In step: Japanese choreographer leads top Israeli modern dancers to JCCSF

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After seven years with Israel’s premiere modern dance company Batsheva, artistic director Yoshifumi Inao considers himself an honorary Israeli.

“I love the people, the climate, the history,” says the Japanese-born, Tel Aviv-based dancer. “I eat falafel for lunch nearly every day!”

Inao and Batsheva Dance Company are coming to San Francisco next week for a string of performances, as well as a special event at the Jewish Community Center: a conversation between Inao and San Francisco choreographer Margaret Jenkins. Dance fans should be in terpsichorean heaven.

Batsheva’s upcoming show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is “Deca-Dance,” a composite of several past pieces choreographed by Batsheva’s former artistic director Ohad Naharin. It includes sections of “Anaphase,” seen at the Kennedy Center when Batsheva took part in 1998’s “Art of the State: Israel at 50 Festival.”

Inao, 29, is no armchair director, being also a dancing member of the company. He’d been infatuated with Batsheva ever since he first saw the group perform in Europe, where Inao was living at the time. “I saw them in Holland and Switzerland,” he recalls. “It touched my emotions when I watched. It was my kind of dancing.”

His kind of dancing was hard to come by in his native Japan. Inao studied ballet as a youth, but he found too few options for modern dance there.

He moved to Norway and married a Norwegian woman, but his commitment to Batsheva took him to Tel Aviv. Seven years later, he was named artistic director of the 16-member company that was co-founded in 1964 by Martha Graham and Baronesss Batsheva de Rothschild.

The performances next week mark Inao’s Bay Area debut, which has him pumped up. So far, he reports that the U.S. tour has gone well, with standing ovations every night. He and his Batsheva colleagues are used to that, whether on the road or at home in Israel.

“I didn’t feel so comfortable my first season,” he recalls of his first days in his new homeland. “It happened gradually, though the culture is something I don’t completely understand. Still, the people are very generous to us.”

Batsheva Dance Company performs “Deca-Dance” 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 10, through Saturday, March 3, and 2 p.m., Sunday, March 14, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F. $24-45. Information: (415) 978-2787, or yerbabuenaarts.org.

Batsheva artistic director Yoshifumi Inao in conversation with Margaret Jenkins, 8 p.m. Monday, March 8, at the Friend Center for the Arts, JCCSF, 3200 California St., S.F. $5-$8. Information: (415) 292-1200, or jccsf.org.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.