Luc Jacobs, interviewed by Voirelia’s Artistic Director, Alina Sotskova in February 2019.
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
For the first part and other highlights from Luc’s interview, see the Dancing with a Healthy Mindset page for Luc.
INTERVIEW EXCERPT 2:
Was there a time where your own attitude or expectations kind of got in the way of engaging with dance in a thriving way?
Well, coming to Batsheva was hard, in a way, even though it was what I dreamt of, because I had to undo a lot of stuff. So I had to learn a new language, and it’s kind of a vague language to start with, and all you have is your old luggage, so you interpret the new language in your own language. So that process, until you actually speak that language. At the beginning, I thought I understood, but it actually took me many years. I didn’t really fully understand what Ohad (Naharin) was all about. Only when I stopped dancing, then slowly…not that I claim that I understand now completely…but I feel that it took a long time to let go of old ideas and to understand the new ones. It just took many, many years.
Also, I didn’t understand the relationship between GAGA and the rep – I thought that we had to behave in the rep as if we were doing GAGA class. I didn’t understand why people weren’t stretching their feet – was it a choice? or sloppiness? or their knees? I couldn’t grasp what was important and not, like what was essential, like what was the essence of something. I was trying to copy, but I couldn’t always fully understand. And it’s funny now, because occasionally we have dancers who come from the outside – and if you come from the outside, you usually tend to perform things rather than to be IT. You demonstrate things, but you’re not IT. You know, there’s so many little things in the modern dance world that everybody does, but nobody really knows why – habit movements – you know, use the breath with movement, they will always swipe or drag moves rather than being very direct – there’s lots of decorations that came into the contemporary dance world, that are just there, but nobody really thinks of them.
Sounds like it’s important for you to sort of become, the process of becoming one thing or another.
Yeah, to be IT. I mean, with being IT, I mean- if you’re IT already, then you don’t need to show that you’re IT. It also has to do with listening, because habits always are running, and if it’s not an old, then it’s a new habit, so the listening is crucial, to me.
Just to listen… the habits – if you’re identified with the habit, you can’t see the habit. But if the foreground is the listening, and the habit has more space, and can be transformed.
I don’t mean just listening with the ears. It could be something specific, you know, like where’s your arm is in space, and how much energy you need to hold it there, and at which speed you extend it, or the shoulder. But when that listening starts to expand, it becomes harder to talk about it, because it’s like I would ask you, think of everything.
So the listening is more a relaxing back into, rather than trying to chase things, it’s not like spinning plates. It’s more of a retreat and things present themselves inside the listening.
Is there an example of a time where you felt your relationship with dance (not just with respect to attitudes or expectations) wasn’t thriving anymore?
After a period of 10 years working with the Northern Ballet theatre, the director, Christopher Gable, got cancer and died. I was still in the company, and they tried a new director, and it was just awful. They tried another one after that, and it became clear to me, that it was no longer my home. Because we were still doing the work of the previous director, Christopher Gable, but were managed by the new directors, and it just killed me to see those pieces massacred. And it was very painful to remain there, so that was the thing that really I wasn’t interested in what was going on there anymore.
I just loved the previous director (Christopher Gable), he was very eccentric, he was really a character. He was a dancer with the royal ballet in London, and at the time when Nureyev came to the west, he was a huge principal there, and then he stopped his career to became an actor – he became quite a famous actor – and so he had a huge acting career, and at some point he returned to dance, and he became the director of that company, and he became huge. I mean, I didn’t realize it at the time, but he became a huge inspiration. Because he brought all the acting and that luggage with him. And we were kind of like a neo-classical company, so we would do like Swan Lake, Don Q, and stuff like that. But he would hire these neo classical choreographers, and he would write scripts for the pieces, and so he made everything relevant to story-telling. And if something didn’t describe the situation or didn’t fit the story, he would just get rid of it. Yeah, so he was a huge inspiration, and so I stayed quite a lot there.
When you worked with him and felt such a strong sense of inspiration – you talked about his theater, acting craft… do you feel like things shifted in your own way you related to dance, and the pieces you were working on, when working together with him?
Yes. He gave me a lot of space to experiment with interpretation, and he also started to bring in things that were less classical, and there was also room to improvise, to be creative. Like, we had set scene and stuff, but within that framework, there was so much room. And so my ‘marriage’ to classical ballet started to crack, to fade away. Also, I forgot to mention, because even though I loved being there, there was something, dance-wise, was missing for me – something to do with listening, sensitivity, and exploration. Cause ballet is so rigid and prescribed sometimes. So I started to practice Chinese qigong and martial arts. Qigong basically makes the body healthier and the mind clearer. And I started to really dig in, I found a really great teacher from China, who happened to live in England, and I started to study with him, and I really fell in love with that. And that kind of kept me in balance, being in a classical company, but still doing exercise and movements that had to do with listening and feelings, and the felt sense of things. But then, yeah, he (Christopher Gable) died, and it became clear I couldn’t stay there anymore, because I was becoming very unhappy. By that time, I had been there 10 years, so I resigned, and at the same time I auditioned for a project for Ohad which was happening in Denmark. And it was a weekend audition, and it blew my mind, because I felt that in two or three days I had learned more about movement and dance more than the past 10 years. And so they took me, and so I moved to Denmark, it was kind of a long several months project, and as part of the project I came to Israel and I came to Batsheva, and met all the dancers. And that was my new thing, I just loved it.
