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Batsheva Dance Company 2011-2012: The Year Ahead

Posted on 23 November 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s
Sadeh21.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Last week, Batsheva Dance Company unveiled its 2011-2012 season at a press conference in Studio Varda.  And what a season it will be!

On December 30, the troupe will premiere two new works, one by Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar and the other by Yasmeen Godder.  At the end of March, the junior Batsheva Ensemble will debut another new work by Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar along with a restaging of Ohad Naharin’s classic Tabula Rasa (1986), which has not been shown in Israel since 2004.  Tel Aviv audiences will also be treated to performances of Eyal’s Bill and Naharin’s Sadeh21, Hora, MAX, Shalosh, Kamuyot, Deca Dance, and Furo, created in collaboration with the Japanese video artist Tabaimo and last staged in Israel in 2008.  Both the main company and the ensemble will travel around Israel, appearing in other cities and throughout the periphery; the troupes will also journey abroad, with several performances in Europe in November and December and a North American tour in February and March.  By the time the season ends, the two companies will have given a combined total of well over two hundred performances.

The press conference kicked off with a peek at an installation that the main company will perform at the Fondation Beyeler, a museum in Basel, on November 23 and 24.  In the museum, the audience will sit around the space and can come and go as they please; in the press conference, we too sat around the perimeter of the space and remained riveted during the brief showing.  As company member Guy Shomroni DJ’ed, the rest of the dancers filtered in and out of the center, quoting snippets from across Naharin’s repertory.  Here and there duets formed spontaneously and unison took shape organically.  Phrases from different works created unusual juxtapositions, while occasionally more and more dancers gathered to build a section from a single work.

Although I was invited to this press conference as a dance writer, I attended it along with the other 29 dancers who are studying Ohad Naharin’s movement language in the inaugural year of the Gaga Teacher Training Program – and in the midst of my total immersion in Gaga, my viewing was undoubtedly colored by my recent experiences in the studio.  I couldn’t help but notice the Batsheva dancers slip in and out of phrases we have been learning in our repertory classes, like the quiet unison from Kamuyot (based on Mamootot) and a short, speedy solo from Sadeh21.

While a thrill surged through my body as I recognized these movements, I was even more fascinated by the dancers’ mastery of Naharin’s movement language.  Trained for years in Gaga, these dancers move fluently in Naharin’s idiom, and their knowledge of his recent repertory is encyclopedic.  Like writers cleverly engaging in wordplay, these dancers rummaged freely through Naharin’s vocabulary and deployed witty plays on movement.

I continued to mull over the Batsheva dancers’ relationship to Gaga as the press conference continued on to previews of the new work by Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar as well as that of Yasmeen Godder.  Sharon Eyal, herself steeped in Gaga as a former member of Batsheva and as the company’s current house choreographer, has developed a unique voice that nevertheless is a cousin to Naharin’s language.  Having worked with Eyal on previous productions, the dancers moved in her creation as if speaking one of their native tongues.  And even though Yasmeen Godder’s language is further removed on the family tree of contemporary dance, the five Batsheva dancers in her new work adapted admirably to her vocabulary.  This mixed bill is one to look forward to, for it showcases the range of this company’s extraordinary dancers in works by some of this country’s most exciting choreographers.


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International Exposure 2010: Video Preview

Posted on 05 December 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Nir Ben-Gal and Liat Dror’s Terminal B. Photo by Naama Nada.

Even though December has started and the shelves of Tel Aviv’s bakeries are lined with sufganiot, the jelly donuts traditionally eaten during Hanukkah, many of Tel Aviv’s residents are still walking around in tank tops and sandals. Unusually hot days and sunny skies have made it easy for the masses to pretend that summer never ended. But for those of us who follow the dance field, there is no denying that the calendar year is coming to a close. The tip-off is in the posters and fliers on display at Suzanne Dellal as well as the press releases and invitations received via e-mail, all announcing the arrival of the annual showcase of Israeli dance: International Exposure.

Nimrod Freed’s Flash.  Photo by Itamar Freed.

The exact shape and scope of International Exposure have shifted since its first incarnation sixteen years ago. For many years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it operated in conjunction with Curtain Up, the country’s premiere platform for new works by independent choreographers. The festival has stretched over a varying number of days and welcomed crowds both intimate and large. But throughout, the goal has remained the same: to display the wealth of works premiered over the past year to foreign arts presenters, dignitaries, and journalists in the hopes of sending Israeli dance around the world.

