Moving down south

The Batsheva Dance company to run three shows in Dimona, Yeroham and Beersheba

Dance 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dance 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In Israel, it is a challenge to find a person who has never heard of the Batsheva Dance company or Ohad Naharin. In fact, they are among the most famous troupes in the world. For the past several years, Naharin has captivated the international dance community with his innovative, improvisation-based movement technique, Gaga. The “Batsheva Movement” is arguably the strongest active force currently on the dance map. Naharin and his gang of Gaga gods (i.e. the company) spend about half of their working season abroad. The rest is spent performing locally and working on new creations at their home in the Suzanne Dellal Center.
And yet, with all of their performances and classes, Batsheva visits Paris more often than it visits Yeroham. More Gaga lessons are offered yearly in Stockholm and New York than in Beersheba or Dimona.
Outside the center of Israel, opportunities to take in a dance performance are few and far between. The north of Israel fares better than its south, as there are several active performance centers in towns like Beit Gavriel and Ein Hashofet. However, in order to see what is considered to be the best of Israeli culture, denizens of the south are forced to drive to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
This year, Cellcom, IDB Group and Batsheva Dance came up with a new initiative to address the issue. The former two groups offered financial support and marketing assistance, allowing the dancers to perform three times in Yeroham, Dimona and Beersheba.
Tickets were heavily subsidized. While Batsheva usually prices a seat at over NIS 100, a spot in any of the three theaters went for NIS 25.
The primary reason for the lack of performances in the South is financial. “These shows are much more expensive for the company to produce because of the travel expenses and other related costs,” said Batsheva’s director, Eldad Mannheim. “We did a similar project 10 years ago. And we did a tour last year in the north. These projects are always in association with a corporate entity, which allows us to perform in places we can’t usually afford to go to.”
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Itamar Bar-Tov, Cellcom’s vice president of executive and regulatory affairs, explained that the price was a deliberate choice. “There is something respectful about paying for tickets – it’s part of the experience of attending a performance. NIS 25 is a serious subsidy, but the act of purchasing the ticket is still organized.
It’s right for there to be a price for a performance that is as good as this one. It honors the company and the crowd,” he said.
The subsidy undoubtedly had a lot to do with the success of the project. In Yeroham as well as in Dimona, the hosting theaters were almost – if not completely – sold out.
In Beersheba, all 400 seats of the new performing arts theater were filled. Eli Malool, the founding director of The Beersheba Performing Arts Center, was thrilled with the outcome of the project. “There is no doubt that this performance pulled in more audience than any other in the past,” he beamed.
FOR THIS tour, the directors of Batsheva selected Decadance, a collage of excerpts celebrating the last 20 years of Naharin’s work with the company. Members of Batsheva’s young company, the Ensemble, executed all three shows. Decadance was an obvious choice for the engagement, explained Mannheim. “This work is very accessible to the audience,” he said. “Seeing dance for the first time, this work is very easy to connect to.
The composition makes it so,” he went on.
The piece was divided into many short sections, each with its own feel and flavor.
Naharin’s distinct movement language, which effortlessly connects Mozart to Missy Elliot, was the common thread. The dancers changed costumes many times throughout the evening, transitioning from newer sections to old favorites such as “Echad Mi Yodea” from Anaphase.
At what was perhaps the highlight of Decadance, the dancers, dressed in black suits with low black hats, make their way into the audience. The house lights were raised. Slinking through the packed rows, the dancers assessed their viewers, looking each squarely in the eye. Most audience members were too shy to meet their gazes. However, the bravest of the bunch were snatched up and taken onstage.
The chosen few were prompted to dance with their professional partners. For the entire five minutes of audience participation, those that remained in their seats laughed uproariously, cheered and warmly egged on their dancing peers. For five minutes, the crowd ceased to be strangers and became a giddy, giggling community.
Among the victims of Batsheva’s hilarious plot was Tel-Avivian Reut Shmueli, originally from Lehavim. It was not her first time seeing Batsheva; however, she admitted that her attendance at performances was directly dependent upon how often her mother treated her to tickets.
“I’ll confess something: Once I was at their show and they took people from the audience onstage. At the same time I wanted them to take me and not to take me. But the minute they didn’t take me I was sad that I wasn’t brave enough to let them see that I wanted to go up there. This time I understood that they were going to take people so I smiled and looked at them and then one of the dancers gave me her hand. I really enjoyed being onstage. I love to move,” she said.
As the curtain closed on Decadance‘s final vignette, the crowd broke into heartfelt applause. Ten minutes later and with hands red from clapping, the show-goers made their way out of the theater.
The foyer buzzed with conversation. Sisters Adi and Rotem Beeri live in Lehavim. They both take dance lessons at a local studio called Kessem Hagoof, which is a popular chain in Beersheba and the surrounding areas. “We see one dance show a year,” said the elder sister, “we wish there were more.”
“I would love to dance with Batsheva one day,” said the younger of the two.
In the wake of the triumphant dance engagement, Malool and the Beersheba Performing Arts Center will present a full dance series in the coming year, featuring Batsheva.
“A subscription to five shows is around NIS 450, which is relatively inexpensive,” he said.
The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and Inbal Pinto Dance Company are also among the troupes that will perform in the state-of-the-art facilities for this new dance initiative. From there, Malool hopes to continue to expand and increase the performances offered in Beersheba.
“We see about three shows a year,” said Aliza Avshalom, who had taken her daughter Ofri to the show. “We would be happy to see other companies as well – not just Batsheva.”