Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga

Posted on 21 September 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Ohad Naharin's "Hora"
Rachael Osborne and Iyar Elezra in Ohad Naharin’s Hora. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

I first wrote the article below for the Forward last winter, when the Batsheva Dance Company toured North America in three large-scale productions.  Now, right before New York audiences catch Ohad Naharin’s duet B/olero in City Center’s popular Fall for Dance festival, I decided it was time to revisit this piece.

Fall for Dance features an array of internationally-renowned companies, and while Batsheva has boasted a world-class reputation since its inception, its style and structure have changed dramatically over the last few decades.  This article, originally titled “Going Gaga for Batsheva in America,” traces Batsheva’s transition from a strongly American-influenced company to the more distinctive troupe which has captivated contemporary audiences.

Going Gaga for Batsheva in America

Since its first tour of the United States in 1970, Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company has won over American crowds and critics alike with its energetic approach to dance.  At the time, it was, perhaps, a novelty: an Israeli group performing primarily American repertory with unbridled verve and vigor.  But in the past 18 years, the company has become a phenomenon of a different sort.  The Batsheva Dance Company, which is currently crisscrossing North America, is widely recognized as one of the world’s top dance ensembles, featuring audacious choreography with inventive movement.

Founded in 1964 with the financial backing of Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, Batsheva began as a repertory company in the American mold.  Martha Graham, a founding mother of American modern dance and a beneficiary of de Rothschild’s patronage, served as artistic adviser.  The Israeli dancers trained intensively in Graham’s technique and channeled both their physical power and their emotional passion into some of the choreographer’s most acclaimed works. With many of Graham’s disciples contributing to Batsheva’s repertory, the Tel Aviv-based company was part of American modern dance’s family; New York Times critic Clive Barnes even called Batsheva’s members “the Israeli children of American dance” upon seeing the company’s American debut.

Though Graham’s direct influence on the company lessened in the late 1970s, the troupe continued to import its rotating cast of artistic directors and most of its choreographers from abroad.  In the 1980s, though, the Israeli team of David Dvir and Shelley Shir assumed the helm.  There were some important shifts during this decade: Ballet eclipsed Graham technique as the company’s preferred training, and more Israelis joined the roster of contributing choreographers.  Yet despite outstanding dancers and well-crafted repertory, Batsheva appeared to some observers to be a company sailing on its strengths rather than forging ahead into artistic frontiers.

This changed in 1990, with the appointment of Ohad Naharin as artistic director.  Naharin was no stranger to the Batsheva Dance Company; he started his dance career with the group and was cast almost immediately as Esau in Martha Graham’s Jacob’s Dream, which Graham choreographed in 1974 for the company’s 10th anniversary.  Although Naharin soon departed for New York to study and perform with Graham, he returned periodically to choreograph for Batsheva.

Indeed, by the time Naharin accepted the post of artistic director, he had made a name for himself as a choreographer on three continents.  Besides his work with Batsheva and with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, Naharin created dances for his own pick-up group in New York City throughout the 1980s.  In 1987, Jiri Kylian, one of Europe’s pre-eminent choreographers, invited him to the Netherlands to be a guest choreographer at the Nederlands Dans Theater.  By then, marvelously textured movement and a mesmerizing signature fluidity in the spine and limbs already characterized Naharin’s work.

Thus, Naharin returned to Tel Aviv with a well-developed choreographic voice that became an integral part of his sophisticated artistic vision for Batsheva.  He assembled a rich blend of repertory from the cream of the crop, inviting such luminaries as Kylian, William Forsythe, and Angelin Preljocaj to work with the company.  Fresh Israeli choreographers like Itzik Galili, Anat Danieli and Inbal Pinto also peppered the group’s offerings, but the base was always Naharin’s own work.  He set several of his earlier creations from America and Europe on Batsheva, and he choreographed new dances including Kyr, Mabul, and Anaphasa. With Naharin’s distinctive choreography as a backbone, the company was rejuvenated and redirected on a more coherent path.

Naharin further revamped Batsheva in the past decade, abandoning the repertory model that it had followed from its inception.  Now, the company is devoted to performing Naharin’s creations, as well as works by house choreographer Sharon Eyal, who as a dancer has been one of the most articulate interpreters of Naharin’s work.  This refined focus strengthened Batsheva’s identity with an unmistakable aesthetic that in turn propelled the company to the peak of contemporary dance.  Over the past several years, the unique physicality of Batsheva’s dancers has enthralled viewers and created significant buzz in the dance world.


Ohad Naharin and dancers during the 2009 Gaga Intensive.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The key to this distinguishing feature is Gaga, a method of training developed by Naharin since the 1990s.  Gaga is radically different from most dance training.  The mirror is banished from the studio, and dancers do not perform specific combinations of movement but instead respond to verbal instructions; these prompts can call attention to specific body parts, actions or qualities.  This exploration arms the Batsheva dancers with an extraordinary range of movement that stretches beyond that fostered by traditional training methods.  Smooth, sharp, strong, soft, shaking — the dancers have a full toolbox of textures that they can apply to their pliable bodies.

Yet it’s not just the range of textures that is so striking; there’s something special about how fully Batsheva dancers bring themselves to performances.  In 2008, Naharin wrote about Gaga, “We learn to love our sweat, we discover our passion to move and connect it to effort, we discover both the animal in us and the power of our imagination.”  Even as Gaga readies the dancers for Naharin’s and Eyal’s choreography, it also tunes them into their individual selves; it engages their thoughts and emotions, as well as their bodies.

