Batsheva Dance Company, Joyce Theater, New York

In artistic director Ohad Naharin’s Project 5, three women stand at the lip of the stage and belt into mikes – in Hebrew. Maybe we are not supposed to know they are chanting about a “zealot” who “farts” their guts on to the pavement when they go out for sushi, hummus, ice cream. Or maybe we wouldn’t know what to make of this tragedy even if we could understand the words – we foreigners, tuning in to the latest episode of the long-running Middle East Show for the sake of the spectacle. Or maybe it is the Israelis who trivialise or theatricalise – and which is it? – the situation. The choreographer does not say.

Since he took the helm of Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company two decades ago and gave it an international presence, Naharin’s work has grown both more pointed and more ironical and oblique. Project 5 – spanning 19 years with three short works and one long excerpt – lays out this evolution.

Black Milk, from 1991, unfolds like a drama. One woman after another paints her face with mud. (This week, however, it will be men: the Project 5 cast featured women until the weekend, since when it has switched to men.) The mask frees the women to catapult into the air, grapple with each other like sisters, and invent scapegoats – in short, become a tribe. Naharin offers this portrait straight; in 1991, truth in representation still seemed possible.

Fast-forward to 2006’s George & Zalman. Now the women adopt poses as often as they take action. One shields her eyes, another points two fingers of each hand toward the ground, a third offers her instep. These gestures repeat as someone intones the Bukowski poem “making it” – as dumb in its cynicism as its imitation bourgeois advice for living proves dumb in its squareness – over the loudspeaker, from the top with each added line. (Take “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and substitute exhausted profanity for turtle doves, and voilà.)

The words trigger the gestures of the women, who seem caught in a scene of someone else’s making. Everyone, in fact, seems caught: the poem’s guidance counsellor and even the poet himself. In George & Zalman, there is no vantage point from which to distinguish authenticity from contrivance – one’s own or anyone else’s. ()

Until October 3.

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