Australian born, Rachael Osborne will be performing with the Batsheva Dance Company in Three and Max as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Amidst her busy rehearsal schedule, Rachael spoke to Australian Stage's Anna Lozynski about her foray into the international dance scene.

Batsheva Dance CompanyWhat do you most love about your roles in “Max” and “Three”?
The music, the meetings, and the possibilities.  While there’s not much improvisation in “Three” or “Max”, Ohad [Naharin] structures all his pieces with a lot of space. It is up to me to decide the timing or the texture of any given moment.

What is the most challenging aspect of performing those roles?
I am responsible for creating each moment by using multiple senses as well as reacting to a lot of information and stimuli around me.

Both works address complex matters of the human condition. From your perspective, which emotion is the most difficult to convey to the audience?
I’m not an actress. I don’t try to convey emotions, though inevitably emotions are conveyed.  The emotions conveyed rely on the observer’s interpretation.

In my view, the fundamental difference between dancers and actors is (or should be) the study of sensation rather than emotion.  I spend every day researching my senses: what I see, hear, smell, taste and feel.  I practice snapping between physical states without considering the attached emotions.  A healthy, functional being cannot experience emotion without experiencing sensations. One of the most interesting aspects of dance for me is isolating sensation from emotion.

How do you want the audience to feel after “Max” and “Three”?
Stimulated: in both a positive and uncomfortable way, and a reflective and reactive way.

“To excel in art and to strengthen common human values through the power of creativity” is Batsheva Company’s mission statement. How does this translate to the Company dancers on a daily basis?
On a daily basis, we all strive to create something together in the studio. Individually, we all contribute to the picture we are seeking to create and convey.

It starts with the Gaga class (Naharin’s dance language), which has a strong improvisational element to it. The aim of Gaga is to create highly sensitive, textured, eloquent and explosive dancers. While the Gaga teacher is leading the class, or research session, each dancer must take ownership of their own improvisation, constantly address his/her weaknesses and/or injuries, and not just indulge in the pleasure of his or her strengths. The Gaga class ends without clapping, to allow people to continue their own research, or to review what was covered during the class. 

In addition to Ohad, we have many other Gaga teachers in the Company, which increases the feeling of shared responsibility for what we do at Batsheva. 

A special Gaga class for non-dancers also exists and is very popular in Israel.  Non-dancers take Gaga for fitness, rehabilitation, to get in touch with their physical expression, or to gain an insight into the world of dance.

We are otherwise propelled into excellence by not receiving corrections, but suggestions from our teachers and fellow dancers, as well as being afforded the freedom to contribute movement material to the Company’s works. We embrace a healthy and positive attitude, and live in an enriching atmosphere, conducive to creativity and the exploration of common human values. I guess one could say that the creation of excellent art is in fact a by-product of existing in this way.

What differentiates Ohad Naharin from other Artistic Directors or choreographers with which you have worked?
In 2004, I worked with Mats Ek on “A Sort of”.  I remember he [Ek] sat the performers down and told us how he came to create this piece. The inspiration came from a poem from which the title of the work also originated. Balloons were a dominant motif in the piece, representing fertility. Towards the end of the piece, the balloons distending the waistline of one dancer’s dress and the crotch of another dancer’s shorts were burst by a sinister character in a hat and long coat. This represented the ethnic cleansing that happened in Yugoslavia.  Each scene had a clear narrative for Ek and every movement held a specific meaning.  I remember him working with me on one particular movement for almost 15 minutes during rehearsal.  As a new dancer I was rather nervous and felt I was not performing to his expectations.

When I first saw Batsheva, I loved Ohad’s way of telling a story, or many stories at once.  There was no narrative per se, but a gathering of short stories about human nature, individual moments and meetings. Ohad is enigmatic about his creations.  He is driven by the infinite possibilities of the manipulation of atmosphere, timing, space, and of course the human body.  He doesn’t assign specific meaning to movement. Ohad seeks to create room for the interpretation of the meaning of his creations by both the dancer and the viewer.

I have a fond memory of performing Ohad’s “Mamootot” in Stockholm at the Rikstheatern (Cullberg’s home studio and theater) a few years ago.  Mats Ek sat in the front row with his wife Ana, and surprised us all by being the first to rise to his feet to enthusiastically applaud the show.  Afterward he was heard saying that for the first time, the performance allowed him to experience how touching ‘meaningless’ movement could be.
{xtypo_quote_right}Among other things [Janet Karin] told me to take a hot bath when I was hurting. Seriously, I’d never thought to do that before. It was all about work and punishment. She’d also ask me about boyfriends in a cheeky, subtly encouraging way.{/xtypo_quote_right}
What inspired you to become a dancer?
I was not sure I wanted to become a dancer until I became one.  I was afraid of my parent’s opinion about my chosen profession. My father, an academic (now retired) still believes I should have become a writer, or expressed my intelligence and creativity in another form.

I was always attracted to dance, the fantasy (of classical ballet in particular), the physical and mental discipline involved, the music!  I always felt closer to my dance-mates than my schoolmates, like we had more in common.  In an age where interaction with people is less necessary, I still find the tangible, palpable interaction between dancers comforting, human and honest.  I can rely on my senses in this world.

Ultimately, it had to do with two things: my idea of a ‘dancer’ was initially based on the professionals in the Australian scene at the time, and changed after seeing the Batsheva dancers.

You first studied dance under Janet Karin, at the National Capital School in Canberra. What was the most important lesson Ms Karin taught you?
Ms Karin told me, among other things, to take a hot bath when I was hurting.  Seriously, I’d never thought to do that before.  It was all about work and punishment. 

She’d also ask me about boyfriends in a cheeky, but subtly encouraging way.  She wanted her students to experience life outside the studio, in order to have something to bring into it.

You saw the Batsheva Dance Company at the Brisbane Festival in 2000, auditioned, and then was accepted into the Batsheva Ensemble. What happened during the performance at the Brisbane Festival that made you want to audition? 
Dance happened!  I felt I was witnessing the kind of dance of which I’d always wanted to be a part.  Until that moment I wasn’t even sure I understood the meaning of dance.  I saw absolute pleasure in and passion for movement, virtuosity without ‘tricks’ or overbearing technique or form.  I was so moved by both the raw power and the total vulnerability of the dancers.  They came in every size, shape and colour!  I could touch them and they could be touched by me too. 

Though I had met Ohad in Brisbane in 2000 it was at the festival in Melbourne that I spent a week doing classes with the Company and had my official audition. I remember having coffee with Ohad following my audition at the theatre café. My head was swimming with excitement when he invited me to join his Ensemble. He urged me to carefully consider whether I was ready to live in Israel. The whole week was surreal, wonderful and intoxicating.  It was the biggest crossroad of my life so far. 

What do you now know that you wish you had discovered at the beginning of your career?
That being totally aware of every moment is the only way to really enjoy oneself and find pleasure.  Otherwise, you might just be enjoying a sense of achievement after the fact.

Do you have a pre-performance ritual?
I am interested in them but don’t like to feel I rely on them to make for a good show.  Gaga class before a show helps me connect to my sensations, imagination and creativity.  Perhaps we should be connected to those things at all times, but routine in our day-to-day activities acts as a bit of a road block from doing so.

What do you do to relax and unwind after a performance?
I stay up for hours after a show with food, friends and something cool to drink.

Where is your favorite place in Israel?
Probably the desert in the south. The north of Israel reminds me of Australia with its vineyards and eucalypts.

Batsheva DanceWhat do you miss most about Australia?
The sense of space, being with my family and the mangoes.

What are you most looking forward to about the Melbourne International Arts Festival?
I come to Melbourne and the Festival now as a senior dancer and assistant rehearsal manager of Batsheva. There’s an element of coming full circle in some way. 

The Company seldom makes it to Australia, this being its second visit since 2000.  I am looking forward to my now two worlds meeting: sharing Batsheva with Australia and sharing a little of my homeland (and my favourite Australian city) with my friends and colleagues from Batsheva.  I look forward to exposing them to Australian creators such as Chunky Move and Lucy Gurein, for whom I have a great appreciation. 

Finally, I will be able to get some extra time with my parents and two sisters, who I usually only see once a year. I will also be able to celebrate my Mum’s birthday, which I have not done since 1999!

Batsheva Dance Company performs Three, Fri 10 - Sat 11 Oct at 7.30pm & Max, Sun 12 & Mon 13 Oct at 7.30pm.

Further information:

Batsheva Dance Company
Photographer Gadi Dagon

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