“I need to dance, I need to work hard, that’s it”. Words of Bobbi Jene, a contemporary dancer in Israel who has a dream she is desperate to reach. She wants to break free from the prestigious Batsheva Dance Company and break out on her own; composing, performing and creating dance pieces that she cannot bottle up and must expose.
Watching Bobbi Jene, the immense talent, profound intimacy and bold confidence is inspirational. Jene is at the top of her game when we see her, naked, performing on her own in the opening scene. She is prepared to risk it all, and potentially her ten-year junior boyfriend, in her transition from Israel to America. The stakes are high and the contemporary dance scene is ruthless.
Born and raised in Iowa, Bobbi Jene joined the iconic Juilliard School and at the age of 21, she was recruited to join Batsheva. Based in Israel for 9 years, she is now approaching 30 and despite her popularity and success, she has made the decision to leave the country and return to America. We are privy to some of her most intimate conversations; the moment she tells Ohad Naharin, originator of the Gaga movement and artistic director of Batsheva, that she is leaving; when she talks about relocation with her boyfriend Or; when she breaks down in tears mid-conversation with the masseuse as the fear of losing Or becomes a little too possible. This is a documentary that manages to be present for such unique moments and then cuts away to some of the most impressive and fascinating dance you’ve ever seen.
Director Elvira Lind is clearly in awe of such talent. She frames Bobbi Jene, her boyfriend Or, and the Batsheva dance compositions with such sensitivity and care. In a few instances, Bobbi Jene rehearses on her own with only us for company. Her poise and precise control effortlessly showcases her refined skill. It feels like an afterthought, in one instance, as Jene balances two sticks of wood against each other. Later on, she has similar pieces and balances them together referring to how “She” is balancing against “Him”. Then, we see it as part of a composed dance in the final act. We see how her inspiration is drawn from everything that surrounds her.
Unusually, we spend a large chunk of time at the beginning as Jene counts down the days to her departure. We see Or save a chair from floating away; Ohad supporting her dream but confessing how he’ll miss her tremendously; the sprawling rake of a sold-out house cheering at the end of a Batsheva show. Often, this is erased from a film and replaced with the energy and excitement when starting something new. This is a refreshing take, as Bobbi weighs up the gravity of her decision. She may have an initial job in Stanford on the other side but, outside of that, the future is not set. “I don’t have anything”, she tells a friend. She has no agent or producer, “I don’t think anyone thinks I’m here”. We feel how risky this move will be.
This is unlike a hardworking and determined soul, striving to reach a goal; this is an exceptional, accomplished artist shifting gears. “How we tried and didn’t succeed” is pinned up in her home, and yet cynically, we could assume she has already succeeded. But, realistically, artists never stop. Her Christian parents, with their Jesus-with-baseball-players pictures, and her sister starting a family, are not in the world she has given herself to. She mentions an eating disorder, and how dance pulled her away from it. This is a dancer who talks with Oscar Isaac and Laura Dern, and yet will press herself against a wall to feel and sense the pressure pushing back to her.
Lind captures her openness and involves us in her creative process. Her decision to perform naked is fascinating while her use of a sandbag – “sometimes you have to find pleasure in that what weighs you down” – is profoundly sexual. Bobbi Jene is for the artists; the cultural cinephiles eager to see a new form of creative expression. Passionate, sensual and utterly engaging, Bobbi Jene captures a crucial moment in the career of an incredible performer.
This was part of the London Film Festival 2017 coverage for Culturefly