Still, the work’s title gets at the contradictions of female identity that choreographers and Artistic Directors Lee Sher and Saar Harari injected into this piece, presented this weekend as part of the black-box theater’s Israeli Contemporary Dance series. On view wasn’t so much sensuality and aggression but sensuality as aggression: When one of the women bent her knees to scoop a good, long rollout of her hips, her eyes blazed with warning. Those circling hips had all the softness of cannonballs.
At one point a dancer stood serenely balanced like a music-box ballerina — with her upraised leg screwed on wrong. It was wrenched around crookedly, pointed defiantly at us while her eyes taunted: Can you do this? Yikes!
The energy and intensity built and built. Arms whirred. Bodies reached corner to corner in explosive expansion. Even normally hidden bits were deployed, as the dancers lined up within inches of the front row, opened their mouths and whipped their tongues around like electric eels.
Approachability and danger danced a tense duet here. The women wore sheer, silky leotards (beautifully designed by Naomi Luppescu), cut like glamorous evening gowns. Some were purply-brown and backless, others white and high-necked, slit down the front. Their all-business legs were bare. Think of screen sirens on top, gymnasts below. It was a look at once fleshy and ice-cold.
If the yin and yang of womanhood was the theme, and a well-worn one at that — you know, soft and sensitive one moment, then fiercely assertive the next, and all the lifting, hauling and putting-up-with of daily life — the Israeli experience was the context that refreshed it. Sher and Harari were born and trained in Israel, Sher in acting and Harari in dance. They established their company there in 2000.
For the past 10 years they have lived in New York. Their dancers come from Asia and the United States. So what is Israeli about this work? Plenty: the atmosphere of anxiety, and the corresponding air of hard-shelled resistance. The space-filling physicality, which even one or two dancers alone on the bare floor could achieve by the way they dislodged themselves, projected their bones, rose before us with the mysterious, compelling force we call “presence.”
You saw the influence of Sher’s acting experience in how the dancers held our attention simply through posture and expression; the effect was dramatic as well as kinetic. Every move was decisive, and executed with a delight in provoking. How else do you live with constant stress but look it in the eye and seek the advantage?
The music matched the quickness and muscle of the dancing, with nearly a dozen snippets stitched together with only shades of passion in common, including an excerpt from Stravinsky’s “Apollo,” flamenco vocals and the eerie sharpness of German electronic composer AGF.
Yet with all its sensory power, “Princess Crocodile” lacked shape. There were dozens of views of strength and surprise. But it was like watching a parade go by, one float after the other, some more spectacular, some less. I never felt I got to know anything more about these intriguing women than how masterfully they constructed their armor to keep us out.