“Dance is its own reward”, Luc Jacobs tells me, the Senior Rehearsal Director of Batsheva Dance Company. His warm voice, which sometimes cracks through the digital thicket, can sound loud and unwavering. “What I hope to get out of dancing – if I were to be more successful or not – are stories that we sometimes tell ourselves, but are really meaningless to me.”

In 2002, Luc Jacobs, who was at that time a dancer in the Norwegian group, Carte Blanche, in Bergen, was packing his things for a journey. Not only was he trading the North Sea for the Mediterranean coast, he was also turning the dial of his compass in a direction that he had been heading for already. His career as a ballet dancer, in which he collaborated, among others, with the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium, Deutsche Opern Berlin, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and Northern Ballet Theater, UK, had already shifted towards contemporary dance. Feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled, Luc was searching for more emotion and its expression through dance. Since his time as a child and then in school, he perceived himself as being different and didn’t feel he could fit in any of the predefined social boxes. Thus, when the opportunity arose for him to occupy a vacant position as a dancer in the famous Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, which he had been following for several years, the most natural thing he could do was to follow his new calling. “For me, it was truly a decisive moment. It felt like I finally found something I had always been looking for.”

Luc Jacobs, Senior Rehearsal Director of Batsheva Dance Company; photo by Yaara Moses and Yarden Raz

In 2010, Luc Jacobs became the Senior Rehearsal Director of Batsheva Dance Company, where he has been working for almost two decades alongside visionary choreographer Ohad Naharin. Batsheva Dance Company, this realm of infinite possibilities for the exploration of dance, is one of the most innovative dance groups in the world gathering dancers from all over who, as well as Luc, were attracted by Ohad Naharin’s thirst for creation and his ingenious methods.

“Batsheva is different from other dance companies mainly due to Ohad’s work, because we are not like a repertoire company. We work mainly with Ohad, so, in a way, we are specialists in what he does and how he thinks”, explains Luc Jacobs.

Founded in 1964 by Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild and Martha Graham (as choreographer), the dance company has gained international recognition under the leadership of Naharin and it has developed into two groups (Batsheva and the junior division: Batsheva – The Young Ensemble) making it the largest dance company in Israel.

Ohad Naharin, House Choreographer of Batsheva Dance Company and creator of the Gaga movement language; photo by Ilya Melnikov

“He has a huge personality […]”, Luc tells me. “I remember the first time I spoke to him [n. a. Ohad Naharin], I felt an affinity to the way he thought and with decisions he made in his work. It was a very powerful first meeting.”

Charismatic and mysterious, Ohad Naharin always attracts the sympathy and curiosity of those that get to meet him. Born in a kibbutz and immersed in Israeli folklore, even if Naharin started dancing much later (at 22 years old), he managed to build a unique aesthetic that extracts its essence from folklore, but also goes beyond traditional motives in search of the universality of the language of dance.
Naharin avoids journalists and is not interested in having his life documented, but he is concerned with the constant polishing of his ideas and creations, to which he returns periodically. He likes to play with the points of reference of the audience and he pushes them to go beyond the familiar and their automatic reactions through his defiant and energetic stories. “When you perceive something, you always perceive it through the habitual, you always translate…”, Luc also remarks.

In his choreographies, reference points are used especially to be dissolved and canceled. As is the case with “Venezuela”, a performance that tempts the audience with a title that immerses them in the current social and political context, by not letting familiar references and realities distract you, you can unleash your imagination and have an experience that is completely new.

At Batsheva, dancers are given space and time to explore their own identity and imagination and the most important thing is not form – structured moves and steps, but the approach itself, “listening to your own body”, being aware of movement and trying to dig deep within yourself, to become introspective, because, as Naharin often says: “you shouldn’t connect to your reflection but to the universe.”
These things are part of Naharin’s philosophy about using the body and the Gaga DNA, the movement language developed by the dancer after suffering a severe injury to his back. „[In Gaga] there are no mirrors”, Luc declares with the same energy that Naharin uses when talking about his work. “The teacher will give you instructions, but you are responsible for your own movements. Typically, in a dance class, a teacher will show you the movement, then you learn it, and then there is a set way of doing that movement. In Gaga, the research has more to do with how we do things, than what we do exactly.” Gaga has become the basis of training at Batsheva and the root of the over 20 choreographies created by Naharin, but also a set of working tools which dancers all around the world can use together with any other movement technique.

Batsheva Dance Company performing “Venezuela”; ©Ascaf

If, for professional dancers, Gaga means a deeper study of dance, for those who have just dared to make their first dance steps, it is an experience that invites them to be more aware of their own body, to get rid of their inhibitions and to be ready to dance like no one’s watching. “For Gaga people, it’s a way of becoming connected to yourself, with your own body, with your own emotions and, at the same time, to have a workout and to express yourself in a way in which perhaps most people don’t have a chance to do”, says Luc. “You can just step in a class without any preparation and join in. There’s no grades, so it’s not like there is Gaga for beginners and Gaga for advanced. People dance together and dance is fun. It’s like a celebration… ”

The Batsheva Dance Company will be present this year with the performance of “Venezuela”, by Ohad Naharin, on June 22, at 6:00 PM, and on June 23, at 5:00 PM, at Centrul Cultural „Ioan Besoiu”.

A special Gaga/People event, with choreographer Ohad Naharin, will take place on June 24 at 10:00 at the Culture Factory (Fabrica de Cultură). Naharin and Gaga instructors will meet to experience Gaga and the freedom of movement with more than 500 young people, festival volunteers.

English translation: Sorina Tomulețiu