The dancer and title character is nude, contorting, lithe and athletic when we meet her, bending her body in intense, jerky and breathless movement.
“Bobbi Jene” is Bobbi Jene Smith, an Iowan who jumped from Juilliard into one of the world’s most innovative modern dance companies, Batsheva of Tel Aviv. Tall, free-spirited, focused and malleable, she became star, lover and muse for choreographer and company Ohad Naharin.
Why? The evidence on the screen suggests its her fearlessness. Dancers are very free with their bodies, casual in the nudity in their art. But Naharin suggests it’s her willingness to share something else, “juice,” the sweat of herculean effort and intensity that put her where she is.
“He wants to see me drip.”
“Bobbi Jene” is a foreign language documentary by filmmaker Elvira Lind. The “language” here is dance, movement. When we meet her, Bobbi Jene is facing her 30th birthday and quitting one of the best jobs in dance.
It’s not her coming birthday, with 30 being the backside of a dancer’s career. Nor is it the fact that she and Naharin used to be lovers. She has taken up with a much younger man herself, “a kid,” about her age when she was lured to Israel by a genius and his “Gaga” dance movement theories (which have nothing to do with the pop star).
“It’s time to start creating my own work. and to go back home. “Bobbi Jene” rather haphazardly follows her journey, from her final performances with Batsheva, her struggles to get her start back home and some all-access intimate moments as she tries to talk her beau, Or Schraiber, into coming with her back to the States.
She lines up a teaching job at Stanford. But he’s at the beginning of his career, not at the pinnacle.
“You could do a lot of things — dance for Beyonce. We could make our art together. You said you want to go to acting school.”
That could be a problem down the road. For now, Bobbi heads stateside, reconnects with her family — holds her infant nephew for the first time and fends off awkward, working class parent recollections of her “eating problem” and insistence on choreographing and performing pieces in the nude.
The banality of the interviews, the conversations, and the effusive backstage praise after the shows throws the actual performances into sharp relief.
The dance features extended body lines, stretches and reaches in slow motion broken up by bursts of repetitive jerks, turns and twists and rolling on the floor.
The “Gaga” contemporary dance language emphasizes the personal, the cathartic — quasi-orgasmic, frenzied, trancelike performances that push towards some sort of breakthrough. Naharin’s philosophy is that there’s no rehearsing in front of mirrors so that there’s nothing self-conscious about the performer’s search for effects and positions.
The dance is interesting. I have to say, the dancer? Not so much. We tend to forget that the focus artists put on their art implies a dull myopia and narcissism. As Bobbi regales guests, especially Laura Dern, at a dinner party Lind and her husband, the actor Oscar Isaac, Smith’s “dance cured me” evangelism runs up against a sort of cornfed unsophistication that Juilliard and years in Israel haven’t polished out of her.
How lucky was she, she’d like to know, finding “a dance company ran (sic) by a straight man who loves women?”
There’s so much given away in that sentence that one scarcely knows where to begin.
Smith comes off best when her dancing is doing the talking.
Lind’s camera doesn’t so much objectify her as zoom in on her physicality, sweating, pushing against an outdoor raquetball wall, tying herself into knots, stripping in front of a paying crowd of aesthetes in her dance-performance art piece “Harrowing.”
Her conversation? Boring.
MPAA Rating: unrated, nudity, sexuality
Cast: Bobbi Jene Smith, Laura Dern, Or Scraiber, had Naharin
Credits:Directed by Elvira Lind. An Oscilloscope Labs release.
Running time: 1:38