Through Gaga, Naharin and his troupe have harnessed and explored the remarkable energy that has been a defining feature of the Batsheva Dance Company since the 1960s.  This energy is systematically and breathtakingly deployed in Naharin’s choreography, and it enlivens all the works the company is now performing, from the spare Three to the eclectic Deca Dance to the compositionally layered MAX, which closed Batsheva’s last North American tour at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  And it’s this energy that electrifies — and moves — not just the dancers, but also the audience.

Related posts on Gaga on Dance In Israel

Related posts on Batsheva Dance Company and Ohad Naharin on Dance In Israel

Related links

13 Comments For This Post

  1. Zöhre Erdoğan Says:

    Hi, I need to know Batsheva dancer’s name. Does anybody can help me?
    Thank you!

  2. คลิปโป Says:

    Ӏt’s an awesome paragraph in favor of all the internet people; they will get advantage from it I am sure.

  3. xxx Says:

    It’s an amazing pօst designed for all the online users; they will
    obtain benefit from it I am sure.

  4. porn video Says:

    Ι am аctually grateful tօ thе holder of this web paɡe who haѕ shared this fantastic post at at this time.

  5. xxx Says:

    Hi I am so glad I fߋund your website, I reaⅼly fоund you by mistake, while I was lоoking
    on Аol for something else, Nonetheless I am here now аnd would just like to say thank yοu
    for a marvelous post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time
    to looк over it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so
    when I have time I will be back to read a great
    deal more, Please do keep up the supеrb work.

  6. หนังxx Says:

    Ӏf you wish for to improve your knowledge just
    kеep vіsiting this website and be updateⅾ witҺ the
    newest gօssip posted here.

  7. porn movies Says:

    I am regular ѵisitor, how are you everybody?
    This piece of writing posted at thіs site is reɑlly good.

  8. porn Says:

    Еᴠeryone loves it when individuals get tߋgether and
    share ideas. Great blog, continue the gоod work!

  9. porn videos Says:

    Thanks a buncɦ for sҺaring thіs with all of us you really recognize what you are talkіng approximately!
    Bookmarқed. Please ɑdditionally consult with my website =).
    We can have a hypeгlink changе arrangement between us

  10. hd porno Says:

    great pоints altogether, you just rесeived a neԝ reader.
    What could you sugɡest in rеgards tⲟ your put up that you simply
    made a few daʏs in the past? Αny cеrtain?

  11. xxx Says:

    Aweѕome blog you haѵe herе but I was wanting to know
    if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics talked about
    here? I’d reaⅼly like to be a part of community where
    I can get advice from օtheг experienced people that
    share the same interest. If you hаve any recommendatіons,
    please let me know. Thank you!

  12. pornhd Says:

    This sitе wаs… how Ԁo I say it? Relevant!! Ϝinally I’ve found
    sometһing which helped mе. Apрreciate it!

  13. sex Says:

    What’s up, I check your neᴡ stuff dɑily. Your writing style
    is witty, кeep up the good work!

13 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Israeli Dance: What’s Happening in October | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] a special appearance by the Idan Raichel Project.  Check out my most recent article on Batsheva, Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga, for background on the company and a list of other related articles about the […]

  2. “Mamootot” – Challenging the Performer-Spectator Divide | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] “Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga” Share with friends: […]

  3. Ohad Naharin Receives a 2009 Dance Magazine Award | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] “Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga” […]

  4. “MAX” – Connecting to Ohad Naharin’s Choreography | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] “Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga” […]

  5. International Exposure 2009: Showcasing Israeli Dance | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] in the complex’s main hall, the festival closes with Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s latest work, Hora. Share with […]

  6. Batsheva Dance Company: Ohad Naharin’s “Project 5″ | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] “Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga” […]

  7. Batsheva Dance Company: Ohad Naharin’s “Shalosh” (“Three”) | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] “Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga” […]

  8. Invitation to a Lecture at Emory University on American and Israeli Dance | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga […]

  9. Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s “Kyr/Z/na” | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] “Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga” […]

  10. Phaza Morgana 2009: Batsheva Dance Company in the Desert | Dance In Israel Says:

    […] Ohad Naharin’s Hora““The Batsheva Ensemble on Tour at Home and Abroad”“Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga”Related linksBatsheva Dance CompanyPhaza Morgana […]

  11. Parlons Gaga (pas la lady…) | La Rotonde Says:

    […] * Sources : Deux articles de Deborah Friedes Galili. “Inside Basheva”. Dance Magazine, février 2012, pp.24-28 ainsi que Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga […]

  12. Gaga Dance Workshop at Parkdale Library (June 16, 2012) « Breakfast in Scarborough Says:

    […] a list of 60 registered participants. This was a very special program, for members of the renowned Batsheva Dance Company were coming all the way from Israel to share the Gaga technique with Toronto. I felt privileged to […]

  13. Cohan, Robert < Sanjoy Roy: writing on dance (etc) Says:

    […] Graham Dance Company Batsheva Dance Company (Cohan worked as a choreographer for the Israeli company in the […]

Leave a Reply

Advertise Here


Search (posts) for: