Ohad Naharin, Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director and principal choreographer, is passionate about the political aspects of his Naharin’s Virus, which has its American premiere April 30 through May 4 at BAM. He describes it as “a political echo. Politics are a by-product. A good by-product.” One political choice was using Habib Alla Jamal’s folkloric Israeli-Arab music instead of the klezmer music he’d originally considered. “This music grew up in Israeli Arab villages—amazingly rich and virtuosic, and dynamic and silly and really wonderful. I felt so much love for those musicians and for that part of my country. Authentic Israeli music is actually Arab music. I’m going to the source.”
Naharin adapted his piece from Offending the Audience by Peter Handke (best known as co-screenwriter of Wim Wenders’s 1987 film, Wings of Desire). “The play is about the negation of all conventions in theater—the elimination of any expectation of what is going to happen onstage. The most important action is what’s going on in the audience’s mind. But Virus doesn’t illustrate Handke’s play. Often it’s about what the play is not—about engaging the audience to the point that they become aware of themselves as observers.”
Born on Kibbutz Mizra, in a suburb of Haifa, in 1952, Naharin studied Graham technique with the troupe he now directs. He spent the 1978 season dancing with the Graham company in New York, and then attended Juilliard, where he soloed in José Limón’s Missa Brevis and Anna Sokolow’s Rooms. He took over at Batsheva in 1980.
If he had it to do over again he wouldn’t have served in the Israeli army. “I represent the voice of a minority in Israel. But it’s amazing how a majority can live in an illusion, the illusion of power. The reaction after September 11—this ‘war against terror’—is nothing but a sophisticated revenge. Revenge always leads to more bloodshed, to more terror.”