Documentary ‘Bobbi Jene’ Chronicles a Life in Transition


Bobbi Jene 2017 Still 01_cropped

Bobbi Jene performs her solo piece at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the opening scene of Elvira Lind’s documentary Bobbi Jene (2017), American dancer Bobbi Jene Smith is nude on all fours looking like a Michelangelo sculpture come to life. As she twists and contorts her muscular frame, her long raven hair sweeps back and forth across her body. This powerful and jolting imagery from Smith’s solo work “A Study on Effort,” not only reveals her natural beauty as a woman, it  hints at the powerful artistry that made her a star dancer for world-renowned Israeli dance company Batsheva. For the remainder of the 95-minute documentary, the 35-year-old director and girlfriend of Star Wars actor Oscar Isaac, sought to reveal the person beneath the skin during a life-altering transition in Smith’s young adult life.

The documentary takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to chronicling events in Smith’s life just as she has decided to leave contemporary dance company Batsheva after a decade (2005-2014) and move back to the United States to pursue a solo career as a dancer/choreographer.

Bobbi Jene 2017 Still 04

Bobbi Jene rehearsing with Batsheva Dance company in Tel Aviv.

Bobbi Jene 2017 Still 06

Bobbi Jene talking with mentor and artistic director of Batsheva Dance company, Ohad Naharin.

A Centerville, Iowa-native and alumnus of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and the North Carolina School of the Arts, Smith, barely out of her teens, left New York’s prestigious Juilliard School early to join Batsheva. Other than a few sentences spouted by an Israeli TV host during an interview with Smith, the film offers little biographical information on Smith, choosing instead to focus on the here and now of her life. That approach early on gives the documentary the feel of watching an episode of reality TV series MTV’s The Real World or Ballet West’s soap-operatic Breaking Pointe. Scenes of Smith with Batsheva company founder and artistic director Ohad Naharin where it is revealed the two were former lovers foster that perception. In one such scene at a restaurant where the two are discussing Smith’s leaving the company, an overtly flirtatious Naharin seemed to try to use their former romantic relationship as a way to convince her to stay. Also playing into that reality TV feel was 30-year-old Smith’s current romantic relationship with fellow Batsheva dancer, Israeli Or Schraiber who is ten years her junior.  Much of the documentary is devoted to the emotional rollercoaster the pair are on trying to navigate Smith’s leaving and the effect that will have on their relationship and careers.

Using quick cuts to piece together scenes of everyday life including Smith and Schraiber in intimate situations, the documentary is measured in revealing substantive details and motivations in Smith and Schraiber’s lives. It is after Smith returns to the United States and begins teaching at Stanford University and working on “A Study on Effort,” that we begin to see what earned the film Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography in a Documentary Feature and Best Editing in a Documentary Feature awards at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

With Smith’s realization that her life having been frontloaded with many dancers’ dream job was both a blessing and a curse we begin to get a real sense of Smith and her feeling of being unprepared for life after Batsheva.

“I never thought of the future ever,” says Smith.

Bobbi Jene 2017 still 02_cropped

Bobbi Jene develops her new performance in the streets of New York.

While Smith’s personal life in the film may at times appear rudderless and prone to emotional turmoil, the film does a wonderful job in driving home how she harnesses that turmoil in her choreography and dancing. In one such scene, Smith in a dinner party conversation with actress Laura Dern reveals how  what she calls the “mindfuck” of her learning and practicing Naharin’s Gaga movement technique helped conquer her eating disorder. But perhaps the most captivating scenes relating to this and in the film are of Smith working on “A Study on Effort.”  We see her unyielding commitment in developing her choreography for the contemporary dance work by relentlessly pushing with all her might against a handball court wall, jumping and reaching skyward at an increasing pace until she becomes exhausted, and in the film’s most provocative scene, rubbing her genitalia on a 50 pound bag of sand until she orgasms.

“Sometimes you need to find pleasure with what weighs you down,” says Smith.

Smith goes on to perform the solo at Stanford and at The Israel Museum to rave reviews including that of Naharin who she says tells her, if he had seen the solo when he was younger it would have changed his life. We get the sense in the film that it is Smith’s life that is perhaps most effected by the solo; artistically taking one step closer to coming out from under Naharin’s long shadow.

“I want to get to that place where I have no strength to hide anything,” says Smith.

00 Bobbi Jene BIG main still_cropped

Bobbi Jene and Or in Israeli desert. Two lovers getting ready to part ways.

Bobbi Jene 2017 Still 05

Bobbi Jene and Or reunites in New York after months apart.

The film concludes unremarkably with a hopeful scene of Smith teaching a Gaga class to a room full of multi-generational dance students. As for a resolution to Schraiber and Smith’s romantic relationship that dominates the film? The film only hints at it with Schraiber saying of their long distance relationship that he is not in the same place as Smith and Smith saying they dream too much and are “not good with the reality stuff.”

In the end, what works for Bobbi Jene as a film, not so much as a dance documentary  (there is very little dance in it), is the empathy created for the bright-eyed Smith who you cannot help but feel for and root for as she walks a tightrope between cultures, generational norms and what was and what will be. Unfiltered, undressed and unabashed, Smith is truly magnetic in the film that despite its soap-operatic beginning, if you stick with, has the power to stick with you.

CREDITS

Directed by Elvira Lind
Featuring – Bobbi Jene Smith, Or Schraiber, Ohad Naharin
Produced by Sonntag Pictures – Julie Leerskov & Sara Stockmann
Film Editor – Adam Nielsen
Cinematographer – Elvira Lind
Music composed & Performed by Uno Helmersson
Sound designer – Martin Sandström & Jacques Pedersen
Co-producer – Mathilde Dedye
Run Time: 95 minutes; Not Rated
Country:  Denmark | Sweden | Israel | USA
Language:  English
Release Date:  6 October 2017 (Sweden)

UPCOMING SCREENINGS

10/13/2017 – Irvine, CA, Edwards Westpark 8
10/13/2017 – San Diego, CA, Media Arts Center
10/13/2017 – Santa Fe, NM, Violet Crown Cinema
10/14/2017 – Houston, TX, 14 Pews
11/17/2017 – Seattle, WA, Grand Illusion Cinema
12/9/2017 – San Francisco, CA, The Roxie

www.bobbijene.oscilloscope.net

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie Reviews

Benz a Consummate Juliet in BalletMet’s Superb ‘Romeo and Juliet’


IMG_1583

BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet with Columbus Symphony Orchestra – Romeo and Juliet
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, Ohio

April 28-30, 2017 

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Since taking over BalletMet’s artistic leadership in 2010, Edwaard Liang has molded the company into more of a contemporary ballet powerhouse with ballets by himself, Christopher Wheeldon, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Ma Cong and others. With the Columbus premiere of his Romeo and Juliet, April 28-30 at the Ohio Theatre however, Liang asserted BalletMet’s might in classical story ballets as well with a next-level production usually reserved for ballet companies twice its size.

Originally created on Tulsa Ballet in 2012, the 3-act production had opera house-style sets and costumes by David Walker to go with the rich playing of Sergei Prokofiev’s iconic score for the ballet by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Stafford Wilson and some of the best classical dancing I’ve seen from the company. In the ballet’s final performance on April 30 however, one light shone above the rest, that of retiring company star Adrienne Benz whose moving performance as Juliet stands with any given anywhere in recent years.

True to Shakespeare’s play and the storyline structure found in most high-level ballet productions of Romeo and Juliet, Liang’s adaptation moved briskly in choreography that was engaging and descriptive. The ballet’s scenes not only told the star-crossed lovers’ familiar story, but captured nicely the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s fictional Verona, Italy setting and its colorful renaissance-era inhabitants.

IMG_1728

(L-R) BalletMet’s Andres Estevez, David Ward and Kohhei Kuwana in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

In typical fashion, Act I introduced us to the feuding Capulet and Montague families including male protagonist Romeo (David Ward), his friend Mercutio (Andres Estevez) and his cousin Benvolio (Kohhei Kuwana) as well as to Juliet’s cousin and antagonist Tybalt, portrayed with icy malice by first-year company member Austin Moholt-Siebert.

IMG_1310

(L-R) BalletMets’ Sarah Wolf, Karen Wing and Kristie Latham in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Frivolity, swordplay and the flirtations of young men and women made for a vibrant opening scene. Most interesting were Liang’s use of three gruff but sexy harlots danced by Kristie Latham, Karen Wing and Sarah Wolf who, when they weren’t pushing around the villagers, fawned over Romeo and his compatriots and even engaged in some of the sword fighting.

