Batsheva Ensemble Deca Dance Review Essay

Perhaps the best way to watch dance is through the eyes of children, especially those who have never experienced the sinuous flexibility of dancers onstage.

That’s the idea behind “Decal’e,” the 55-minute-performance of the Batsheva Dance Company’s Ensemble — its junior company — which offers a taste of modern dance to the younger set.

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It includes snippets of dance pieces from 20 seasons of the company’s history, and is reviewed every six months, as dancers and performances change and shift.

The dancers even disperse themselves into the audience, each one inviting one of the middle-aged mothers, and some fathers, onto the stage for couple dancing, the parents waving to their kids from the brightly lit stage.

Performed during school vacations — as it was during the recent intermediate days of Sukkot — it is short and snappy, with bits of ballet, some jazz, a little hip-hop and enough humor and mystery to keep kids as young as five going for nearly an hour.

The troupe also took advantage of their Sukkot performances at “home” in Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Center to perform “The Hole,” director and choreographer Ohad Naharin’s 2013 piece that includes an elevated, octagonal stage, which is only used at their Suzanne Dellal studio.

And as with nearly every Batsheva performance, Naharin sat in the audience, fielding questions and adoring glances from budding dancers afterwards.

“Ohad almost always attends,” said Mira Beinart, who handles PR for the company, currently celebrating its 50th year.

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

Naharin, the sinewy, seasoned dancer who has been with Batsheva for most of his own career, is the backbone of this company.

He’s the core of the company’s ongoing jubilee celebrations, which includes a new piece that will be unveiled in May 2015, and their upcoming tour in the US, starting October 25 in Miami, Florida, and taking them through Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, five nights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, and two nights at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Rachael Osborne, the Aussie dancer who has been with Batsheva for the better part of the last 12 years. (photo credit: Courtesy Rachael Osborne)

“We’re a company that has had different phases and leaders, and choreographers, but we’re all so connected to Ohad,” said Batsheva dancer Rachael Osborne, who has been with the company for the better part of a dozen years. “The feeling of Batsheva and Ohad’s work are very connected.”

Osborne, from Canberra in Australia, is a lead dancer in the troupe, and first met Naharin and the Batsheva troupe when they were on tour in her home country. She ended up coming to Israel to join the junior company, and soon was invited to become a dancer in the senior company.

She never intended to stay in Israel for so long — and did briefly leave to join the Sharon Eyal dance company — but returned to Batsheva last year.

“There’s something about the virtuosity, the abandon, the explosiveness, the way Batsheva dancers move,” she said. “Being with Batsheva informed me as much as my other training.”

  • Batsheva will perform “Sadeh21” on October 17 at 2 p.m. and on October 18 at 9 p.m.
  • The ensemble will perform “Decadance” on October 23 at 9 p.m.; October 24 at 2 p.m.; and October 25 at 9 p.m. Go to the Batsheva website for ticket prices and information.
  • For Batsheva’s international schedule, see the list of performances on the troupe’s website.

Ohad Naharin has been hailed as one of the world’s preeminent contemporary choreographers. As Artistic Director of Batsheva Dance Company since 1990, he has guided the company with an adventurous artistic vision and reinvigorated its repertory with his captivating choreography. Naharin is also the originator of an innovative movement language, Gaga, which has enriched his extraordinary movement invention, revolutionized the company’s training, and emerged as a growing force in the larger field of movement practices for both dancers and non-dancers.

Ohad Naharin

Born in 1952 on Kibbutz Mizra, Ohad Naharin began his dance training with the Batsheva Dance Company in 1974. During his first year with the company, visiting choreographer Martha Graham singled out Naharin for his talent and invited him to join her own company in New York. While in New York, Naharin studied on scholarship at the School of American Ballet, furthered his training at The Juilliard School, and polished his technique with master teachers Maggie Black and David Howard. He went on to perform internationally with Israel’s Bat-Dor Dance Company and Maurice Béjart’s Ballet du XXe Siècle in Brussels.

Naharin returned to New York in 1980, making his choreographic debut at the Kazuko Hirabayshi studio. That year, he formed the Ohad Naharin Dance Company with his wife, Mari Kajiwara, who died of cancer in 2001. From 1980 until 1990, Naharin’s company performed in New York and abroad to great critical acclaim. As his choreographic voice developed, he received commissions from world-renowned companies including Batsheva, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, and Nederlands Dans Theater.

Naharin was appointed Artistic Director of Batsheva Dance Company in 1990 and has served in this role except for the 2003-2004 season, when he held the title of House Choreographer. During his tenure with the company, Naharin has choreographed over 20 works for Batsheva and its junior division, Batsheva Ensemble. He has also restaged over 10 of his dances for the company and recombined excerpts from his repertory to create Deca Dance, a constantly evolving evening-length work.

Naharin trained in music throughout his youth, and he has often used his musical prowess to amplify his choreographic impact. He has collaborated with several notable musical artists to create scores for his dances, including Israeli rock group The Tractor’s Revenge (for Kyr, 1990), Avi Belleli and Dan Makov (for Anaphaza, 1993), and Ivri Lider (for Z/na, 1995). Under the pseudonym Maxim Waratt, Naharin composed music for MAX (2007) and edited and mixed the soundtracks for Mamootot (2003) and Hora (2009). Naharin also combined his talents for music and dance in Playback (2004), a solo evening which he directed and performed.

In addition to his work for the stage, Naharin has pioneered Gaga, an innovative movement language. Gaga, which emphasizes the exploration of sensation and availability for movement, is now the primary training method for Batsheva’s dancers. Gaga has also attracted a wide following among dancers around the world and appealed to the general public in Israel, where open classes are offered regularly in Tel Aviv and other locations.

Naharin’s compelling choreographic craft and inventive, supremely textured movement vocabulary have made him a favorite guest artist in dance companies around the world. His works have been performed by prominent companies including Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballet Frankfurt, Lyon Opera Ballet, Compañía Nacional de Danza (Spain), Cullberg Ballet (Sweden), the Finnish National Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, Balé da Cidade de São Paulo, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet (New York), Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Naharin’s rehearsal process with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet during a restaging of Deca Dance was the subject of Tomer Heymann’s documentary Out of Focus (2007).

Naharin’s rich contributions to the field of dance have garnered him many awards and honors. In Israel, he has received a Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa by the Weizmann Institute of Science (2004), the prestigious Israel Prize for dance (2005), a Jewish Culture Achievement Award by The Foundation for Jewish Culture (2008), a Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa by the Hebrew University (2008), and the EMET Prize in the category of Arts and Culture (2009). Naharin has also been the recipient of the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government (1998), two New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Awards (for Naharin’s Virus at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2002 and for Anaphaza at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2003), the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement (2009), and a Dance Magazine Award (2009).  In 2013, he received an honorary doctorate from Juilliard.

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