Batsheva Dance Company at the Joyce

Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Walking out of the Joyce Theatre last night after seeing Batsheva Dance Company‘s presentation of Project 5 (at the Joyce Theatre through Oct. 3; tickets $10-$74), I was surprised and disappointed all at once. Surprised because choreographer Ohad Naharin’s “Gaga” movement style produces a truly distinctive result, and disappointed because, overall, the four pieces, spanning Naharin’s oeuvre since 1985, were compositionally so underwhelming.

I don’t know all that much about Gaga, but if I was being glib, I’d describe the results as somehow Eastern, reminiscent of Tai Chi or something. A somewhat snarkier British critic compared it to a Pilates class. Whatever the case, the results are actually quite fascinating: Batsheva’s dancers (I saw the all-female version of the performance) move with unique sort of weightlessness, shifting their weight through their bodies to produce a fluid, light-footed dance.

It’s a lovely and compelling result that nevertheless does come to feel a bit thin over the course of an hour covering four distinct works, a single-note performance not all that different from the cloyingly minimalist music Naharin scores the work with (if I never see another dance piece set to Arvo Part, I can probably die happy). But even that criticism may owe a lot to personal preference: One of the things that draws me to dance is weight and gravity, which Gaga–like ballet–eschews. But there’s no denying that gaga allows for a rich physical language.

What was definitely disappointing was the overall composition of the four pieces, which consistently reminded me of ballet more than contemporary dance, and not in a way I appreciated. While I mostly liked Black Milk (1985/1991), there were plenty of moments in which the choreography had the dancers crossing the stage at diagonals, spinning and twirling in billowy costumes slightly of sync, which reminded me of big party scenes from the narrative ballets, the point of which is to show off the prettiness of the corps. Not so much what I like from contemporary dance.

Of the four pieces, the only one that really spoke to me was Park (1991), a work for three dancers. With a more modern, electronic score, it was musically more adventurous, and there was some amazing movement by one of the dancers that really stood out, even in accomplished company. Her duet in Black Milk was likewise compelling, and I’ve been trying to sort out her name (she had a shaved head; I believe it’s Bosmat Nossan).

Maybe Project 5 is just a bad sampling of Naharin’s works (this is the first time I’ve seen his works live, though I’ve been interested since seeing Andrea Miller–who worked with him–a couple months ago). A friend of mine spent some time studying with Naharin over the summer, and I’m certainly intrigued to talk with her about it now, particularly since her own style–often harsh and staccato–is rather different from Gaga, suggesting that as a new skill, Naharin’s style might serve to expand a choreographer’s vocabulary in meaningful ways, even if in his own application it can make him seem a bit like a one-trick pony. But again, perhaps this wasn’t the most varied evening of his work he could have chosen.

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