Orly Portal’s Gnawia

International Exposure 2010 will run from Wednesday, December 8 through Sunday, December 12, and the schedule features an enticing array of established companies and independent choreographers. Most of the programs will take place at the Suzanne Dellal Centre, but a number of concerts and informal showings will take place at other performance venues and studios. And while some of the events are offered only to the festival’s guests, many of the shows are open to the public.  Below is a guide to the events that are accessible to local dance lovers (and a sneak peek at International Exposure for those of you who are not in town).  All shows are at Suzanne Dellal unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, December 8

Video: Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Zina

International Exposure starts out with the Batsheva Ensemble, the Batsheva Dance Company’s junior division, performing Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Zina at 20:00.

Thursday, December 9

Rami Be’er’s Transform. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

International Exposure’s first full day kicks off at 11:00 with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Rami Be’er’s new Transform, which premiered during the international Tel Aviv Dance festival this past fall.

Curtain Up 2010 will be represented by three separate bills shown at 16:00, 19:00, and 22:30.

Video: Tamar Borer and Tamara Erde’s Ana

Thursday’s offerings also include a performance of Tamar Borer and Tamara Erde’s latest collaboration, Ana, at 20:30.

Friday, December 10

Friday’s programming includes a fair amount of moving about to different theaters in the area.

Video: The Project in Jacopo Godani’s Light Years.

At 14:00, The Project – a joint initiative by the Suzanne Dellal Centre and the Israeli Opera – will present a mixed bill at the Opera House in the heart of Tel Aviv.   The program includes Emanuel Gat’s Through the Center, Jacopo Godani’s Light Years, and Marco Goeke’s Supernova.

Video: Vertigo in Mana

Vertigo Dance Company presents a hit from last year, Mana, at the Givatayim Theater at 17:00.  Choreographed by Noa Wertheim, Mana premiered during the twentieth anniversary of the Curtain Up festival.

Video: Maria Kong in Miss Brazil

Maria Kong reprises its program from the Tel Aviv Dance festival, Miss Brazil, at 21:00 at Suzanne Dellal. The company’s four founders – Anderson Braz, Talia Landa, Leo Lerus, and Ya’ara Moses – collaborated on the first half of the bill, Miss, while guest choreographer Idan Cohen contributed the second half, Brazil.

Saturday, December 11

Saturday is primarily a day of mixed bills, titled Exposures, that feature both shorter dances in their entirety alongside excerpts from full-evening works.

Video: Yoram Karmi’s Particle Accelerator

Exposure 1, at 11:00, features Fresco Dance Group in an excerpt from the evening-length Particle Accelerator.  The bill is rounded out by Rachel Erdos’s OU’.

Video: Rachel Erdos’s OU’

Odelya Kuperberg’s Tzitzushka.

At 13:00, Exposure 2 will include Odelya Kuperberg’s Tzitzushka and a new work from Idan Sharabi.

Video: Liat Dror’s Terminal B

Nir Ben-Gal and Liat Dror bring their company from Mizpe Ramon to show Dror’s Terminal B at 14:00. 

Video: Mami Shimazaki’s Loop People

At 15:00, Mami Shimizaki’s Loop People shares the bill with Orly Portal’s Gnawia in Exposure 3.

Video: Kamea Dance Company in Tamir Ginz’s Srul

The day finishes at 22:30 with Exposure 4, featuring Kamea Dance Company in an excerpt from Tamir Ginz’s Srul along with Nimrod Freed’s Flash.

Sunday, December 12

Video: Sharon Eyal’s Bill

After a whirlwind of performances, International Exposure 2010 closes with Batsheva Dance Company in Sharon Eyal’s Bill.

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Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s “Kamuyot”

Posted on 21 April 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot

My first glimpse of the Batsheva Ensemble when I arrived in Israel was in Kamuyot, and I was able to revisit the work for a preview of the company’s most recent staging at Studio Varda in Suzanne Dellal last weekend.

A version of my article on Kamuyot was first published in the Jerusalem Post as “Stepping In.”

