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Batsheva Dance Company: Ohad Naharin’s “Project 5”

Posted on 19 January 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Project 5

Given the chance, I usually prefer to see a dance twice.  I can anticipate the choreography and more strategically direct my gaze, and I detetct nuances that I missed the first time around.

I first saw Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Project 5 when it premiered in 2008, and by the time I had my second viewing last week, there had been a significant change: the gender of the dancers.  Originally created for five female dancers, Project 5 is now being performed not only by women but also by men.

I had wondered if I would sense differences between the male version and the female version of Project 5.  Without watching the versions back-to-back, it was challenging to make a fair comparison.  Instead, as I watched the men, I found myself thoroughly absorbed in noticing the subtle idiosyncrasies among individuals both within this particular quintet and across the two casts I had seen. Project 5‘s assortment of small groupings and repeated compositional motifs provide ample opportunity to observe each dancer in all his (or her) glory and discover each performer’s winning quirks.

Those of you in Israel can catch both female and male casts in Project 5 at the Suzanne Dellal Center from January 28-30.  For those of you who aren’t in the country, you can get your Batsheva fix online by browsing their fantastic new website (link below; English version to come shortly!).

My preview of Project 5 was originally published as “Changing Places” in the Jerusalem Post.

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Changing Places

Two dancers rhythmically swing their forearms side to side as Isao Tomita’s synthesizer transforms the stirring melody of Ravel’s Bolero.  Positioned squarely behind microphones, three dancers intersperse their stern monotone chanting with more dynamically accented gestures.  Five dancers add movement after movement to a gradually accumulating phrase, striking their abdomens with a resounding slap each time a woman’s voice matter-of-factly intones one particular line from Charles Bukowski’s “Making It.”  And finally, costumed in flowing white fabric, five dancers shoot through the space in soaring jumps and ritualistically smear mud across their faces and chests.

Are these dancers men or women?  The answer depends on which performance of Ohad Naharin’s Project 5 you attend.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Naharin first presented Project 5 in 2008 to showcase five female dancers who had recently been promoted to the Batsheva Dance Company from the junior Batsheva Ensemble.  Besides displaying the formidable talents of these up-and-coming dancers, Project 5 unearthed several gems from the rich landscape of Naharin’s repertory.  The engrossing trio “Park” hails from Moshe (1999), the finely crafted quintet set to Bukowski’s instructive text and Arvo Pärt’s “Für Alina” is from George and Zalman (2006), and Black Milk, the supremely athletic closing section for five dancers, was first performed in 1985.  “B/olero,” the duet with its hypnotizing loops of movement, was the only section created in 2008 for members of the original Project 5 cast.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

In its early performances, the chance to see five of Batsheva’s freshest female dancers featured in this intimate chamber setting was reason enough to go to the theater.  But now Naharin is upping the ante, offering a rare opportunity to see the exact same choreography in both a female version and a male version.  During the production’s latest run at the Suzanne Dellal Center, two all-male and two all-female casts are performing Project 5.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

While reversing the casting of men and women in a classical ballet would be unthinkable because of the genre’s gender norms, switching the genders in Naharin’s choreography is an intriguing novelty that fits comfortably into the realm of possibility.  Indeed, regarding the materials with which his dancers work during the creative process, Naharin explains, “it is possible to talk, among other things, about musicality, accuracy, groove, passion, the ability to sublimate personal madness as an aid for creation, connection to sexuality and more, and all these things are not connected to gender and are not the property of men or of women.”

“The difference,” Naharin notes, “lies in the different point of reference of the viewer – in social conventions, our habits, and the awareness that a man does a woman’s role.”

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Naharin’s assertion is supported by veteran Batsheva dancer Guy Shomroni’s experience in working on Project 5.  Asked if it felt significantly different to step into roles originated by women, Shomroni replied, “Frankly, not really, because the starting point for us as dancers in this company is usually coming from a more physical way.”  Rather than taking on specifically gender-coded movement or characters, Shomroni and his fellow male dancers were charged with the same basic physical tasks that their female predecessors faced.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Yet there was a high level of excitement for the new male cast when it came to learning Project 5.  Shomroni reflects that besides Black Milk, which has frequently been performed by a male quintet, “None of the material was ever offered for men to do . . . to touch this product after it’s already been through a process and a maturing on stage, it’s a nice experience.”

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

As for the audience’s perspective, Shomroni muses that the differences among dancers of the same gender may be as fascinating as the contrasts between the male and female casts. In a company full of strikingly individual dancers, each of whom is uniquely compelling, this may well be the case. Yet returning to the issue of gender, Shomroni adds thoughtfully, “there is a difference in the body shape and the body curves in the way the body is built, so maybe there is going to be some type of change. Tell me if you find some.”

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International Exposure 2008: Day 3

Posted on 22 January 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

(Video: Hillel Kogan’s Everything)

It’s another jam-packed day of dance-watching!

