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Interview

Batsheva Dance Company at the Theatre de Saint-Quentin-en Yvelines:
In Conversation With Ohad Naharin

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 21 January 2004"I have created a movement language", Ohad Naharin, resident choreographer of the Batsheva Dance Company, told me as we crouched together on wooden stools in the semi darkness, backstage at the Théatre de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. It was about ten minutes before the start of the performance and a deluge of rippling notes punctuated our conversation every ten seconds as stagehands tested the recorded music, and dancers warmed up alongside us.

"My new dance language began after I had a serious back injury and I started relating to my body differently", he continued imperturbably. "That, plus what was learned from other people, enabled me to put together a way of working now used by the whole company which", he pointed out, "I have completely changed. There is absolutely nothing left of the original troupe except the name".

The splendid Israeli company, founded in Tel Aviv in 1964, brought the Martha Graham style, technique and tradition to Israel, and over the years works by such people as Robbins, Tetley, and Cranko enriched the repertoire. In the 1980's, more contemporary choreographers including Mark Morris and Ohad Naharin, a former student of the company, were invited to create works for them, the latter finally being appointed artistic director in 1990, a post he only left two months ago.

From the beginning, Naharin, born in 1952, was brought up in an artistic atmosphere, but although his mother was a dance teacher and his father, a doctor in psychology who had been an actor, he did not begin dance until the age of twenty-two, at the Batsheva Company. He left Israel soon after to work both at the Graham school and the School of American ballet, but after a short spell with Maurice Béjart, the need to create himself took over.


"From early childhood I made things up", he said. "I wrote music, invented stories and painted and I remember the very moment I created my first choreography. Dance is an illusion", he muttered, "and creation a lie, but lying as I see it isn't negative. I distort reality in order to create my own world. I don't want to reflect the reality around me".

What is important to Ohad Naharin? "Love", he replies, "forgiveness, and the joy of movement; dance which means going beyond limits, and working with talented designers, collaborating with composers, and recycling ideas to find a new angle".

"There are no new concepts", he said. "Everything has already been done. What is left is reorganisation. I re-work my ballets constantly, and questions on my work are best answered by simply watching my dancers, eighteen of them, chosen from all over the world for their musicality, virtuosity, and sheer love of dance".

Be that as it may, answers were not that obvious in Deca Dance, the programme presented recently at the Theatre of Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines. Although the company possesses works by Kylian, Vandekeybus, Preljocaj and Forsythe in the repertoire, a range of Naharin's works from the past ten years were shown, extracts from eight of his best pieces being adroitly crafted into a coherent whole. Classical, contemporary and rock, for the most part easy on the eye despite the underlying violence of the second half, entertained for two hours. However, works of distinction rubbed shoulders with the inexplicable. Too obviously theatrical, it was a little difficult to grasp the significance of the aggressively made-up woman on stilts striding around or the monks washing themselves with mud.

Although the women in general didn't get many chances to shine, twenty-two year old Gili Navot, a native of Tel Aviv told me that she loved working in the company. A dark-haired pretty girl, with delicately stretched feet betraying her classical training, destined more for Juliet in luminous white rather than a mere number in frumpy brown, Navot spoke of her feeling of fulfilment, physically and emotionally, and of the troupe's devotion to its chief choreographer.




Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times. Ms. Boccadoro is also the dance editor of Culturekiosque.com.

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