What did you love the most? I know you’ve been there for a long time, I’m sure your relationship has evolved. It sounds like it was a powerful experience.
Yes, it was probably one of the most powerful experiences, that first meeting.I had questions, because everything in ballet, we know what’s wrong and what’s right. He reminded me about the pleasure of dance, and just the way he spoke and the stuff we had to do:I was totally fascinated, and I just loved it. I remember that for a long time, I was even scared of ballet, because I didn’t want ballet to interfere with my newly gained love, so my ballet became very weird for a long time.
I wonder if there is a sense of discovering or rediscovering dance in a new way, when you made that shift?
Yes, it’s something like that. Because through ballet, you know, pleasure slowly became ambition and achievement. I mean it was fun if you’re a young kid, and you’re doing pirouettes and trick jumps. It’s cool, but it left me a little bit empty. It was all about achieving it right or wrong. I mean, I did a couple of interesting classical pieces, but it just wore off, it didn’t give me any fulfillment, and so when I met Ohad, it was just right, it was right on the money for me, and I loved it. But, of course, that was only a project, and I needed a different job, and I went to Norway. I worked with this choreographer I knew from before for about 8 months and then I bumped into Ohad again in the summer, and he knew I wanted to join the company, because I wrote him a letter and sent a little mini disk. And so when I met him in that summer, he basically offered me a contract. So I cancelled my previous commitment, and a month later I was living in Tel Aviv, and for the beginning of a new creation.
For how long did you dance for the company?
I danced 3 years with the company officially, and then I stopped, and went to join my friend in Switzerland to help him with his company. He needed an assistant and a rehearsal director, and I thought I’d give that a go, and that was great, cause he was my childhood friend, and he was a very established and renowned choreographer. I ended up creating a work there as well, cause he had seen one of my videos, and he needed a piece because one of his choreographers cancelled, so in the half year I was there I had a great time, creating.Meanwhile, in Batsheva, Ohad needed a new rehearsal director, and he offered it to me, so I flew back to Tel Aviv, which was great, because I had a girlfriend in the company. So I moved back, and I still danced, but my main function was rehearsal manager. I would still perform in some of the pieces, but that gradually faded out, and I probably stopped at 37 or 38.
How do you think about dance? Did that shift for you when your role kind of changed? When you’re being more in the directing role?
The perspective became much bigger. Because to be a dancer, you know, it’s very hard to get a sense of what’s going on. And when I stepped out of being a dancer, I feel I started to learn much more about dance than when I was a dancer.
What was sort of new adding to this bigger perspective? What do you feel you learned that you didn’t know before?
Just the totality of things. It became clearer how things work together – composition, lights, music, transitions. I became fascinated with a whole range of things, you know if you place people in different areas. For me, every area in a space has a particular energy. for instance, if you put someone in the middle of a stage, it’s a very powerful spot. It has to do with power and control, cause that person would kind of conquer a whole space, whereas if you put someone on the side, at the back, or at the front. I started to learn how it’s not just about coming up with movements, which I love – but that’s just a small piece of the pie. I started to feel how things connect together, and I learned a lot from Ohad, cause he’s mastered all the elements of how to create tension by using composition. Also, suddenly I was responsible for a whole bunch of people, there was a huge responsibility which I felt was very satisfying, cause it’s kind of a parental role, and that was exciting. And yeah, I learned so much about lights, music, movement, composition, also to be around Ohad, he’s kind of a big kid. He’s fearless in a way, the way he can be very silly. Because often as an artist, you try to put so much effort in doing something that is very earnest, and appropriate, and meaningful, and so to be around him helped me to relax more in a sense. And to risk, so not to take myself so seriously. Not to be afraid of things, that it’s fine to be silly or sleezy or tacky or chaotic, cause I’m quite a precise person by nature. It helped me appreciate stuff more. Also with Ohad, he’s very particular, but at the same time I feel he never loses track of the home, of the totality of his work, of the art of the work, how things are moving, how he can tease you. It’s almost like he’s making love with his audience through his work, in terms of how he introduces people, how you get to know the work – there are build ups, and release. In a classical world you think about movement mostly in terms of form, and so, it took many years, but with Ohad, I learned more that form can also be a byproduct of intention, or you know, and there are so many different ways to think about movement – the beginning of the movement, or the end of it, or to slide into movement, or to grab movement – it’s just limitless the way you can think about it. So a lot opened up for me coming to Israel and working with Batsheva and Ohad and also Sharon [Eyal].