* * *

Stepping In

Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot isn’t your average family-friendly dance.  It’s not built on fanciful fairy tales or familiar children’s stories, like the ballet classic The Nutcracker or modern dance renderings of Peter and the Wolf.  In fact, it’s not based on any narrative at all.  But the Batsheva Ensemble’s production is a uniquely engaging work that lives up to its billing as “a piece for children aged 6 to 90.”

Based on material from Naharin’s Mamootot and Moshe, both of which were created for more typical adult audiences, Kamuyot premiered in 2003 and has since entertained crowds across the country and around the world.  Indeed, for the past few years, an international cast has toured Sweden in a popular joint production with the Riksteatern, while last season the Batsheva Ensemble brought Kamuyot to children in Rwanda.

This widespread success lies in large part in the special bond between performers and viewers that the work establishes from the outset.  For starters, Kamuyot trades the traditional theater setting for the more informal, intimate studio space.  Like the children and adults who have arrived to watch the show, the dancers gradually filter into the studio and find their seats on long benches that line all four sides of the room.  Some even interact with people sitting around them, smiling broadly and chatting amiably.  These performers are approachable rather than untouchable; in fact, in their prep-school inspired white shirts, plaid pants, and pleated skirts, Kamuyot’s young cast members could be the friendly teenagers next door.

Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The dynamic connection between the performers and the audience is maintained once the dance itself begins.  Kamuyot’s eclectic score – ranging from quirky electronica to nostalgic Americana and from Japanese rock to mellow reggae – kicks off with a rousing rendition of Lou Reed’s “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together,” setting the tone for a performance that’s more interactive than most.  Besides moving back and forth between their spots on the sidelines and the open space in the center, the dancers invite viewers to join them in a series of inventive postures and later walk around the perimeter, gazing softly into audience members’ eyes and occasionally taking a viewer’s hand.

Even when there’s not direct physical interaction between Kamuyot’s performers and spectators, a spirit of lively interplay among everyone present prevails.  At one point, the dancers gamely address the challenge of being surrounded by the audience and pointedly cater to each row of viewers.  To a rocking version of Bobby Freeman’s song “Do You Wanna Dance,” the cast jumps through a fast-paced phrase, strikes a pose, and then sprints to the next side of the studio to start all over again.  In such a small area, every twinkle in their eyes and dimple in their cheeks is visible, revealing the dancers’ pleasure in captivating the crowd.

Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The Batsheva Ensemble’s ebullient energy is infectious, and in this square space, the audience’s enthusiastic responses are equally contagious.  Seen up close, the performers’ soaring, unbridled leaps and a few daring acrobatic feats elicit gasps from viewers of all ages.  Other gestures – two men waving their tongues in the air, or one man smacking his face, thumping his thighs, and drumming on his chest – prompt giggles from children which soon spread to their parents.   Moments of contact with the dancers frequently spur happy grins and a stream of excited whispers.  And don’t be surprised if the end of the show induces ardent applause and even a dance party, with kids spilling from the bleachers to try out their own moves in the center of the room.

That’s the magic of Kamuyot.  Naharin’s work eschews the storybook characters and wondrous stagecraft of so many productions geared towards families, but the one-of-a-kind experience it fosters possesses its own attraction – and this spell works its charms on children and adults alike.

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Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s “Kyr/Z/na”

Posted on 15 March 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Trailer for Kyr/Z/na

It’s been a particularly fascinating season at Batsheva.  As the company marks the 20th anniversary of Ohad Naharin’s arrival as artistic director, it has placed a wealth of choreographic treasures onstage for review at the Suzanne Dellal Center: Hora (2009), Project 5 (2008), Three (2005), Mamootot (2003), and Kamuyot (2003).

This programming has promoted what Naharin has discussed in several press conferences: an opportunity for the choreographer, dancers, and audience members alike to revisit the choreography.  Project 5, itself a compilation of excerpts stretching from 1985’s Black Milk to 2008’s B/olero and originally danced by five women, was newly presented in 2010 with an all-male cast.  Three has stayed in Batsheva’s active repertory, but the recent performances were the first ones at Suzanne Dellal in a few seasons. And Mamootot and Kamuyot, which are performed in the studio with viewers on all four sides, always offer repeat audiences a new perspective simply through the choice of seating.

Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Z/na.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Now, together with the Batsheva Ensemble, the Batsheva Dance Company’s junior troupe, Naharin is revisiting two of his earlier works: Kyr (1990) and Z/na (1995).  The result – Kyr/Z/na 2010, which combines excerpts from both works in one powerful program – continues through March 17 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv.

My preview of Kyr/Z/na 2010 was first published in the Jerusalem Post as “Moving Legends.”

* * *

Moving Legends

Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Z/na.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Reflecting on his recent restaging of excerpts from Kyr (1990) and Z/na (1995) for the Batsheva Ensemble, Ohad Naharin remarks, “At first, when I returned to the material, I felt that I was waking a dinosaur.”

The two works have certainly loomed large in the history of the Batsheva Dance Company and in the memories of Israeli dance audiences.  Commissioned by the Israel Festival, Kyr was the first dance that Naharin created after assuming the artistic directorship of Batsheva in 1990, and it featured a musical collaboration between Naharin himself and the band Tractor’s Revenge.  Even after two decades worth of adventurous new works, a section of Kyr set to a relentlessly driving rock version of the Passover song “Echad Mi Yodea” has remained Naharin’s best-known choreography.  Meanwhile, Z/na, which opened the Israel Festival in 1995, also left a strong impact with striking images, memorable props, and an original score composed by popular music icon Ivri Lider.

Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Z/na.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Touching these two substantial, legendary works after so many years was, at first, daunting.  “In the early stages of the process, I lost confidence about the decision to work again,” Naharin recalls.  “But from the encounter with the dancers and the process in the studio, the interest returned.”  Ultimately, Naharin asserts, “The age of a work, or when it was created – this is not really meaningful.  It’s information like any other information, but the encounter with the material happens here and now and is connected to where we are today.”

Indeed, the upcoming performances of Kyr/Z/na 2010 at the Suzanne Dellal Center promise all the freshness and excitement of a hotly anticipated world premiere.  For one thing, Naharin has revamped some the selected excerpts from Kyr and Z/na, and he is now deploying an even more developed artistry to bring out the nuances in the choreography.  “There’s something zealous in this work.  It was created from a place of less restraint, from this raging pressure cooker.  The steam that comes out of this pot is measured,” explains Naharin about the shift in energy from the original and the current version.  “The image I have [now] is of a very strong motor that works at 30%.  Today this creation is in a different place. It is connected to insights from 20 years of work.”

While audiences can look forward to these more finely calibrated dynamics and to other changes, they can also expect that Kyr/Z/na 2010 will deliver what the original works offered: unforgettable visual images paired with particularly powerful sound scores.  From the astronaut who postures and lip-synchs to a recording of Naharin’s resonant voice to the man slowly crossing the stage as he gratingly grinds an oversize wooden noisemaker, the work is full of compelling moments that sear themselves on the viewer’s brain.

Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Z/na.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The vitality of this new staging is further enhanced by the creative chemistry between Naharin and Kyr/Z/na 2010’s talented young performers, who range in age from their late teens to their early twenties.  Noting that he typically works more with the main company and that the junior Batsheva Ensemble members are with the group for only a couple years, Naharin says that this meeting with the dancers was unique.  He elaborates, “I learn a lot from them.  This is a very special group, and I feel that they are upgrading me.”

The magic from the studio pours onto the stage as the Batsheva Ensemble enlivens Naharin’s choreography.  When individual dancers burst into fast-paced action amidst a sea of slow motion, each one masterfully commands attention.  And as a line of women tears upstage to a hard-hitting rap song, unleashing a torrent of full-bodied movement before staring down the audience, their commitment to the work and their passion for dance is palpable.  As performed by the Ensemble, Kyr and Z/na are no fossilized dinosaurs.  They’re living, breathtaking creations that pulse with new blood and a two-decade rich infusion of artistic insights.

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Batsheva Dance Company: Ohad Naharin’s “Project 5”

Posted on 19 January 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Project 5

Given the chance, I usually prefer to see a dance twice.  I can anticipate the choreography and more strategically direct my gaze, and I detetct nuances that I missed the first time around.

I first saw Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Project 5 when it premiered in 2008, and by the time I had my second viewing last week, there had been a significant change: the gender of the dancers.  Originally created for five female dancers, Project 5 is now being performed not only by women but also by men.

