Israeli dancers rise above headlines

By By Justin Jacobs

To some, they are Israel’s leading international ambassadors. To others, they are worth… To some, they are Israel’s leading international ambassadors. To others, they are worth protesting and picketing. It’s no surprise that the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company can draw divisive reactions nowadays, but to Luke Jacobs, dance isn’t a point of argument. And it certainly isn’t a divider. If anything, it’s a bridge. As the Rehearsal Director of Batsheva Dance Company, which will perform ‘Three’ tonight at the Benedum Center, Jacobs witnesses nightly how’ his dancers transcend the headlines that surround their country and simply communicate. ‘The great thing about movement is that it’s universal ‘mdash; it goes beyond nationalistic, political views,’ he said, calling from his hotel in Texas after the company’s first U.S. performance of its tour. ‘We bypass any situation and engage the audiences on a much bigger level.’ The company has been engaging audiences for longer than any of its current dancers have been alive. Founded in 1964 by famed American choreographer Martha Graham, Batsheva has toured the world for decades, cycling through some of Israel’s best dancers and, as it were, cultural ambassadors. Jacobs, 40, has seen his work with Batsheva shift from dancer to veritable tour parent, as his responsibilities now include keeping the dancers, whose ages average about 24, on time, in shape and ready to go. Older than most dare to stay involved in dance, Jacobs had already been awake for hours when I called him at 9 on a Saturday morning. ‘Personally, I still feel very comfortable in hotel rooms and airports,’ he said. ‘And I still train most days, take class and dance … in my living room.’ Though he may now be watching from the stage wings, it’s obvious that Jacobs still feels the power of dance that Batsheva pours on the audience ‘mdash; and on themselves. ‘We have a particular training in this movement language that has to do with giving in, with yielding and getting in touch with your weaknesses before you begin to strengthen them,’ he said. ‘We must be sensitive to small areas of the body, to our environment. Not just who stands next to us, but even the temperature of the room. It involves mindfulness, awareness ‘mdash; a sensitivity in the group that you wouldn’t find in others.’ Though that may sound more like a Buddhist meditation than a modern dance troop, Batsheva never would have made such an impact on the world had it stuck solely with such subtleties. With tonight’s performance of ‘Three,’ choreographed by the company’s Ohad Naharin, Batsheva’s 17 dancers will prove that they are more than an exercise of the mind. ‘Ohad’s work isn’t like other companies where you need a program, or to talk about things hours after the performance. When you see his works, the experience is immediate, direct. It’s like eating food or listening to music you love ‘mdash; it doesn’t need conceptualization. It enters directly into your system like a cold or a flu,’ said Jacobs. Having been with Batsheva for the past six years, Jacobs has seen a progression in the company ‘mdash; one he was more than happy to describe in more metaphors. ‘What [Naharin] is saying in his movement is more bare and naked than it used to be. In older works, costumes were more elaborate, the lighting was dramatic. In a sense, ‘Three’ is more of a polished diamond or an essential oil than in the past,’ said Jacobs. But, Jacobs insists, don’t come to see or hear. Come to experience this Israeli entity, all politics aside. ‘There’s a point where the audience needs to meet the dancers in sensitivity to the music, to the bodies on stage. And that level is a place without politics. So in a way we don’t represent Israel, but we represent Israel in a very beautiful way.’