A single audition changed the trajectory of Adi Salant’s life, securing her a place in Israel’s Batsheva Dance—one of the most influential companies of the past 20 years.
Trained at the demanding Bat-Dor Dance School, she tried out and made it into Batsheva’s junior company after high school. After two years, she joined the main company as a dancer, then in 2001 started working as an assistant to its legendary artistic director, Ohad Naharin, helping to teach and stage his work around the world. Then she returned home to Tel Aviv to codirect Batsheva with him from 2009 to 2017.
“It felt right to my body. And we connected; I felt the chemistry with Ohad. It made sense to work like that,” the warm dance artist tells the Straight with a shrug, sitting in an empty rehearsal hall at the Dance Centre in the week before her new piece premieres at Ballet BC. “He gave me the trust to stage his works at other companies. You go away and you’re by yourself. I was a good baby sitter, I guess, to his creations.”
At the same time, Salant had a front seat for the creation of gaga—the sensation-based movement language that Naharin invented, which has since swept the dance world and become the subject of 2015’s remarkable documentary Mr. Gaga.
“When I started there was no ‘gaga’,” Salant recalls with a smile. “We had those classes, but we called it ‘the movement language of Ohad’. I was there for the development of that. It was all the time refining itself, and making itself more coherent. I taught it to other companies, but I didn’t try to be Ohad—I was Adi, and I found out who Adi was doing that.”
Salant is all too aware that an audition set the course for her role in the seminal company. And down the hall in the rehearsal studio, she explores the idea. Cheesy music from an iconic dancer-tryout scene, the opening number from A Chorus Line, is blasting out of the speakers. But the Ballet BC dancers—all 17 of them—are not performing the Broadway-style high kicks and star jumps of the famous musical. Instead, to the sounds of the driving beats and rhythmic horns, the dancers are opening their mouths in silent screams, flapping their hands by their ears, flailing on the floor, and tiptoeing around each other like spinning tops. At one point, Kirsten Wicklund wraps her arms around Kiera Hill, bends her backward, and shakes her like a rag doll.
In her new work WHICH/ONE, Salant reveals, human beings are in the struggle of their lives.
Watching video of A Chorus Line’s opening number last year, Salant was struck by the larger metaphor of all the dancers vying for a spot in the show. “It’s how we’re always in the situation of auditions and have the need to prove ourselves,” Salant says. “It’s someone else’s decision; it’s in someone else’s hands. It can change the course of your life. And it’s about how much someone else can control your life, not just in dance, but a friend or a boss. So I was really playing with that—the image of the movie really fit for me with the story of life.”
Salant is also clearly having fun with the razzmatazz of the score. “I wanted this iconic piece of music,” she admits. “It’s show biz, but you realize that the dancers are really just fighting and struggling and fragile, with this need to keep it going.”
You can see Salant’s creation of a work here in Vancouver as a kind of audition in itself—in the best possible way. This is the first time the artist has ever been commissioned to make a piece for a North American company. She choreographed for years when she was based in Denmark, but having three children and helping to run Batsheva required a hiatus. But then she connected with Ballet BC’s Emily Molnar, who’s known for finding fresh, exciting voices from around the globe—and who has shown a taste for the work of other Batsheva alumni, including Naharin himself and Sharon Eyal (whose Bill is part of the company’s repertoire now, and whose Bedroom Folk is up next in Program 3).
“Emily was very generous to me, coming out again as a choreographer,” Salant says. “Emily was following her instincts.”
Ballet BC’s dancers have in turn shown a willingness to dive into Salant’s brutally honest and unleashed style. “They have so much on their plate; they’re a company that has to continue to fulfill so many different fantasies of different choreographers,” marvels Salant, whose work shares the roster of Program 2 with Jorma Elo’s flickering 1st Flash and Crystal Pite’s ethereal Solo Echo.
“I’m telling the dancers ‘I want you to act more like yourself.’ They really need to find the person that they are true to. And they are doing it with such openness.” The best part? It’s a full-company work; life may be one big audition, but she likes this crew so much, she hasn’t cut a single one from the roster.
Ballet BC presents Program 2 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from Thursday to Saturday (February 28 to March 2).