Later in the Act, the ballet shifted scenes to Juliet’s bedroom were we get our first glimpse of Benz as Juliet being playful with her nurse and confident (Leigh Lijoi) while making preparations for that evening’s masked ball. Benz appeared to have leapt from the pages of Shakespeare’s play. Her youthful exuberance and joy made you fall in love with her character instantly and her acting skills and technical prowess were stunning.

As in most Romeo and Juliet ballets, the ball was a lavish affair with the aforementioned costumes and sets to match. The trio of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio looking to crash the ball were a bit like the three musketeers in their cocky, cavalier attitudes toward those arriving for the ball. Ward as Romeo appeared straight out of central casting. His princely looks and adroit dancing seemed to charm the audience almost as much as it did Juliet in the scene which played out as most do with the two meeting and falling for each other instantly and Romeo and cohorts clashing with Tybalt and Juliet’s would-be suitor Paris, danced with nobility by BalletMet dancer Attila Bongar who was also making his final appearance with the company.

IMG_1686

BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

IMG_1874

BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

IMG_1670

BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Bathed in golden light and dreamlike, the famous “balcony scene” that followed to end Act I dripped with romance which Benz and Ward let wash over them as the two lovers who then got drunk on each other’s company.  Within this beautiful setting Liang choreographed a beauty of a pas de deux that contained a wellspring of fabulous lifts and carries to go with the character’s unbridled joy which Benz and Ward captured to perfection in their exquisite dancing of it.

Act II opened with us back in the village’s marketplace with the requisite frolicking and celebrations. Wing, as the village’s most brazen harlot, once again made her presence felt strutting about with the kind of aggressiveness she displayed in the lead role of Carmen in Sansano’s Carmen.maquia in 2016. The act continued with Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio playfully teasing Juliet’s nurse who came to marketplace to deliver a note to Romeo from Juliet about meeting in secret with Friar Lawrence (David Spialter) to wed.  It was another charming scene in a ballet full of them that provided a wonderful counterpoint to the ballet’s drama and tragedy.

IMG_1708

(Center) BalletMet’s Karen Wing in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

As with any great tragedy, happiness comes at a cost and in one of the ballet’s most climactic moments Estevez as Mercutio, who was also making his final appearance with BalletMet, delivered a wonderfully acted and danced performance where he was both hero and jester battling and ultimately perishing at the hands of Tybalt in a swordfight. For his part, Moholt-Siebert as Tybalt nearly stole the scene with a “Joffrey Baratheon” from Game of Thrones kind of contemptibility.

IMG_1846

(Center) BalletMet’s Austin Moholt-Siebert and David Ward in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

IMG_1859

(Center) BalletMet’s Carly Wheaton and Austin Moholt-Siebert in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The act then ended with Romeo taking revenge on Tybalt over Mercutio’s death in an unconscious fit of rage, and then guilt, as Lady Capulet (Carly Wheaton) crazed and bereft, stormed the stage and whipped her headdress into the wings in a somewhat over-the-top reaction to Tybalt’s death; suggesting perhaps there relationship was much more than just aunt and nephew.

The ballet’s third act continued the familiar tale with Romeo and Juliet waking in Juliet’s bedroom after assumingly consummating their secret marriage with Romeo still haunted by Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths and Juliet not wanting Romeo to go. The pair engaged in another marvelously-crafted and passionate pas de deux.  Later in the scene, after Romeo’s departure, Juliet’s parents forced the issue of her marriage to Paris and Benz showed more of her brilliance conveying in her every step, gesture and heartbreaking tear, the very essence of Shakespeare’s words on the young heroine’s torn state of emotion.

After seeking solace from Friar Lawrence who gave her a potion to fake her own death, Juliet returned to her bedroom where she was visited by the ghosts of Mercutio, as sort of an angel one shoulder telling her not to take the potion, and Tybalt, the devil on her other shoulder urging to take it, which she does.

