Israeli troupe, a cultural icon, returns to San Francisco

An Israeli dance troupe known around the world will perform in San Francisco at the end of the month.

Batsheva made its Bay Area debut in 2003, and the dance company is excited to return to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for performances Oct. 26-29.

“San Francisco is a bit of a highlight for us,” said Luc Jacobs, a former dancer and current rehearsal director.

Since its founding in 1964 by Martha Graham and the Baroness de Rothschild, Batsheva has tried to strengthen human values through dance and creativity. The current troupe is directed by Ohad Naharin.

Born of a challenging time and locale, Batsheva has become a cultural icon in Israel, though dancers say the intention is not to communicate political or religious messages when they travel.

“Ohad always reminds us that he doesn’t want his work to have any connotations to Jewish, political or nationalistic themes,” Jacobs said. “But at the same time, we live in Israel and Ohad is Israeli. People are influenced by where they live and what surrounds them, but I don’t think Ohad makes a particular effort to communicate something exclusively Jewish or Israeli.

“You don’t need any particular cultural or intellectual preparation to see Batsheva,” Jacobs continued. “You just need a certain sensitivity. That makes it very user-friendly, very accessible.”

Jacobs is neither Jewish nor Israeli. He grew up in Belgium, and had been a professional dancer for almost 20 years when he was introduced to Naharin’s work at a performance in Denmark. It was an awakening, he said, and he knew instantly he wanted to work someday with the famed artistic director. When the opportunity arose to audition for Batsheva, Jacobs jumped at the chance. He moved to Tel Aviv four years ago.

“I always had a hunch about what dance could be and should be, but only when I met Ohad and saw his work did I really see something manifest that I’d only dreamt about,” he said.

In San Francisco, Batsheva will perform “Shalosh” (“Three”), in which Naharin explores fundamental themes that have occupied philosophers, thinkers and artists for centuries: beauty, nature and existence.

Jacobs has worked as Batsheva’s rehearsal director for about a year. In that role, he gets to interact with audiences much more regularly than when he was on stage, and he said it’s given him a deeper appreciation and understanding of how Batsheva is perceived by others.

“A lot of people see extremely political messages in the dance, but it’s not the intention,” he said. “Everybody is free to make their own conclusions. It’s about your own experiences at the end of the day.”

Batsheva Dance Company performs 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26 through Saturday, Oct. 28, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St. (at Third Street), S.F. Tickets: $27-$44. For more information, call (415) 392-2545 or visit

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.