YAEL BEN EZER
By PHILO COHEN Illustration VISNJA MIHATOV
"I am free to experience myself as a human being, feminine and masculine."
Who are you?
My name is Yael Ben Ezer and I am 22 years old. I grew up in Tel Aviv, Israel, and have joined the Batsheva dance company when I was 18, after finishing high school. During my first couple of years in Batsheva I have also served in the Israeli army. I’m about to start my 5th season in the company.
I can be very efficient, but my room is always a mess. I lose things as often as people change underwear - but many times they find their way back to me. You will never catch me without a book near my bed. If I weren't a dancer, I would probably be working for National Geographic, filming lions in the wild.
I love meeting new people but I also love being alone. I love traveling and I think this is one of the best things about my job. I also love swimming, cooking, long showers and strong espressos in the middle of the day. I love the summer, the color red and Saturday brunch. I am much more lively at 2am than 2pm. I absolutely hate packing.
When and how did you start dancing?
I was introduced to dance when I was six years old, entering arts school, but started to take it more seriously when I was about 10 years old. Before that, as a young girl, I was very dedicated to acrobatic gymnastic. For some time I did both – acrobatics and dance, but after a while doing both started to be too intense. I felt like I needed to choose between the two. Leaving my gymnastic team was one of the hardest things I've ever done, and I still miss it sometimes, but dancing gradually became very satisfying, and gave me much more freedom as I was growing older. Even though a hand stand is something that stays forever.
When did you enter the Batsheva Company and why did you choose such a place?
When I was in my senior year of high school I started auditioning for schools and companies in Israel, along with my other dancer friends. I actually remember feeling like I was not ready to join a company yet at that time. I was hoping to get into a dance school, to improve my ballet technique and to experience working with different choreographers, so it will help me figure out what I wanted. I didn't even want to audition for Batsheva. It was with my friend Adi -we’re not in touch anymore but she basically changed my life- she dragged me to the Batsheva audition, telling me I had nothing to lose. I began the audition, and then realized that I was passing the various stages and suddenly, I got to the last one. The very last stage of the audition was an intense weekend of dancing non stop, meeting and working with Ohad. I remember coming back home, telling my mom “Wow, mom, that was incredible.” It was only then that I realized that this was where I wanted to be. Luckily the Batsheva staff also thought so.
What does a day in your life as a dancer look like?
Usually we have a morning Gaga class at 10am and we work from then on until 5pm, with a one hour lunch break in the middle of the day. When we have an evening show we usually start in the afternoon with class, then technical rehearsals on stage and one hour break before the show.
On my spare afternoons or mornings I like to walk around Tel aviv - go to the beach, to a cafe, to the beautiful spice and dried fruits market. I can also spend the whole evening just cooking dinner, eating with friends, drinking wine...
From what I have learned, Gaga is a dance movement that encourages the freedom of the self, giving space to a series of moves that come from a deeper place than discipline. How do you get to free yourself while respecting constraints such as choreography or tempo?
Gaga is an improvisation based movement language. It encourages one to constantly research one's body, to listen to your body before you tell it what to do.
As a dancer, Gaga gives me a very rich tool box. It gives me the possibility to endlessly “play” with things inside the choreography. This is extremely important because in Batsheva, we perform around 130 times a year - between 2 and 6 performances per week. This intensity and repetition can be tiring and very challenging for the dancers to keep things fresh and interesting. While doing the same movements, Gaga enables me to play with many different ideas we explore in class, for example: moving thick, as if I am swimming in a pool of honey, or moving as if I’m made of air. It also gives me tools to dance when I'm tired - to use the tiredness in order to move. When I’m tired and have to perform I can sense the weight of my body as heavy as steel, or lighter than a feather after a very good night of sleep. The freedom Gaga offers, is the freedom to keep researching your own body even when on stage.
Can you talk to me about a time when you danced better than you could ever recall?
There was one performance called MAX, in which I had a 5 minutes solo, with no music - only one continuous noise in the background. It was in the summer of 2014, the start of an army operation in Israel, and sirens were heard in Tel Aviv just before the show, warning people to get shelter from possible bombing. I felt very emotional, and thought about the absurdity of the situation. How can I perform under such circumstances? Just before my solo, I was standing on stage trying to think how can I get the situation out of my mind, how can I concentrate only on dancing, but I could not disconnect. I had to start, so I decided to do the opposite: to think only about the situation and to put it into the dance. It was an incredible feeling. I was all drawn into the movements, in a total emotional way, I felt like I was telling the audience a completely different story, a new and relevant story, just for that day. After the show a women came up to me and told me I made her cry. It was an amazing experience, and it taught me a lot about performing.
What did you learn from dancing with the Batsheva Company that made you grow as a dancer?
Above all - connecting effort and pleasure.
How do you fight obstacles?
I got injured once and couldn’t dance for a few months. It taught me a lesson about ambition. When you’re young and ambitious, taking care of your body is not on your mind - you push yourself to the edge and expect your body to save itself. Coming back from the injury and lots of physiotherapy I learned how to dance with more awareness, and not to push myself to dangerous places. It actually made me grow as a dancer much more than any technique class I ever took.
Where does performance bring you, and how is it different from practicing in a studio or at home?
I love the stage. Just like I did competitions when I was a gymnast - performing brings the best out of me. I think that the stage gives a total body-mind experience similar only to crying your heart out or making love. It doesn't always work, but when it does - there is nothing better.
You are woman. How did this affect your dancing experience?
It does not. Dance is about the body moving in space, and as Ohad Naharin often says - movement has no gender. Therefore, the fact that I have a woman’s body is in a way irrelevant. I am free to experience myself as a human being, feminine and masculine.