10 Minutes With Ohad Naharin

October 31, 2014

In Ohad Naharin’s provocative Sadeh21, 18 elastic-bodied members of the Batsheva Dance Company explore movement in 21 studies, set to a moody soundtrack. Its striking imagery—narrative gestures such as beating the chest and blowing a kiss—has been interpreted alternately as political and personal, with the work coming to a surprising and dramatic conclusion. U.S. audiences can catch Sadeh21 when the company tours to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, this month.

What guided the creation of

There are things in common with all of my creations. It has something to do with discovering the work, letting it evolve and enjoying the big gap between what I imagined and what really happens. It’s important to create a safety net for the dancers so they are free physically and emotionally. We set some rules so that we could break away from old habits and find new ones.

What are those habits and how did you conquer them?

A habit can be a movement or a thinking pattern. It is easy to let go of old habits and old ideas when you find new and better solutions. We try to create a working atmosphere in which we are not negating “what is” or “what was.” The studio can become a laboratory for discovery.

How does your process evolve as the work is being performed?

It is ongoing—a constant discovery of possibilities, weaknesses and solutions. Sections can be easily erased or changed. It could happen on tour. Sometimes it happens when we remount. But the biggest evolution is in the dancers’ interpretation of the work.

What do you look for in dancers?

I think my dancers share curiosity. I find them intelligent, creative and very groovy. They’re able to sublimate their feelings into form, be explosive and delicate at the same time. There is something compelling about their ability to yield and let go.

What advice do you have for dancers who dream of working with you?

You have to listen to the body before you tell it what to do, and recognize weaknesses and habits. A lot of dancers allow the way they move to be managed by their ambitions. You have to be aware of joy and pleasure, and be turned on by new things you have learned.

How are you and your dancers holding up as conflicts in Gaza escalate?

My concern is for the company’s foreign dancers, who are confused, and for the thousands of innocent victims, most of them on the Palestinian side. There is no leadership on either side to find dialogue or compassion. I see so many tragedies—I fear that more than I fear for my shows or tickets. It is very minor what we have to go through versus what victims are going through.