I had wondered if I would sense differences between the male version and the female version of Project 5.  Without watching the versions back-to-back, it was challenging to make a fair comparison.  Instead, as I watched the men, I found myself thoroughly absorbed in noticing the subtle idiosyncrasies among individuals both within this particular quintet and across the two casts I had seen. Project 5‘s assortment of small groupings and repeated compositional motifs provide ample opportunity to observe each dancer in all his (or her) glory and discover each performer’s winning quirks.

Those of you in Israel can catch both female and male casts in Project 5 at the Suzanne Dellal Center from January 28-30.  For those of you who aren’t in the country, you can get your Batsheva fix online by browsing their fantastic new website (link below; English version to come shortly!).

My preview of Project 5 was originally published as “Changing Places” in the Jerusalem Post.

* * *

Changing Places

Two dancers rhythmically swing their forearms side to side as Isao Tomita’s synthesizer transforms the stirring melody of Ravel’s Bolero.  Positioned squarely behind microphones, three dancers intersperse their stern monotone chanting with more dynamically accented gestures.  Five dancers add movement after movement to a gradually accumulating phrase, striking their abdomens with a resounding slap each time a woman’s voice matter-of-factly intones one particular line from Charles Bukowski’s “Making It.”  And finally, costumed in flowing white fabric, five dancers shoot through the space in soaring jumps and ritualistically smear mud across their faces and chests.

Are these dancers men or women?  The answer depends on which performance of Ohad Naharin’s Project 5 you attend.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Naharin first presented Project 5 in 2008 to showcase five female dancers who had recently been promoted to the Batsheva Dance Company from the junior Batsheva Ensemble.  Besides displaying the formidable talents of these up-and-coming dancers, Project 5 unearthed several gems from the rich landscape of Naharin’s repertory.  The engrossing trio “Park” hails from Moshe (1999), the finely crafted quintet set to Bukowski’s instructive text and Arvo Pärt’s “Für Alina” is from George and Zalman (2006), and Black Milk, the supremely athletic closing section for five dancers, was first performed in 1985.  “B/olero,” the duet with its hypnotizing loops of movement, was the only section created in 2008 for members of the original Project 5 cast.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

In its early performances, the chance to see five of Batsheva’s freshest female dancers featured in this intimate chamber setting was reason enough to go to the theater.  But now Naharin is upping the ante, offering a rare opportunity to see the exact same choreography in both a female version and a male version.  During the production’s latest run at the Suzanne Dellal Center, two all-male and two all-female casts are performing Project 5.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

While reversing the casting of men and women in a classical ballet would be unthinkable because of the genre’s gender norms, switching the genders in Naharin’s choreography is an intriguing novelty that fits comfortably into the realm of possibility.  Indeed, regarding the materials with which his dancers work during the creative process, Naharin explains, “it is possible to talk, among other things, about musicality, accuracy, groove, passion, the ability to sublimate personal madness as an aid for creation, connection to sexuality and more, and all these things are not connected to gender and are not the property of men or of women.”

“The difference,” Naharin notes, “lies in the different point of reference of the viewer – in social conventions, our habits, and the awareness that a man does a woman’s role.”

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Naharin’s assertion is supported by veteran Batsheva dancer Guy Shomroni’s experience in working on Project 5.  Asked if it felt significantly different to step into roles originated by women, Shomroni replied, “Frankly, not really, because the starting point for us as dancers in this company is usually coming from a more physical way.”  Rather than taking on specifically gender-coded movement or characters, Shomroni and his fellow male dancers were charged with the same basic physical tasks that their female predecessors faced.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Yet there was a high level of excitement for the new male cast when it came to learning Project 5.  Shomroni reflects that besides Black Milk, which has frequently been performed by a male quintet, “None of the material was ever offered for men to do . . . to touch this product after it’s already been through a process and a maturing on stage, it’s a nice experience.”

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

As for the audience’s perspective, Shomroni muses that the differences among dancers of the same gender may be as fascinating as the contrasts between the male and female casts. In a company full of strikingly individual dancers, each of whom is uniquely compelling, this may well be the case. Yet returning to the issue of gender, Shomroni adds thoughtfully, “there is a difference in the body shape and the body curves in the way the body is built, so maybe there is going to be some type of change. Tell me if you find some.”

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