When asked to describe “Sadeh21,” the 2011 full-length work Batsheva Dance Company is bringing to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this week, dancer Bobbi Smith is at a loss for words.
“You just have to see it. It has scene after scene of gorgeous moments … a collection of individuals create a universal picture, a poem,” says Smith, who has been with the acclaimed Israeli dance troupe for 10 years.
Choreographed by Batsheva company director Ohad Naharin, “Sadeh21” (set to music by Brian Eno and David Darling and others) is one of Smith’s favorite pieces, and from the excitement in her voice, you would think she had just joined the troupe.
It “gives you space to dream inside of it, to connect to it on so many levels,” adds Smith, describing “Sadeh21,” which is composed in 21 movement studies.
Naharin, who has headed Batsheva for nearly 25 years, is known not only for amazing choreography, but for his specialized training, called gaga.
Often referred to by dancers and himself as a “movement language,” gaga is a hyper-responsive and fluid way of creating movement. In gaga classes, students respond to words spoken by the instructor. If the teacher says “soft” to a roomful of 30 dancers, there will be 30 different physical interpretations of that word. Batsheva dancers have an astonishingly dexterous physicality, and many of them, like Smith, have abandoned all forms of traditional training: no yoga, no barre, just gaga.
But gaga classes are different from composed works by Naharin. His choreographic voice is both consistent and versatile, and his pieces are far from chaotic. Staged with precision, yet allowing for a dancer’s individuality, his dances are masterful, taut and well-honed works of art.
“I’ve always felt he is a master of time,” Smith says. “I’ve always been moved by how he constructs time, how it rides in a piece and through the piece.”
And while Naharin’s stamp is firmly on “Sadeh21,” it was composed in collaboration with his dancers’ choreographic input.
“‘Sadeh21’ is extreme physicality that turns into emotion and a life force, but starting from physicality,” Smith says. “Ohad said it was as much our responsibility as his, but of course he crafted it, molded it and played with it.”
Batsheva’s visit also includes classes. On Friday, Batsheva dancers will teach gaga at the ODC Dance Commons, in call-and-response type sessions that are a far cry from dance classes with strict choreography.
“I like the communication of a gaga class,” Smith says. “I love giving people space to listen to their bodies and sensations and remind them how much joy is inside of their body. Effort can be the most beautiful thing. I like getting people to let go and find pleasure.”
IF YOU GO
Batsheva Dance Company
Presented by San Francisco Performances
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $40 to $70
Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org, www.batsheva.co.il
Note: Gaga classes are Friday at 11:30 a.m. for dancers and 1 p.m. for nondancers at ODC Dance Commons, 351 Shotwell St., S.F; cost is $20, call (415) 549-8519 to reserve.