Israel`s Batsheva Dance Company comes to Seattle on Thursday, Nov. 2. Presented by the Seattle Theatre Group, Batsheva will present its newest work, THREE, at the Moore Theatre.
As the name suggests, the performance has three distinct parts, each of which explores different ideas and phrases of movement. The sections are titled `Bellus,` `Humus` and `Secus.` In `Bellus` the dancers explore the silence between the notes of Bach`s `Goldberg Variations` with sharp movements. `Humus` is performed by five female dancers and is a collection of short segments of movement. For the finale, all of the dancers perform in `Secus,` a study in exploring boundaries.
`Batsheva has a quality that can speak directly to people regardless of their background or cultural upbringing,` said Luc Jacobs, artistic director of Batsheva. The company, he said, has `something so moving and direct I had not ever seen before,` which is what drew him to the troupe.
It `can speak very directly to the audience,` he said.
Batsheva has faced criticism and praise alike for its unique style and outside-of-the-box take on choreography. Because of nudity in the performances, the company advises parental guidance and mature audiences only. The nudity and barely there costumes have brought Batsheva under fire at times by ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups in Israel.
The company actually withdrew from a program celebrating the 50th anniversary of Israel when local officials were offended by the costume choices. Rather than alter the original creations, Batsheva decided to pull out of the program as a matter of principle.
Jacobs insists the group has no agenda, and that Batsheva`s dance is purely art for art`s sake. The company, he said, has `never had any political or cultural connotations, and never wanted to convey any other message than the work itself. There are always people that find things that were never intended, but I think people are welcome to bring their own background and understanding to the work.`
The company was founded in Israel in 1964 by the Baroness Batsheva De Rothschild and the legendary dancer Martha Graham. Born in London, Rothschild grew up in Paris but left in 1940 when her family fled to New York following the Nazi invasion of France. She remained in New York until 1967, when, following the Six Day War, she moved to Israel. Although she never became an Israeli citizen, Rothschild was a huge patron of the arts and sciences in Israel, and her contributions to Israeli culture were immense.
A Martha Graham fan, Rothschild began to fund Graham`s companies while living in New York. Eventually the two came together to form the Batsheva Dance Company. This collaboration brought financial backing, a shared love of dance, and vast talent together in the company. A falling out over company politics later led Rothschild to withdraw her financial support for Batsheva, according to a 1998 report in Dance Magazine.
In 1990, award-winning Israeli dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharin was appointed artistic director, revamping the company so completely that the only remnants of the original company was the name itself. Jacobs says Naharin`s inspiration came from the everyday things in life.
`Most of the inspiration comes from the moment, it`s an ongoing thing that we get in terms of discipline,` Jacobs said. `The inspiration lies in just coming to work and doing our job and trying to work with the instructions we are given. Inspiration comes from the food we eat, the climate we live in, but it`s not like we consciously draw from these things. They have to evolve very organically.`
In the past year, Batsheva has performed more than 200 times at venues all over the world. In addition to performances, Batsheva frequently conducts workshops for underprivileged communities in Israel.
Collaborating with United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for Jewish federations around the U.S., Batsheva dedicates time to students, seniors, soldiers, immigrants, struggling families and Jewish/Arab-coexistence community centers. The junior company is usually responsible for these workshops.
`They are responsible for the community work, and to provide dance to children that normally wouldn`t have the opportunity,` Jacobs said.
Jacobs has nothing but praise for his fellow company members and the work that they do on a daily basis.
`I often feel very lucky. To me, this bunch of dancers is the most inspirational set of dancers I have ever met. They have given me so much appreciation for what goes on here,` he said. `There is a quality and a passion that doesn`t happen so often in the dance world. [With Batsheva] I found again the love for movement. The company is quite special.`
The company is funded partly by the American Friends of Batsheva , a nonprofit organization in New York City. The AFO works alongside the Israeli Friends of Batsheva and the International Friends of Batsheva to support the company`s innovative works and the group`s charitable activities. Because of this support, Batsheva is able to bring `THREE` to Seattle.
Andrea Sherrodd is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communications News Laboratory.