On the Mediterranean coast in Tel Aviv, a wave of change is headed toward shore. For nearly 30 years, Israel's magnetic Batsheva Dance Company has been led by the influential choreographer Ohad Naharin, who has provided the troupe with a vast repertory of evocative works as well as a bold physical identity thanks to Gaga, his distinctive movement language. This month, Naharin, 66, will transition from artistic director to house choreographer, handing the management reins to Gili Navot, a former dancer with the company.
"For some years already, I have been contemplating how to keep my relationship with the company for the long term," Naharin said in a statement. Moving from artistic director to house choreographer, he explained, will allow him to dedicate himself "to creation, to the dancers and to Gaga research."
Gili Navot, Batsheva's new artistic director. Photo by Ascaf, Courtesy Batsheva
Navot comes to the position as a longtime member of the Batsheva family, having performed with the troupe for nearly a decade, from 1999 to 2008, before serving as rehearsal director and as a senior Gaga instructor—teaching both that method and Naharin's work at companies around the world. That experience, plus her "outstanding leadership qualities," made her a fitting choice as Naharin's successor, the company said. For Navot, her long association with Batsheva "has allowed me to understand, listen and speak the language of the place," she says. "I can identify with its common sense."
Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin's Yag. Photo by Gadi Dagon, Courtesy Batsheva
After its founding in 1964 by the Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild and modern dance matriarch Martha Graham, Batsheva operated as a repertory company, performing an eclectic mix of American, European and Israeli modern dance by choreographers such as Donald McKayle, Glen Tetley, David Parsons and Rami Be'er. Naharin's arrival as director in 1990 remade the company in his darkly humorous, physically volatile and mysterious image.
Ohad Naharin steps down from his position as Batsheva's artistic director and into the role of house choreographer beginning this season. Photo by Gadi Dagon, Courtesy Batsheva
But even during his long tenure as director, he regularly commissioned choreographers—many in the early stages of their careers—to create for Batsheva, including Sharon Eyal, Barak Marshall and Roy Assaf. Navot plans to maintain this tradition. "I would love to continue to invite more choreographers to work with the company," she says. Meanwhile, Naharin will remain deeply involved in the training of dancers and the creation of new work.
Initially, Navot said that her priority as director will be to get a handle on Batsheva's many operational activities, which include the main company, the Young Ensemble, its expanding Gaga educational platforms and an anticipated new dance campus in Tel Aviv. But for now, "I prefer to invest in getting to know the people I work with," she says, adding that in better grasping the various creative components of Batsheva today, "I'll know better what I wish for the future."