Israeli dancers make Three a charm

Batsheva is back with a brand new, stripped-down piece
by: ©2006 GADI DAGON, “Simple,” “naked” and “jungle” are a few of the words that come to mind as rehearsal director Luc Jacobs describes Batsheva.

Familiarity has not diminished Luc Jacobs' regard for his boss, Artistic Director Ohad Naharin of Tel Aviv's Batsheva Dance Company.

After four years, first as a dancer, now as rehearsal director for the most respected contemporary dance troupe in Israel, Jacobs still speaks of Naharin in almost reverential tones.

'To me, this guy is just a wizard,' says the Belgian-born Jacobs. 'I'm sure he's going to be the Mozart of dance. I think the work he's doing and has done is astounding.'

Local dance fans will have the chance to judge for themselves as the dance presenter White Bird brings Batsheva to town for a Halloween night show, the company's second visit to Portland in three seasons.

Jacobs says Naharin, who once danced for Martha Graham, distinguishes himself and his company through his willingness to trust his instincts even as he refuses to rest on his own considerable artistic laurels.

'It's tempting to rely on what you already know,' Jacobs says. 'He has the courage to always go further. He has this ability to look at his work day after day as if seeing it for the first time.'

Portlanders will see, for the first time, Naharin's newest work, 'Three.' Jacobs regards the evening-length piece as somewhat stripped-down, a showcase for the choreographer's honesty as an artist.

His favorite moment in the program comes in the last of three sections, when a duet emerges suddenly from a 'jungle' of movement involving the entire 17-member troupe.

'The simplicity of it is very impressive,' he says. 'It (takes) a certain kind of bravery as a choreographer to present something so naked on stage.'

Jacobs doesn't mean naked in a literal sense, although there is some of that in the program. The company was embroiled in a high-profile contretemps in 1998 when religious conservatives in Israel objected to a work that featured dancers essentially in their underwear.

'We try to be considerate,' Jacobs says. 'Our material is not made in order to offend people, but it can have that effect.'

He says Batsheva, which was founded in 1964 by Graham and a benefactor, Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, has come to be seen as an institution in Israel, which has a downside.

'I feel sometimes we are more popular abroad,' he says. 'In Israel, we are the main company. Because it's our home, I think sometimes people take us for granted. They don't really grasp the scope of it.'

American audiences shouldn't necessarily expect to see Israel's delicate political position as the only Jewish state in a mostly hostile Middle East represented in Batsheva's work, Jacob says.

The company's dedication to touring - it will perform more than 200 times outside of Israel this year - puts it at a literal distance from events back home. But Jacobs says Naharin also is the type of artist who focuses on larger themes.

'I'm sure in some way the energy of the country influences whatever we do,' Jacobs says. 'But it's not his wish to state something about the political situation. I think he wants to meet people on a different level. His work is so universal, you don't need any particular knowledge.'

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Batsheva Dance Company

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31

Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway, 503-245-1600, ext. 201

Cost: $19-$43; also available through Ticketmaster (503-790-2787), subject to service charges