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The lithe movements of the Batsheva Dance Company

The renowned Tel Aviv troupe officially opens its 2013-2014 season

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Members of Batsheva Dance Company's senior ensemble performing part of 'Sadeh21' in a preview of the 2014 season. (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Members of Batsheva Dance Company's senior ensemble performing part of 'Sadeh21' in a preview of the 2014 season. (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Choreographer Ohad Naharin doesn’t need to do much to get a crowd’s attention. With chiseled face, sinewy muscles and knowing grin, he commands complete focus. When he starts to dance, slowly, edgily, the only sound in the room — apart from the music — is that of the photographers’ shutters clicking, aiming to capture every powerful move. And this wasn’t even a full performance.

Naharin, the longtime artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company, was in the troupe’s studio Tuesday at the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater in Tel Aviv to announce the start of the 2013–2014 season. Along with Batsheva director Dina Aldor, the two had gathered their junior and senior dancers — known as the troupe and the ensemble — to show off bits of the works they’ll be performing over the coming year.

Batsheva dancers moved with extreme flexibility, lithe and supple but with sudden movements and gestures that force viewers to consider the dance as a whole. Dressed simply in their workout clothing, they commanded attention, but it was clear that they were focused on Naharin, seated in front, watching carefully.

When asked by an audience member how he garners such emotion from his dancers, Naharin looked over at the ensemble and said, “I never speak of feelings. I provide room for feelings.”

As director of the troupe since 1990, Naharin, now 60 — who first danced with Batsheva before being invited by Martha Graham to join her dance company in New York, and then attended Juilliard and the School of American Ballet — is known for having his dancers rehearse without mirrors, allowing them to feel their movements from within.

“It’s more about listening to what the body is doing,” he told Tuesday’s audience of reporters and photographers. “There’s volume in small gestures.”

It’s clear that for Naharin, considered one of modern dance’s preeminent choreographers, it’s only about the dancers. He was present on Tuesday morning to make announcements and comments about Batsheva’s upcoming jubilee year, which will be celebrated throughout 2014; the troupe’s upcoming travels — from Vienna, Minsk and Oslo to southern France, Italy, Africa, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand — and the pieces that will be performed this season, including some — “Shalosh,” “Max,” “Mamutot” — that haven’t been staged for many years.

Aldor commented that the troupe will be performing “Virus of Ohad Naharin,” a 2001 piece, at the request of audiences; Naharin corrected her, commenting that the renewed staging of “Virus” was at the request of the dancers, not the audiences.

Ditto for the company’s jubilee year celebrations, which are due to kick off in late December, marking Batsheva’s 50 years of dance, which began in December 1964.

“It’s not so emotional or exciting for the dancers,” remarked Naharin. “But it needs to be marked. We’ll invite all the Batsheva dancers from then who are still alive.” Another chuckle.

Ohad Naharin, the acclaimed choreographer and director of the Batsheva Dance Company (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Ohad Naharin, the acclaimed choreographer and director of the Batsheva Dance Company (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“Did anyone here attend last week’s workshops?” he then asked, scanning the audience, referring to the Sukkot holiday open dance classes, produced by the Batsheva dancers. No nods.

He smiled.

“I guess you were busy,” he said. “They were very satisfying.”

Er, guess we missed out. Next time.

Batsheva Dance Company will be performing “DecaDance,” “Decale,” “HaHor” and “Sadeh21” at the Suzanne Dellal Center throughout October. See the Batsheva website for more details and ticket information.

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