‘Brecht’ comes dancing to Batsheva

“Someone asked me what I do and I said, ‘I’m a dance teacher.’

BRET EASTERLING will present his first evening-length work, a solo entitled ‘Brecht,’ as part of the Batsheva Hosts Series (photo credit: CATHRYN FARNSWORTH)
BRET EASTERLING will present his first evening-length work, a solo entitled ‘Brecht,’ as part of the Batsheva Hosts Series
(photo credit: CATHRYN FARNSWORTH)
Before leaving Israel, Bret Easterling was on top of his dance game. As a celebrated member of Batsheva Dance Company, Easterling spent most of his days in the studio and many of his evenings on stage, be it in Israel or on one of the company’s various tours around the world. Generating and learning material in the studio was like breathing, an act so commonplace and regularly practiced that it was done unceremoniously. But when Easterling chose to leave Batsheva and return to California, his path took several turns, which led him to question, assess and redefine his professional identity.
Like many former company members, Easterling left the rigorous schedule of an in-demand dance troupe in order to take a pause. After graduating from the Julliard School, Easterling was a formative member of Andrea Miller’s Gallim Dance Company in New York City. From there, he relocated to Tel Aviv, where he spent seven seasons with the Batsheva Dance Company, first in the ensemble and then in the main company. His departure constituted the first real break he had had since starting his professional journey.
Having been a part of Batsheva meant that Easterling was able to teach company repertory as well as Gaga classes, an asset that assured him immediate income. “When I left, all these teaching opportunities came up,” he says. “I filled my schedule very quickly. I feel very lucky to have had that. It’s very rare to have worked in a place and still be able to be connected to the place and get work from it. Most of my friends, who were dancing all over the world and left, don’t have that. They start at square one. I feel very lucky to have that web that Batsheva provides.
“Someone asked me what I do and I said, ‘I’m a dance teacher.’ It felt so weird. When did I stop being a dancer or an artist?” Easterling remembers. It’s late in the evening and Easterling is in his home in Hollywood. In a few days he will board a plane to return to Israel for the first time since leaving Batsheva Dance Company two-and-a-half years ago. “I’m due a visit,” he says.
But Easterling’s trip will be more than coffee with friends and pops to the beach. He will also present his first evening-length work, a solo entitled Brecht, as part of the Batsheva Hosts Series.
IN THE AFTERMATH of his revelation about being a teacher, Easterling decided to get back into the studio for himself. One of the perks of his position as a faculty member of the University of Southern California was free studio space. “I was going in and doing this improvisation and doing a stream of consciousness and seeing when the Batsheva moves would come up,” Easterling explains. “I’ve made solos on myself before. The last was for Batsheva Dancers Create in 2011. It’s hard to work on your own.”
In some of his university classes, Easterling was accompanied by musician Maxwell Transue. “I asked if he wanted to help me out with this solo I was making. It was a really meaningful meeting and that’s how this piece came to be.”
Together, Easterling and Transue devised a score in which twelve microphones and stands would circle an area of the stage. While Easterling improvised, Transue would pick up sounds from the different receivers and would arrange them into a soundscape. “We were talking about this idea of authenticity and how we can create original material,” says Easterling. “The idea was formed that the music would be made up of sounds that I created during the show. The microphones pick up the sound of my squeaking feet or my hands hitting the floor. Everything is happening in real time. There’s no choreography we have structure and form but the content is different each time. It feels like a science experiment.”
The name for the work came from a chance discovery. “I hate titles,” he laughs. “I found that the word ‘echt’ means true or genuine in Yiddish and I thought I would cleverly combine it with my name. Then I discovered that Brecht is actually a very well-known playwright.”
As he read about Brecht, he found that they had a common approach to the audience’s role. “Brecht said that the audience isn’t going to sit there and be taken away on some fairy tale, that they needed to be reminded that they’re part of something. They don’t check their brains at the coat check. While we are building the sections, the audience doesn’t know what’s going to happen, how it will come together. I think it keeps the audience member present. The piece is really about celebrating the present moment and allowing the audience to influence me in real time. The seating is in the round so I have moments with as many people as possible. I’m most exciting by being surrounded by a room of friends and colleagues and people that I know and how good that support is going to feel.
“Brecht and the creation of it and premiere of it was such a meaningful box to check in my post Batsheva career because I felt I had accomplished something. As an artist, I felt very proud to have something tangible, a product, something that I made. It had been a long time since I felt that,” he adds.
Easterling and Transue will present Brecht at Batsheva Dance Company’s Studio Suzy on September 24 at 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.batsheva.co.il.