By Catherine Bell
We are waiting to interview Ohad Naharin upstairs at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre ahead of the Batsheva Ensemble UK Tour. It’s a fitting venue for the interview: The Ensemble open their tour here on October 30th. Naharin is in Edinbugh to see Batsheva Dance Company perform their piece Hora tomorrow evening. It is pouring with rain, and we’ve just been told he is tired from the long flight here. This could have become a cause for concern, but then he suddenly appears at the bottom of the stairs: perfectly timely, the words LOVELY emblazoned across his T Shirt, he looks a little sleepy, but he is smiling when I greet him.
Naharin has been the Artistic Director of Batsheva for 22 years. I ask him what keeps him there? ‘I love the people, this is where I can be at my best, it is my school, it is where I learn and choreograph, and where I teach what I learn…. And, what is fresh and exciting about it, is still weighing down what is less’.
Born on a Kibbutz in 1952 to a psychologist father and a dance teacher mother, Naharin began his dance career at Batsheva in 1974, and in his first year was singled out by a visiting Martha Graham to join her in New York. After a period as a dancer and a sojourn studying music at the Juilliard School he formed the Ohad Naharin Dance Company with his wife Mari Kajiwara, who died of cancer in 2001. He returned to Batsheva in 1990.
Batsheva now comprises 2 parts: the Batsheva Dance Company and the Batsheva Ensemble. The Ensemble (he tells me) is a repertory company composed mostly of Naharin’s work, however they do perform other work as well, including a Hofesh Shechter piece which is in the pipeline for this year. (Shechter, another product of Batsheva, is now UK based with his company).
The Ensemble holds yearly auditions which attract hundreds of applicants. What does he look for in an Ensemble dancer? ‘I can fall in love with somebody in the very early stage of his career, and recognise big potential. I don’t have a type, but some things I look for are: generosity, intelligence, highly coordinated, groovy, a big imagination, someone connected to their passion’ But they need to have skills as well? ‘I like skills sure, but they can develop skills in the Ensemble. And get a tool box.’
The Ensemble was founded in 1990 on Naharin’s appointment as Artistic Director. The company currently includes dancers from: Israel, Spain, Russia, Japan, and the USA, all between the ages of 18-24.
It’s a big responsibility looking after such young things I suggest. ‘Young age is a fact but does not reflect on their ability to produce something magnificent, clever, emotional, delicate, exact, explosive, efficient. We give them keys to open up their own treasures, and let them flow out’.
Was he given any memorable advice at the beginning of his career? ‘When I was 24 and leaving for New York: a choreographer told me: ‘Don’t be too ambitious.’ It took me a long time to understand. In career decisions you need to recognise what you love, what has to do with the moment, has to do with the relationship you have with other people and the consequence of what you are doing, not to do with goal-orientated ambition. Then you discover a larger scope of possibility and ability’.