IMG_2052

BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The ballet’s final scene at the Capulet family tomb brought the tragic tale to its inevitable conclusion as Romeo and Paris faced off in a knife fight at the alter Juliet’s seemingly lifeless body lay with Romeo the lone survivor. Liang then wrapped up the story and the lover’s fates with a rarely used ending in U.S. productions where Romeo sees Juliet wake up from her fake-death coma seconds before he succumbs to the very real poison he just drank to be with her in the afterlife. What must he be thinking in that brief moment? Ward gave us both elation and resignation in seconds it took for that reunion to play out. Benz then true to her character’s grief and determination to forever be with Romeo grabbed Paris’ knife and ended her own life.

A triumph by most any standard of measure, BalletMet’s Romeo and Juliet with its brisk pacing, easy-to-follow story progression and relatable characters would surely resonate with even the most neophyte dance goer. Add to that finely constructed, world-class choreography, perhaps the best ballet score ever written played with heart by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, rich looking sets and costumes and great dancing led by the spellbinding performances of Benz and Ward, and even the most persnickety of balletomanes would have a hard time resisting the production’s allure.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2017

Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2018 line-up revealed


Piano-Main-v2-RNZB-dancer-Abigail-Boyle.-Photo-by-Ross-Brown-867x1024

RNZB dancer Abigail Boyle. Photo by Ross Brown.

By Jeremy Brick

Choreographic mastery, cinematic vision and New Zealand’s pioneering spirit define the national ballet company’s 65th anniversary year announced today. 2018 promises audience favourites and landmark repertoire from New Zealand, Europe and America alongside expanded choreographic opportunities and continued commitment to education as the company tours to 16 centres nationally.

RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker is honoured to lead the company as the second female director in its history. “My vision is for the Royal New Zealand Ballet is to be celebrated for commissioning works by the brightest young choreographers, while meticulously maintaining the highest standards of traditional classics. The RNZB will continue to embody the elegance, grandeur, grace and strength that I have already seen in New Zealand’s landscapes and the people that I have met. We are a cultural ambassador and an important artistic export, sharing the spirit and creativity of our country at home and beyond our borders.”

The Piano: The Ballet:  The 2018 season begins with the world premiere of a work inspired by Jane Campion’s award-winning quintessentially New Zealand film that captured audiences worldwide. This newly re-imagined full length work by Jiří Bubeníček, is presented in association with the New Zealand Festival and the Auckland Arts Festival. Ada’s story is given a powerful new voice in dance and is accompanied by musical excerpts from Michael Nyman’s iconic film score and works by classical music masters.

Dancing with Mozart: Choreographic titans George Balanchine and Jiří Kylián find inspiration in the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as the RNZB presents the first New Zealand performances of Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 and Kylián’s Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze, alongside a new commission by Christchurch-born, UK-based choreographer Corey Baker.

Strength and Grace: Women: To mark the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand and the RNZB’s own 65th birthday the company looks to the future of dance, with a series of new commissions from female choreographers, curated by RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker.

The Ryman Healthcare Season of The Nutcracker brings a rich offering of seasonal cheer and fabulous music to audiences of all ages as the RNZB tours a new, traditional staging of the work nationally for the first time since 2010.

RNZB Executive Director Frances Turner says “We are thrilled to present such diverse programming of works that will be a choreographic feast for our dancers and a visual feast for our audience.”

Outside the three main stage seasons, the RNZB will continue its much-loved and popular Tutus on Tour and Ballet in a Box programme planned for seven centres throughout the year: Gore, Tauranga, Oamaru, Hamilton, Taupo, Whanganui and Kerikeri. The RNZB will also present the Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award with the support of the Ballet Foundation of New Zealand Trust, to provide opportunities for emerging choreographers to create short works for studio performance by dancers of the RNZB.

Details 

The Piano: the ballet: 

Inspired by the film The Piano with permission kindly granted by Jane Campion, Jan Chapman and Saddleback Productions.

22 February – 7 April

Touring to Wellington, Napier, Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Rotorua

Choreography: Jiří Bubeníček, Set and Video Design: Otto Bubeníček, Costume Design: Elsa Pavanel

Music: Otto Bubeníček, Michael Nyman, Debussy, Arensky, Stravinsky, Schnittke, Brahms and Shostakovich arranged by Otto Bubeníček, Staging: Jiří Bubeníček and Otto Bubeníček

Lighting Designer: Jeremy Fern

Dancing with Mozart: Balanchine – ­Kylián  –  Baker

31 May – 8 July

Touring to Wellington, Christchurch, Invercargill, Dunedin, Blenheim, Palmerston North, Rotorua, Napier, Auckland.

