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Volume 19 Issue 49 | April 20 - 26, 2007

Ran Biran

A scene from “BE, by Mayumana,” the Israeli stage spectacle, now at Union Square Theater.

The importance of being fantastically skilled

By Jerry Tallmer

“Ho-ho!” the guy directly behind me shouted at the top of his lungs as the ten automatons — like jurors in a box, on the Union Square stage — fell backward at the tick of a tock, only to spring back in view with their heads in metal buckets that a moment later metamorphosed into rapid then slo-mo then fast/slow syncopated drums. “Ho-ho!” the guy shouted, and kept it up for most of the ensuing 90 minutes. I tuned him out, but understood his outburst.

The name of this show is “BE,” and why is that? “Because we just have to be what we are,” says a slim dark bundle of beauty and energy named Eylon Nuphar. It is she and Boaz Berman who together, in Israel, conceived and created and here in New York co-direct the hurly-burly that’s billed as “BE, by Mayumana.” Why Mayumana? “Because mayum is Hebrew for ‘Have a lot of skills,’ ” says the whipcord-trim, formidably skilled Berman.

Well, they both are, and so — unarguably — are all 10 performers who bring some kind of crazy order out of a mishmash of singing, dancing, guitar-playing, contrapuntal flamenco clapping, whooping, whistling, walking, running, diving, calisthenics, contortionism, belly dance, bird calls, lion roars, warthog grunts, green-headed penguin struts, basketball, ping-pong, badminton, light show, audience participation, long-note exhalation, heartbeat thrumming, sexuality — and, oh yes, drumming, lots of drumming, loud, soft, in between, some of it on human bodies, some of it under water.

The cast — five men, five women — ranges in age from 23 to 44, and in place of birth from Spain to Portugal to England to Scotland to Switzerland to Argentina to Brazil to Mexico to Ivory Coast to Israel. Ms. Nuphar directs all this in English, the international language of the 21st century.

She herself spent the first six years of her life in Cortland, New York, at which point her Zionist parents — “following their dream” — moved bag, baggage, and daughter to the town of Kfar-Saba in Israel. As a kid, and/or since, she has been a gymnast, a long-distance runner, an actress, a musician, a film editor, a dancer, and a belly dancer. (“I guess you could say I’m still a belly dancer.”)

In a Tel Aviv music hall in 1994, when she was 23 and Tel Aviv-born Boaz Berman was 31, they met, started talking, and soon found themselves having beautiful ideas — Mayumana ideas — together. He was a composer, a musician whose forte was percussion, a scuba-diving instructor, a sailboat skipper, and a few other things. Berman’s linkage to water has its impact all the way through “BE.”

The show they set out to invent would, he says, “combine everything we like to do — our hobbies — rhythm, percussion, water, belly dancing. We did one small show for kids, and saw the potential. We started to write. We held auditions. We picked seven other people, plus we two. They needed to know how to move and be able to learn; lots of coordination, being able to do two different things at once.”

Two years later, at the beginning of 1996, “BE” opened in a small 300-seat theater in Tel Aviv, got a good word-of-mouth very fast, and six months later had found a base, a home for the company, in Jaffa.

Since then, according to the show’s news releases, “BE” — which at the moment boasts three troupes, one in Israel, one touring Latin America, and this one here — has given more than 5,000 performances in 30 countries to more than 3.5 million onlookers. The U.S. of A. is now added to that list.

“People don’t leave this company, we just add,” says Berman, the addition including a five-month-old offspring of two members of “BE” — fleet Reutt Rotem and Mohawk-topped Ido Kagan. “What’s necessary is rhythm, being able to play an instrument or to sing, being in good physical shape, being a strong character on stage, and most important, being able to work in a group on stage.”

For all the drumming, few or none in the company had had that particular ability when they first walked in. “They learn it here.” Where they learned to radiate all that sexuality is another matter. Ho-ho-ho, as the gentleman behind me was saying.

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