Luc Jacobs, interviewed by Voirelia’s Artistic Director, Alina Sotskova. Article by Gaby Hanga, Consultant for Voirelia’s “Dancing with a Healthy Mindset” initiative.
Luc Jacobs is a dance artist and Senior Rehearsal Director at Batsheva Dance Company. He has many years of training and experience in ballet and contemporary dance, particularly Gaga. You can see some of Luc’s dance works here: https://vimeo.com/lucjacobs
Alina: What do you feel helps your relationship with dance thrive?
Luc: I find the creation process very fulfilling. The exploration of movement, composition, timing, and also being and working with people, and creating the atmosphere in which things can emerge.
Just to give you an example, we worked with a choreographer last season, who was entering a terrain that nobody enters. She was just fearless, trying out stuff, and then just going with it, and then trying to give that some kind of meaning or narrative.
In one of the rehearsals, she gave one of our dancers, a Korean guy, a microphone, and asked him to improvise and just playback the songs, but he barely spoke English… so a scene came about, where it was so outrageous, and moving, and weird… and it touched you in ways you can’t even explain. So I was impressed with her fearlessness, you know, how you can just create a world without knowing how people are going to react, without any… and just create a narrative out of something that is totally unknown.
Ohad (Naharin) does it too, what he brings into scenes. In the beginning it is so rough, and I’m just sitting there…but he doesn’t give up. If what he feels has potential, that he can create something totally new out of something that is totally unseen, and that still has, that’s not garbage, that is really something beautiful… like sometimes it takes a while. You have to have patience to keep looking at things over and over again, it’s a lot of attention and sensitivity.
So, to me I find that very exciting, to reveal something through dance and composition, that’s indescribable. I mean, of course we glue words to our experience, but sometimes with dance you can create such moving moments, or WOW moments, that you don’t even know why they touch you, or why you find them so beautiful. Because in a way, they could present something very ugly, but it has a lot of beauty, or you can present something very pathetic, or something very simple, you know. But it’s just a matter of finding it there and digging it out, or bringing it forward. So to find the gold in something – I really like that.
Alina: When you’re giving dancers tasks, do you put thought into how they’re thinking (e.g., strengths and weaknesses)?
Luc: Yes, I mean it’s not in a full ground, but because I know those people, I know their tendencies. So sometimes I ride on that, or I play with that rather, by sometimes asking people to do things that maybe they’re not in their comfort zone, or maybe is in their comfort zone…or…and also, by riding on what I know, because I spend a lot of time with them.
Alina: What happens when you’re working with strangers?
Luc: With people I don’t know I probably demonstrate more, and also I have to let go of my typical vocabulary. Sometimes you need to change your vocabulary so that you will be able to communicate with somebody…and then, some dancers function well with very mechanical instructions, and some dancers function well with very descriptive vocabulary…or using imagery, it all depends…I mean there is no strategy, but you just feel it. Usually when I work with somebody new, if it’s for a creation, I usually need a lot of time to get to know that person – the way they move, or the way they think… let’s say, even though I work with Batsheva dancers all the time, but if I work with them in a new piece, it’s still very different, because I meet them in my own work, and it’s very different than to meet them in someone else’s work.
Alina: Dancing with a healthy mindset – when you’re thinking about those words, whether as a director, a choreographer, or a dancer, what would that mean to you, approaching dance from a healthy mindset?
Luc: Well, I have this attitude that anything is welcome in the studio as long as you commit to what’s happening in the studio. So I don’t mind neurosis, or bad moods, or dramas, in a way I appreciate that a lot. I’m thinking of this one example of someone I had worked with a long time ago. This dancer was seen by others as ‘problematic’, as they often had episodes where they blew up, or they could be rude, but in a way, I prefer something like that rather than somebody who’s just very politically correct, and pretends to be responsible. I feel, to me, that anything is welcome in the studio, but there needs to be a willingness to face it, or to work with it, or there needs to be a willingness to accept it fully. And also, you need to provide safety for people, because it’s not always easy for people to be vulnerable with their emotions or their problems.
Alina: How do you do that? How do you help people provide that safety in the dance environment?
Luc: Just not cutting people’s experiences down, or trying to undermine it, and to let them feel that it’s OK that they ‘lose their shit’…it’s fine. I love it actually. To me, that’s a real moment, that somebody loses their shit, and they can’t control it together anymore, and something happens to them. That’s what powerful emotions can do, they threaten your sense of control or keeping it together. I mean it doesn’t need to be dramatic, it can be really subtle, too. I mean, it’s not for everybody, but for me it’s not a problem. You know, because sometimes you reinforce the drama by reacting or trying to cut it down, or trying to manage it, or trying to fix it. And I actually feel that everything has its right to exist, you know. It’s self-liberating if you let it, if you allow it its life.
Alina: So if a dancer comes to you and says they’re struggling, that this piece is not suitable for them, or that they hate it, or can’t do it. How do you respond in these situations?
Luc: Well, I don’t know… but it’s totally fine if somebody hates it, they don’t have to be in it. So it really depends, because sometimes it has to do with other stuff than the dance itself, maybe it has to do with the interaction or the people in the group, or they’re struggling with something private they’re going through. It’s totally valid, though – if somebody doesn’t want to be in the piece, then he doesn’t have to be in the piece. It’s a free world.
Alina: What if they want to work through it, but there’s something that’s getting in the way, and they’re having a really hard time. Is there anything that you find that you do, that helps in those moments?
Luc: That’s a tricky one. On the one hand, I want to support what people go through, and provide help if possible. Sometimes I feel I should have given a person much more attention, because some people work in the framework of “am I liked?” so it’s about being liked, or getting approval, or getting feedback, and so sometimes I need to do that a little bit. At the same time, I like it that dancers just function on their own, because I personally think that my opinion is worthless in a way. I mean it’s not completely worthless, but I don’t want people to depend on it. I’m there with them to explore what we like to do, and I happen to be on that side of the studio, and they happen to be in the other side, but our goal is the same.
Alina: ‘Our goal is the same’ – could you elaborate on that?
Luc: Yeah, that we’re there for the same reason. That we’re all there for the passion for what we do, but our roles are just incidentally slightly different. I don’t want people to depend on my approval, or be affected by my disapproval. But sometimes people do need a little bit of attention or feedback, you know, because otherwise they can feel lost.