  • Petite Mort: Choreography: Jiří Kylián, Assistant to the choreographer: Stefan Zeromski, Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concertos K488 and K467, Costume design: Joke Visser, Set design: Jiří Kylián, Light design: Jiří Kylián (concept), Joop Caboort (realisation),Video registration: Hans Knill, Technical adaptation (lights/set): Joost Biegelaar
  • Sechs Tänze: Choreography: Jiří Kylián, Assistant to the choreographer: Stefan Zeromski, Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Deutsche Tänze K571, Costume and set design: Jiří Kylián, Light design: Jiří Kylián (concept), Joop Caboort (realisation), Video registration: Hans Knill, Technical adaptation (lights/set): Joost Biegelaar
  • Divertimento No. 15Choreography: George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Repetiteur: Francia Russell, Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Divertimento No. 15 in B flat major, K287, Design: Barbara Karinska, Orchestras: Orchestra Wellington, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Conductors: Marc Taddei (Wellington), Hamish McKeich (Christchurch and Auckland)
  • New work: Choreography/Design: Corey Baker, Music: Duncan Grimley, after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Requiem in D minor K626, Lighting Design: Paul O’Brien

Strength and Grace: Women: New commissions curated by RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker

17 – 18 August

Opera House, Wellington

To mark the 125th Anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand we look to the future of dance, with a series of new commissions curated by RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker.

The Ryman Healthcare season of The Nutcracker

31 October –  20 December

Touring to Wellington, Blenheim, Invercargill, Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Napier, Auckland (Auckland City and Takapuna), Rotorua

Choreography: Val Caniparoli, Music: Pyotr IlyichTchaikovsky, Set design: Michael Auer and Andrew Lees, Costume design: Assisted by Patricia Barker, Lighting Design: tbc, Orchestras: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Conductor: Hamish McKeich

Tutus on Tour with Ballet in a Box

Gore 15 March, Tauranga 4 April, Oamaru 17 June, Hamilton 9 July, Taupo 11 July, Whanganui 13 July, Kerikeri 12 December.

Repertoire may vary from centre to centre and will be announced in advance of each mini tour.

On sale dates for 2018 shows:

Renewing subscribers 2 October 2018; New subscribers 16 October 2017; Public 1 November 2017.

For booking info see www.rnzb.org.nz

The Royal New Zealand Ballet

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) was founded in 1953 by Danish dancer Poul Gnatt, as a touring professional ballet company for all New Zealanders. Now based at Wellington’s St James Theatre, the Royal New Zealand Ballet is an intrinsic part of New Zealand’s national heritage, and has the largest following of all New Zealand performing arts companies. The Royal New Zealand Ballet continues to invest in live music, performing with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Wellington, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra. The RNZB enjoys a reputation for strong and unique interpretations of full-length dramatic works. To this base the RNZB have added many masterworks and major ballets of the 20th century, such as Balanchine’s works and the Stravinsky ballets. The company has an enviable track record in commissioning new works from New Zealand and international choreographers. The RNZB regularly represents New Zealand on the international stage, with recent tours to the UK, Australia, China, USA, Italy and Hong Kong.

Leave a comment

Filed under Press Releases

New era at RNZB


deborah jones: FollowSpot

The question had to be asked. Is Patricia Barker at Royal New Zealand Ballet for the long haul?

Her predecessor but one as artistic director, fellow American Ethan Stiefel, saw out his three-year contract but decided not to renew. Barker’s immediate predecessor, Francesco Ventriglia, announced his resignation last November only two years into his tenure (he stayed in the job until June). A different approach was clearly needed.

Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, The Royal New Zealand Ballet Royal New Zealand Ballet artistic director Patricia Barker. Photo: RNZB/Stephen A’Court

“The Board asked me to sign on for five years,” Barker says. It’s a wise call in the circumstances and Barker looks to be just what the dance doctor ordered. Beneath her quiet, warm, calm demeanour there would seem to exist super-powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, or women.

Barker gave nearly three decades of service to Seattle-based Pacific Northwest Ballet, where she long reigned as an internationally…

View original post 973 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Pittsburgh City Paper