Like Day 2 of International Exposure, Day 3 features two programs from the 2008 Curtain Up Festival.  We’ll start our day at 2:00 p.m. with Curtain Up 4:  Tomer Sharabi’s Monk, Hillel Kogan’s Everything, and Maya Stern’s Black Sea. At 5:00, Michael Getman’s Monday and Maya Levi’s Lifeline from Curtain Up 2 will complete the showings from this annual festival of premieres.

In between these two concerts, we’ll take an inside look into the Batsheva Dance Company.  We’re invited to Studio Varda for an open rehearsal of Ohad Naharin’s Project 5, a work for five women that premiered in July.

The evening is full of options for adventurous International Exposure attendees.  Across town at the Cameri Theater, Galia Fradkin’s La Mariposa is playing at 7:00 and 9:30 p.m.  At 8:00 and again at 10:00 p.m., Noa Dar’s Tetris will transform the choreographer’s central Tel Aviv studio into a most unusual performance space.  And at the Suzanne Dellal Center, Studio A will be the venue for the Acco Dance Center’s showing of Simon Rowe’s Welcome to Valhalla! at 8:30 p.m.

The Choreographers Society will host a reception at 9:00, which will no doubt be a welcome break before a 10:00 p.m. concert of four more works.  The Tel Aviv Dance Company will perform part of Ya’ara Dolev and Amit Goldenberg’s Tokyo Oranges, while the Nadine Bommer Dance Company will offer an excerpt from Bommer’s Manimation. Mami Shimazaki’s Chiki, Chiki 123 and Elina Pechersky’s Elina’s Muses round out the last program of the day.

See below for more videos and links.

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International Exposure 2008: Day 2

Posted on 21 January 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

(Video: Ov by Renana Raz and Ofer Amram)

The opening night of International Exposure whetted my appetite for a festival full of Israeli contemporary dance, and now I’m ready for the first whole day of  programming.  And it will indeed be a whole day – events are running from 11:00 a.m. until about 10:oo p.m.!

I saw Yasmeen Godder’s Singular Sensation when it premiered in June, and I’m eager to view this intense work again when it starts our morning. Next on the program is dance scholar Gaby Aldor, who will present a lecture on dance in Israel.  I often found myself reading her articles as I began my research on the subject, so I’m quite excited to hear her speak.

Today will also feature two mixed bills from the annual Curtain Up Festival, which is one of the main platforms for premieres in Israel.  In this year’s Curtain Up 3, we’ll see two collaborations: Bloody Disco by Yossi Berg & Oded Graf, and Reversi by Odelya Kuperberg & Sahar Azimi.  Tonight we’ll also view Curtain Up 2, with It Rains Inside (Rachel Erdos), Post-Martha (Niv Sheinfeld & Oren Laor with the participation of Ronit Ziv), and La femme 1, La femme 2 (Ronit Ziv).

In between the two selections from the Curtain Up Festival, we’ll be treated to a showing of Ov by Renana Raz & Ofer Amram.  Inspired by S. Ansky’s play The Dybbuk, Ov premiered at the Israel Festival in June.   I attended its first performance in Jerusalem and am looking forward to seeing it here in Tel Aviv at the Inbal Hall!

See below for more video and links.

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Getting to Know the Batsheva Ensemble

Posted on 05 January 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

(Video: Dancers from the Batsheva Ensemble and from Sweden in Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot)

I had every intention of taking Gaga class on November 18, 2007.  My dance clothes were in my bag, my water bottle was filled, and I made it to Suzanne Dellal with time to spare.  But outside the studio, I ran into Eldad Mannheim, the manager of the Batsheva Ensemble.  As part of a collaboration with Sweden’s National Riksteatern, members of the Ensemble were about to perform Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot along with Swedish dancers – and Eldad invited me to join the audience of school children in Studio Varda for the show.

That was the first time I had the pleasure of seeing the Batsheva Ensemble, the second company of the Batsheva Dance Company.  Since then, I have accompanied the Ensemble as they have toured to Be’er Sheva, Kiryat Shmona, and Kfar Saba, and I have attended their performances at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv.  Many of the dancers who were in the Ensemble last year are now in the Batsheva Dance Company, and I’m happy to note that they will be touring throughout the U.S. from late January to early March.  I hope you too will have the pleasure of seeing them perform!

I first wrote about the Batsheva Ensemble after joining them for a trip to Be’er Sheva, in the Negev desert, and I published a version of the article below on my own blog on January 10, 2008.  Expect more accounts of my experiences with the group in the coming months.

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I am not a morning person.

These days, it takes multiple alarms to get me out of bed, and more often than not, the snooze button takes a beating.  But at 5 a.m. on Thursday morning, I successfully arose after a single ring of my alarm. It takes something special for me to get up before the sun rises – something like the chance to accompany the Batsheva Ensemble on their trip to perform for students in Be’er Sheva. Continue Reading

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