Interview: Ohad Naharin talks about his dance company Batsheva

WHEN dance company Batsheva had its Edinburgh Festival performances interrupted by protests, the dancers kept going. How will Batsheva’s youth ensemble cope if the same thing happens this week, asks Kelly Apter

WHEN dance company Batsheva had its Edinburgh Festival performances interrupted by protests, the dancers kept going. How will Batsheva’s youth ensemble cope if the same thing happens this week, asks Kelly Apter

I’m standing with Ohad Naharin on a bright green stage. In less than an hour, dancers from his renowned company, Batsheva, will take our place to perform their five-star Edinburgh International Festival show, Hora. Outside the Playhouse theatre, crowds are singing pro-Palestinian songs and handing out leaflets to audience members as they arrive.

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For Naharin, this part of the evening poses no problems. He has gone on record, loudly and often, to say he is “in disagreement with” the government in Israel, his homeland. Leafleting and passing on information is, for him, a dialogue worth entering into. Interrupting the action on stage, however (which happens three times this night) serves no purpose. It is a great testament to Naharin’s dancers that, despite these enforced pauses, Hora is still a magnificent piece of dance, expertly performed and well worth the viewing.

When the company’s youth wing, Batsheva Ensemble, arrives in Edinburgh at the end of this month, to perform Naharin’s critically acclaimed Deca Dance, a similar situation may arise. Only this time, the dancers dealing with it will be aged between 18-24, on their first ever UK tour. Does Naharin foresee a problem for his young dancers?

“Now that we’ve found out the main company can cope with it, we have a key to give the Ensemble dancers too, so I’m not worried,” he says. “It’s very sad for all of us – and I don’t just mean the dancers, I mean everybody – that this is the situation that has brought us to this. But I think the Ensemble will be fine.”

Having spoken to these young dancers, I’m inclined to agree. They may not have the maturity and experience of the main Batsheva company but, much like the dancers in Nederlands Dans Theater 2 (the youth wing of NDT1), they bring with them a youthful enthusiasm, confidence and drive that has a uniquely compelling quality.

Dancers arrive at the Batsheva Ensemble from all over the world, having received some of the finest dance training on offer. Many apply, but few are chosen.

“There is no ‘type’ that I can describe, but there is something the dancers I’m attracted to have in common,” says Naharin. “And I think it’s people that have a connection between their passion, their skills and the power of imagination – all of that is used when they dance. And talented, highly co-ordinated people who are groovy, musical and can connect to their sensuality. People that find pleasure in creating movement.”

That’s quite a list, but those who saw the main company in August will know what he means. Every single member of the Batsheva company started their professional career in the Ensemble, proving its status as a breeding ground for interesting and diverse talent.

Naharin originally started the Ensemble in 1990, to take some of the pressure off the main company, who were regularly performing morning and evening shows. But today, Naharin views both his companies – and the dancers in them – as having equal importance.

“In the Ensemble you see potential and curiosity, something that is not tame,” he says, “but I can see a lot more of what is in common between a younger dancer and a mature dancer than what separates them. I think it has to do with texture, intelligence, delicacy – someone young can be just as exquisite and moving as someone older.”

Dancers spend two to three years in the Ensemble, learning Naharin’s choreographies and his unique movement style known as “Gaga”. As well as sharing the same building in Tel Aviv, Ensemble members take daily class with dancers from the main company, enabling them to absorb and learn the fascinating way of moving Naharin has evolved.

“Developing the tool took time, but now we have it, we can give it to someone who is open to using it, and that’s why young dancers can very quickly learn from the older ones.”

Which is why the Ensemble can do equal justice to Deca Dance, a work first performed in Edinburgh by the main company in 2008. Featuring sections of Naharin’s work dating from the early 1990s to the present day, Deca Dance is constantly changing, picking up new aspects of Naharin’s work as it goes along. So if you think you’ve seen it before, that’s only half the story.

“The title stays the same, but the work changes. Not entirely, but at least 50 per cent of it will be different from when the company performed it in Edinburgh. Because we play with what we’re creating currently, and for me, the premiere of a work is just the beginning of the process. It’s like a birth – but then there’s a lot to do once we’re born.”

• The Batsheva Ensemble performs Deca Dance at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre on 30 and 31 October