Dancing in the big leagues

The Batsheva Dance Company presents a new evening featuring two works -Yag by Ohad Naharin and Adam by Roy Assaf.

'Yag' by Ohad Naharin and Adam by Roy Assaf (photo credit: GADI DAGON)
'Yag' by Ohad Naharin and Adam by Roy Assaf
(photo credit: GADI DAGON)
 It’s not every day that Batsheva Dance Company opens its doors to outside choreographers. In fact, in recent years commissions have been offered less than a handful of times and have been reserved either for thoroughly established artists or former company members entrenched in their own choreographic paths.
Next week, Batsheva will present a new evening featuring two works, Yag by Ohad Naharin and Adam by up-and-coming independent choreographer Roy Assaf.
Assaf, 34, is one of the most promising young voices in the Israeli dance community today. He was born and raised in the south of Israel. An autodidact, Assaf received no formal dance training and yet, in 2003, was invited to join acclaimed choreographer Emmanuel Gat. For the next seven years, Assaf worked alongside Gat, in Israel and then in France. From Istres, France, Assaf continued west to Groningen, Holland, where he served as an artistic associate for the Noord Nederlands Dans Company. He returned to Israel and quickly caught the eye of the local dance community. His body of work, which has been presented in festivals and theaters throughout the country, includes the duet Six Years Later, the trio The Hill, and group pieces Girls and Boys.
Assaf and his assistant, formidable performer and former Batsheva company member Ariel Freedman, meet after rehearsal to discuss the creative process of Adam. Green-eyed and sweat-pant clad, the two settle comfortably on the cobblestones. It’s early evening and families stroll through the courtyard of the Suzanne Dellal Center. Assaf decides to forgo coffee and get right to it, hoping to make it home in time for dinner with his wife and three little girls.
Instead, Freedman fastidiously opens Tupperware boxes containing nuts and dates, comfort food for dancers.
“I don’t have a lot of answers,” Assaf says. “Ariel has better answers than I do.”
Embarking on a journey from within Batsheva has been a very different experience than working as an independent choreographer, Assaf explains. The comforts of the Batsheva facility allowed Assaf to slough off his managerial side and focus only on the work. But with a big opportunity comes big challenge, one that chucked Assaf momentarily out of his comfort zone.
“As a freelancer, I bring people together for each project. We choose each other, it’s a mutual decision to work together. Here, I was invited by someone, the dancers didn’t choose me, so I was a lot less confident going in because of that.”
“I was very nervous and excited to begin. I didn’t plan too much. I wanted to meet the individuals first.”
“Roy’s work really relies on the meeting with the dancers,” explains Freedman. She had firsthand experience with Assaf’s process as part of the original cast of Girls. “It’s about what happens upon meeting these particular people, who they are and how they behave,” she says.
On the first day in the studio, Assaf asked his 12 dancers to imagine a person. He requested that the dancers refrain from moving.
“I told them to touch the person they were imagining once and to remember where they touched. We did about an hour-long session of imagining before breaking into pairs.”
This exercise proved essential in the creative process.
“A lot of times I start with something as an excuse to start. Some people go in with a lot of research, they study a topic and have ideas about situations and tasks. Because I don’t work that way, the things I start with usually don’t end up in the piece but this instruction stayed with us.”
In the coming weeks, Assaf found himself surprised many times in the studio. The dancers challenged him, collaborated with him and, most importantly, put their trust in him.
“It’s incredible to discover someone I saw on stage as a performer and them see them in the studio completely differently. I’ve never worked with so many dancers before. There were a lot of voices in the room. I’m dependent upon them, I need everyone to be the choreographers. What’s one brain against 12? Each one of them brings their experience and knowledge.”
At the end of each long rehearsal day, Assaf spends hours reviewing rehearsal footage at home with his number one collaborator.
“Anat, my wife, watches with me. She’s totally into it, which is a joy. She has amazing insights into the work,” he smiles.
Taking this step forward as a choreographer has meant taking a step back from dancing. Since Six Years Later and The Hill, Assaf has opted to stay out of his creations. “I have a complicated relationship with performing now. My daily routine isn’t that of a dancer. I’m a dad, I’m very involved at home. We are home schooling our girls so I don’t have time to keep my instrument in tune. I feel that I’m not respecting the form.”
He won’t rule it out but getting back on stage seems unlikely for the time being.
Following the premier of Adam, Assaf will create a new work for National Dance Company Wales. These commissions, while scattered across the globe, bring Assaf closer to his dream.
“I want to have a dance house, in Israel or wherever I can have it. I believe that this dream is attainable.”
Yag and Adam will premier at the Suzanne Dellal Center on April 27 and 28. For more information, visit www.batsheva.co.il.