The Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin has a loyal following. You can get a glimpse of it at almost any of the shows his celebrated company, Batsheva, has performed at The Joyce Theater this week. The last is this Sunday, Oct. 3.
Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, showed up over the weekend, and audiences have been packed each night with a strong Israeli base. Then there’s his other devoted followers — Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel.
Before each performance, the anti-Israel activists hand out a sort-of supplement to the ubiquitous Playbill program, outlining Israel’s alleged crimes. Boycotters offer their own music, too: “You’re dancing around apartheid!” was the slogan they chanted last week.
When asked about how much politics affects his choreography, Naharin said not much: “It’s not that I’m uninterested in politics,” Naharin, 58, told The Jewish Week. “I’m just more interested in human values.”
He said that his work is rarely, if ever, political. And he added that the frequently voiced take that his style — called Gaga, which is characterized by a pronounced emotional intensity — seems to stem from Israel’s fraught politics, was simply not true.
“I think [that view] has a lot to do with the limitation of the view” of the critic, he said. “For me, actually, lightness is very important. I never want to my work to be heavy; I want it to float.”
And yet parts of his current piece seemed to belie that intent. Titled “Project 5,” the dance is an hour-long, intermission-less compilation of five older pieces. In the first section, “George and Zalman,” five dancers crouch, burst and weave to an angst-riddled poem by Charles Bukowski. In another section, “Black Milk,” dancers smear their faces with muddy gray paint.
To be fair, there are lighter parts too, like the duo “B/olero.” Naharin said that he found a strangely alluring digital version of Maurice Ravel’s classic symphony, by the Japanese composer Isao Tomita.
Because the entire “Project 5” work alternates casts each night — one night all women, the other all men — the male version of “B/olero” can often seem comic. Men blow seductive kisses at the audience while bouncing their hips and batting their lashes; it all suggests prostitutes on a dark street corner.
If it is fun, it is also slyly subversive — another Naharin trademark. “There is a kind of agreement that how we look or generalize about men and women helps us make order and [helps us to] follow the rules,” Naharin said, referring to his decision to alternate gender roles. “I play with this. … But I’m also a victim of the process.”