Bobbi Jene a film and an artist

Film Review and Interview by Megan Curet

Bobbi Jene, a film that embarks on a journey to bring you the story of a dancer from the USA, who has spent a decade of her career in Israel dancing under the direction of world-renowned contemporary choreographer, Ohad Naharin.

Unlike many dance films and documentaries, Bobbi Jene leaves little to the imagination and less to the clichés of dance tales. Filmmaker Elvira Lind elegantly positions dance artist Bobbi Jene Smith as the artist in process. Bringing forth a raw and visceral story of risk, love, and vulnerability.

The film travels between the USA and Israel as Bobbi Jene makes a bold decision to uproot her life and career to move back to the USA. While being from the states, Bobbi Jene has made her home as a dancer in Israel. The story unfolds as we watch the very organic process it takes Bobbi to create a brand new solo work, while traveling from San Francisco to New York City.

While social media and the evolution of performance art bring the viewer closer to these moments in a dancers world, Bobbi Jene invites you to take a step further, and a closer look. The film also follows the turmoil of distance in the relationship between Bobbi and fellow dancer Or Schraiber. There was constant friction between the personal, the external and the art for the entire ninety minutes. Leaving me on the edge of my seat in tears, laughter and finally nostalgia.

While contemporary dance continues to grow and evolve, films are aiming to capture what it is we see on stage and off. Bobbi Jene eloquently does so by trailing the backstage world of an artist’s practice, as Bobbi investigates a study in effort. From pushing her weight on the walls the handball courts of New York City, to her bare solo performance in the galleries of The Israel Museum.

Bobbi Jene allows the viewer to move into the world of a dancer that is often shadowed by the cliché stories of life as only a ballerina. While dancers are often admired and adored for their grace there is a very rigid reality of time, finance and struggle that comes with the countless hours and years of dance training.

The work is captured through the lenses, and in a world where performance on film is a growing trend, Bobbi Jene reminds us still, to examine the process, the work and the struggle.

Photography Maria Baranova

Photography Maria Baranova

TiLLT: Could you please offer us a little bit of insight as to how such a film came into fruition? I understand it was at least three years in the making. But what was Elvira Lind’s vision at day one?

BJ: I met Elvira through a dear friend of mine, and she had just finished filming her last feature film Song For Alexis. We got talking about dancing, sexuality, and physicality. She bought a ticket to Israel and started filming. I didn’t know it would turn into a film, and she began filming without any story in mind. The story came, I met Or, I left Batsheva, and A Study On Effort was born. As well as a long lasting friendship and collaboration with Elvira, she is one of the most powerful and inspiring people I have ever met.

TiLLT: You created A Study in Effort, but the viewer see’s your approach as more of a practice. What impacted you to first begin with the actions of “pushing and pulling” heavy objects and then pushing your weight against handball walls in NYC parks?

BJ: I have always been attracted to the mundane movements that can say everything. Offering a hand, carrying a child, pushing an object, shielding away to protect. We are dancing all the time, whether we mean to or not. I found myself digging into those movements we do everyday. In order to continue to behave in the movements instead of decorating them into a dance, I thought it would be necessary to practice the actions.

TiLLT: Do you believe your time with Batsheva has come to a complete retirement or do you find your relationship with your first dance home, one you will often return to?

BJ: It is my first dance home! I grew up here. It holds such a clear place in my heart. I hope my relationship with the place will always be fluid and able to shift and adapt so it will always be a part of my life.

TiLLT: In the film we see the support of your work from audience members, colleagues and friends, but was there any sort of backlash from performing such a provocative work in the holy city of Jerusalem at The Israel Museum?

BJ: I did not feel much backlash, at least not that I know of. I can often feel that it is the elephant in the room. The nudity, the pleasure, it still feels as if it’s something people want to talk about but maybe we don’t have the words yet.

TiLLT: Do you see the work you have created with A Study in Effort being re-worked or re-imagined for a setting outside of the Gallery or Stage? Is this particular project a completed chapter or would you like to investigate further?

BJ: I hope to continue to dig into A Study On Effort. It continues to grow and I continue to learn from it. The most recent collaboration has been with violinist Keir GoGwilt. We have been working on it together for the past year and hopefully will be sharing it more in the next year!

Photography Maria Baranova

Photography Maria Baranova

Photography Maria Baranova

Photography Maria Baranova

TiLLT: There is something so pure about the act of performing the naked body, and the film only briefly explores your decision to do so. Could you explain a bit more, what it means to bear all for the audience and how the bare body affected the development of this particular work?

BJ: My body is a container, a time capsule. It holds all of my love, hope, fatigue, sadness, pleasure, scars, and falls. To cover up the torso, when talking about effort, felt as if I was hiding the most crucial part. - Where my heart is, where I can bring life from, the softness of the stomach, the ribs breathing in an out. It became clear in the process, that if I wanted want to dig into effort, I could not to hide those parts. I believe that effort is also shown in weakness and I feel it’s necessary to expose the parts of the body, which are most vulnerable. 

TiLLT: You mentioned in the movie early on, that Israel doesn’t feel like home. Does living in the states once again after such a long hiatus, feel more like home?

BJ: It’s changing all the time. Slowly, it’s starting to feel like NYC is where I want to be! I’m starting to realize that wherever I am dancing and with my love is where I feel home.

TiLLT: Love and art… if you could do any parts of them over, would you?

BJ: Ask me in 5 years!

TiLLT: You offered the viewer some of the most intimate insights into who you are as an artist in “Bobbi Jene”. Was there ever a point where you thought, “oh, maybe that’s a bit too much information?”

BJ: After the first time I saw the film I was very embarrassed, I could barely talk. I went outside to take a deep breath and thought. “If you wouldn’t be slightly embarrassed or shy about certain things then that would be a very bad sign….” I have always believed that exposing doesn’t cancel mystery.

TiLLT: And so, in being a part of such a beautiful raw image of the dancers life, has it triggered the urgency to create a new work?

BJ: Yes, I want to keep on digging, creating, and dancing until the day I die.