Ever on their toes

Despite its challenges over the past year, the Batsheva Dance Company has taken steps to expand its repertoire.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in London, November 2012 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in London, November 2012 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
For the Batsheva Dance Company, 2012 was quite a year. The past 12 months were filled with highs and lows for the prized jewel of the Israeli dance community.
At the beginning of the year, it seemed that the past season would be a trying one for Batsheva.
The departure of longtime company dancer and house choreographer Sharon Eyal created a dramatic chasm in the company earlier in the season.
With a flock of featured dancers gone with Eyal, Batsheva regrouped for one of the most substantial tours the company has entertained since its inception.
Budget cuts forced reprioritization, leading to the establishment of a fund dedicated to replacing the money no longer provided by government donors.
Then, just as things were looking up, political turmoil brought dozens of protesters out to the entrance of the Barbican Centre in London, where they were performing. One audience member even stood up in the middle of a performance in England to declare his opposition to Israel and anything connected with the country.
Despite the hurdles, Batsheva managed to break its own record in the past months. Thanks to touring and to extensive efforts to reach new audiences beyond Tel Aviv, the company was seen by 15 percent more viewers in 2012 than in 2011.
In the previous season, Batsheva was one of the leaders of an initiative to bring cultural events to residents of the far North and South of Israel.
Performances were held in Dimona, Beersheba, Eilat, Karmiel and Tiberias, bringing dance to untapped audiences. In addition, Ohad Naharin’s children’s show Kamuyot continued to expose youngsters to the wonders of contemporary dance.
All told, nearly 100,000 people attended Batsheva performances, the bulk of which were in Israel.
This past year also brought a new type of performance into the Batsheva repertoire. Session, which Naharin devised for an unusual space in Basel, Switzerland, is reminiscent of Merce Cunningham’s chance occurrence experiments.
The performers are free to choose when to enter the stage, what material to perform and with whom they want to dance. The movement itself is not improvised; however, the structure presents great freedom to each individual performer to explore his/her own timing and interests on stage.
The music, too, is improvised. Longtime dancer Guy Shomroni is the DJ of Session. Shomroni’s knowledge of Naharin’s material allows him to flow easily with the choices of the dancers, accompanying them at times, while challenging them at others. No two performances of Session are the same, creating a spur-of-the-moment feeling for the dancers and the audience. Batsheva continues to perform Session in museum spaces in Israel and abroad. The next performance of Session will take place at the beginning of February at Batsheva’s Varda Studio.
For Naharin, this year was personally significant.
The celebrated artistic director was awarded an honorary doctorate from The Juilliard School. His latest choreography, Sadeh 21, was voted the best dance piece of 2012 by the Italian magazine Danza & Danza.In the coming season, Batsheva promises to be equally productive. Naharin is already busy with a new production, which will premiere in the coming months. A new evening for the Batsheva Ensemble is under way, which will feature an original work by former company dancer Daniel Agami, as well as Hofesh Shechter’s brilliant work Uprising. The company has already received countless invitations to perform in the United States, Canada, across Europe and in Russia.
In the coming weeks, the company will be in Israel before setting off again. The schedule includes performances in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Mizra and Ashdod.For more information about Batsheva, visit www.batsheva.co.il.