Ohad Naharin: Part 2

Ohad Naharin is Artistic Director of Batsheva Dance Company and the Batsheva Ensemble who are touring the UK from October 30th this year.

Read part one of this interview here

By Catherine Bell

Deca Dance

Naharin’s extraordinary career has seen him choreograph around the world for an impressive spectrum of companies. A very small snap-shot includes: Nederlands Dans Theater, Rambert Dance Company, Sydney Dance Company, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Paris Opera, Cullberg Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago: the diversity of his choices perhaps reflective of his seemingly voracious desire to constantly learn and fill his own toolbox.

A trained musician he also works extremely closely with sound and design artists. I wonder why dance ultimately won as his art form of choice, if indeed he has made a choice?

‘Movement turns me on like nothing else, in terms of being creative. There’s something about working with dancers and my collaborators. And the fun part is that music is still there and a big part of it. I didn’t have to choose.’ Is music fundamental to the work? ‘Dance is not music dependent. I don’t need music to move and to dance. The work is not coming from the music. But the music at the end is very important…. Bringing music into the composition is very pleasurable. ‘

With a choreographic career spanning over 3 decades has he noticed any changes in his work? ‘My tool box got a lot fuller: my understanding of content and form, learning the technical; the lights, my personal life, changes in me. And also being able to connect to the collective subconscious of all the people I work with: I grew parallel to my work.’

And there again we return again to the idea of the dancers as inspiration. Our interview is flecked with statements such as: ‘My dancers can produce a lot of genius moments I can’t even imagine exist.’ Or ‘the most meaningful thing is the person I work with, his treasure, his passion…’ And ‘learning that the dancers’ interpretation of my work is really what makes a difference.’ His words are generous and his message clear: he doesn’t just lead, he collaborates and invests.

And what about the audience? Does he give consideration to his audience when creating work? ‘Yes, but not in a sense of a mass, as a group, but as individuals watching it. I like to feel my work through the eyes of somebody else watching it but with the sense of applying their imagination, and intelligence.’

The Batsheva Ensemble will be performing Naharin’s piece Deca Dance during their UK Tour. Although it contains sections of his repertoire of work, he does not like it to be referred to as a ‘Greatest Hits’. It is ‘about reconstructing, playing with sections of materials, about what we are currently doing.’

There is a history attached though, some elements recur again and again, how does he keep the piece fresh? ‘The sense that we are moving keeps it fresh for us and the love of dance.’

And the meaning? ‘Meaning’, he says ‘is in the eye of the beholder. I’m interested in something which is really intimate, private, and this is why I think I can connect with audiences in different religious, geographic, cultures, because it’s not based on that. It is based on something very private and very human.’

He continues: I’m not trying to talk another language. I’m trying to talk my language and be coherent with my language. That doesn’t mean everybody will understand my language but that doesn’t mean everybody is my audience.’

Naharin developed a movement language called Gaga, which he introduced to Batsheva and now forms their daily training. In his words: ‘Gaga is a movement language I developed over many years dancing, and working with other people as a choreographer. It’s a work-out in which we discover our movement habits, places of atrophy, connect to effort, to pleasure, explosive power. It is a lot to do with small gestures and delicacy but still being able to punch. It’s about thinking of movement as something which can heal.’

And did he notice a change in the company after the introduction? Here there is a pause.

‘The most meaningful thing is the person I work with, the treasures he brings, his talent. Gaga can help it, but what is most meaningful is what they already possess. There is a sense of progress, learning from past experience. You can feel the progress, but this doesn’t mean the people in the past are less talented. Gaga is not only about creating better athletes, it’s about listening to something which is beyond the athletic side, about the soul, connecting to your demons, fantasy, passion: Learning to do more with less. Being able to grow old and still create magnificent moments.’

These quietly-spoken fluent profundities flow so easily and readily from Naharin throughout the hour we talk it is easy to find yourself getting lost in his answers. I get the impression he’d rather talk than be interviewed; sometimes directing my questions back at me, or injecting something funny into the proceedings making me laugh; I could forget it is an interview at all. He is an intense, passionate, highly articulate, interviewee. But more than this he seems very, very human.

It’s getting late and I become aware we have run over time and he must be tired. Last question: What is the future for Batsheva?

‘I am not a teller of fortunes’ he says smiling. ‘I can see a lot of possibilities. But what I’d like most is to invest in the quality of the present.’

Review for Hora by Batsheva Dance Company at Edinburgh International Festival 2012

Hora fascinates. Despite its unfathomable meaning, it possesses a human quality which demands and rewards attention
The Financial Times, Gerald Dowler September 3rd 2012

See also:
Tour(s): Batsheva Ensemble 2012

Venue(s): Festival Theatre Edinburgh