s movement language, Gaga. It emphasizes a constant awareness and availability for movement, enabling the dancers to infuse every cell of their bodies with a palpable energy whether they are moving at top speed or virtually motionless. Equipped with this astounding ability, the men and women of Batsheva are bound to enthrall audiences from the second they set foot onstage in Project 5



Photo of Batsheva in “Park” from
Moshe by Gadi Dagon, Courtesy Batsheva.