Playing to lose

Batsheva Dance Company performs ‘Canine Jaunatre 3’

Member of the Batsheva Dance Company (photo credit: ASKAF)
Member of the Batsheva Dance Company
(photo credit: ASKAF)
 P laying board games with children is usually a futile, frustrating endeavor. One seems to never get a handle on the rules when facing down a little person, amidst a constantly shifting swell that always favors said opponent.
“The important thing with children isn’t the game or the rules, it’s to play,” explains choreographer and performer Marlene Monteiro Freitas of the inspiration for her new work for Batsheva Dance Company, Canine Jaunatre 3.
“The piece started with the idea of a construction site, of erecting and demolishing things. I thought this construction site should be like Lego, that it could be performed in this way. I wanted to have the aspect of playing a game like children do; they change the rules as they go when they want to win… If they are in love with a toy they take it, even if it isn’t theirs. I wanted this childish facility to win,” she says.
Monteiro Freitas, 39, has just finished a long day of rehearsals with the 17 dancers of Batsheva’s main company, the largest group she has worked with in her career as a choreographer. Rehearsals are intense, with the premiere rapidly approaching. Canine Jaunatre 3 will be unveiled as part of the Israel Festival in Jerusalem.
The experience has been a big one for the Cape Verde-born artist. Two years ago, she arrived in Jerusalem to present Of Ivory and Flesh – Statues Also Suffer at the invitation of the Israel Festival’s artistic director Itzik Giuli. He slotted into his second festival program as many of the globe’s most intriguing artists as he could. Monteiro Freitas was a shoo-in for that criterion. During her time here, Ohad Naharin saw her work and extended an invitation to join a very short list of choreographers who have made work for Batsheva since Naharin began his role as at the helm of the troupe in 1990.
“It was interesting to me to have the opportunity, and I had to grab it,” says Monteiro Freitas. “Ohad Naharin took a risk inviting me; he knew I hadn’t worked with a company before. He and Batsheva have been very supportive throughout this creation.”
Indeed, working with Batsheva was a totally different experience than she has had creating her previous works, she explains.
“Normally, I work in projects. Although I work regularly with some people, there are always those that join that are new. This is a company. Also, normally I start with a small group. Here, I started with the whole group and went all the way through with the whole group. For me, the most important thing is curiosity and desire, and these two aspects, they [the Batsheva dancers] have them. So that’s what they have in common with who I work with,” she says.
Another major distinguishing factor is that this is the first staged creation of Monteiro Freitas’s that she will not perform in.
“The only time I didn’t perform (in a work I made) was in a small project in a female prison, where I worked with women who were there. A piece for a theater… I never did anything I didn’t perform. It is very different, but coming here was very different too. The context is so different from what I’ve been doing until here, so it’s okay to have this step out,” she says.
An unforgettable, charismatic creature in motion, Monteiro Freitas commands a stage in a way few performers can dream of. She has been the cornerstone, whether intentionally or not, of every one of her works. The challenge of building a work without relying on her performance skills afforded her an opportunity to garner new tools.
“There are many things that I solve when I am inside by feeling or moving. Here, I need to solve them by watching. How do I get from one point to another point? Normally, I prepare the project alone. I work alone a lot before I meet my performers, so I usually project a lot on the people I am going to work with. Here I didn’t know the people, so I needed to prepare differently,” she explains.
“It has been great, wonderful. It has been a very great experience, a good learning process for me as well. They are great artists, great dancers. Artistically and humanly. It has been a joy to be with them and work with them in the studio,” she asserts.
Batsheva Dance Company will perform ‘Canine Jaunatre 3’ on May 31 and June 1 as part of the Israel Festival in Jerusalem Theater; June 8, 9 and 10 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv. For more information, visit