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