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Bobbi Jene

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Sep 22, 2017
'Bobbi Jene'
'Bobbi Jene'  

For Bobbi Jene Smith, a principal dancer with the acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, her impending 30th birthday is a time for big life changes, most of which are of her own choosing -- but very few of them she is about to undertake are going to be executed with a willing heart.

In the fascinating new documentary "Bobbi Jene," from filmmaker Elvira Lind (that picked up three prestigious awards at the Tribeca Film Festival), we get a very intimate look at Smith's personal and professional life. She first met the Batsheva's legendary choreographer Ohad Naharin ten years ago, when she was at Juilliard in New York. She became infatuated with both the man and his unique form of contemporary dance, and secured a position with the company. She then moved to Israel -- which was, in fact, the very first time she had even left the U.S. A decade later she has worked her way to the top of the company's ranks, and even though she and Nahari have stopped their brief love affair, the two are still extremely close.

Now, with her dancing days possibly numbered, she wants to fulfill a passion to develop her own work as a choreographer, which she rightly judges she will need to do on her own and away from the reaches of Naharin. Beyond obtaining a six-month teaching residency at Stanford University, Smith has very few firm plans, which becomes even more obvious when she is back in U.S. and being advised by a dance expert as to exactly what she needs to do to get commissions and work.

If leaving her beloved Batsheva after all this years weren't bad enough, there is the situation with fellow dancer Or Schraiber to deal with. Despite the fact that the handsome Israeli is 10 years her junior, the two of them are very obviously madly in love. Schraiber is just at the beginning of his career -- in fact, he's in a similar situation to the one Smith was in when she first turned up in Israel as a complete unknown all those years ago. Despite his commitment to their relationship, Schraiber has no desire to settle in the U.S. or leave his extended family, to whom he is very close.

Having been a star at Batsheva brought Smith a certain amount of credibility in NY, but work opportunities are not as plentiful as she may have hoped. There is one very poignant scene when she realistically discusses the career/life limitations of being a contemporary dance professional. It makes her absence from Schraiber even tougher to tolerate, no matter how intimate they get on their regular Skype calls. On the rare times one of them flies to be with the other, they can hardly keep their hands off each other.

Then there is Smith's very impassioned performance piece that has been commissioned by the Jewish Museum. That piece becomes the focal point of this documentary. In it, a naked Smith forcefully throws herself around the room with very violent movements, landing on a sandbag where she literally climaxes with a self-induced orgasm. It certainly is a big risk on her part, but the select crowd of art-lovers who make up the audience hail her as a genius. Even Naharin is effusive in his praise.

It is at this point that Smith realizes that no amount of success is worth it unless she can share it with Schraiber on a full-time basis. That's something they seem to be moving closer towards, but we will need a sequel to see if it pans out as she would like.

Natharin himself had been the subject of his own documentary last year. "Mr Gaga" (which refers to his style of dance/movement) was a favorite with the dance community and beyond. "Bobbi Jene" lacks the same intensity and content as that; after all, Natharin is a superstar when it comes to choreography. What this new film has, however, thanks to cinematographer Adam Nielson -- who is never reluctant to stick his camera right in the middle of the most intimate of scenes -- is raw, unrehearsed life, which is much more about the physical and emotional price an artist like Smith has to pay. We become much more invested in the outcome of her relationship, as she exposes herself more as a women in love than she does as a naked avant-garde dancer.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.


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