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Baring it All: An Interview with Dancer Bobbi Jene Smith and Filmmaker Elvira Lind

by Bonnie Rosenstock
April 27, 2017
In 2005, Iowa-bred Bobbi Jene Smith moved to Israel to become a principal dancer in the renowned Batsheva Dance Company, founded by choreographer Ohad Naharin. She was 21 and Naharin was ten years her senior. Under Naharin’s guidance, she matured emotionally and professionally, and at one time had an intimate relationship with him.

After a decade abroad, Bobbi Jene made the difficult, heart-wrenching decision to return to America to pursue her own path as a solo performer and choreographer. But she was also going to leave behind her mentor, dance family, friends, creative life, comfort zone and her intense relationship with fellow dancer, Or Schraiber, 10 years her junior. This is the context of the fascinating documentary Bobbi Jene, by Danish filmmaker Elvira Lind, who closely followed Smith, like a fly on the wall, during her life-altering period of uncertainty and struggle to find her footing back home

On April 22, I had a telephone interview with Smith and Lind, who was due to give birth any minute. They were in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was only a stopover for Smith, who lives “in transition between places,” she said. Those places include frequent trips back to Israel, visits to family in Iowa, East and West Coasts to teach, create and perform and seemingly everywhere in between.

Lind, an accomplished filmmaker, said there was never any doubt in her mind that Smith was the perfect subject. “I look for a human being that I want to follow, feel inspired by and want to be around for that long,” she explained. “It usually takes years of work when you follow someone around the way I do.”

The project dates back to September 2012, sometime after she met Smith through her boyfriend, who collaborated with her on a piece. “I had wanted to do a project about a woman for a while and when I met Bobbi and had seen her work, I knew there could be no other,” she said. “She has an incredible life force and amazing energy.”

Smith acknowledged being surprised by Lind’s proposal to feature her. “I’m usually a very private person when it comes to my personal life. I was scared but also extremely honored that someone believed in me and wanted to spend so much time with me.”

The film features a no-holds barred look into Smith’s most intimate moments with Schraiber and their many discussions about how they are going to make a long distance relationship work. He is young, just beginning his dance career and isn’t eager to change course and relocate. By the end of the film, he still hasn’t decided. (Spoiler alert, from interview, he decided.)

There are also several scenes with her family, polite and low-key in a Midwestern way. Her mother constantly pressures her to settle down and have babies, like her brother. One only wonders what is going through Smith’s head as she looks at wedding rings in a shop window. (Smith told me that she’s not being pressured so much now.)

Lind films her as she struggles through the process of creating a new solo piece. “Find pleasure in what weighs you down,” Naharin, the creator of the movement language Gaga, said to her in the film. Taking it somewhat literally, Smith’s piece involves dry humping a weighty sandbag in the nude and orgasming, which she performs here and in Israel to critical acclaim. “Gaga is the language that I have learned and articulate,” she said. “Gaga gives you keys that you didn’t know you lost. It helps you connect to your pleasure and pain and your effort. It connects you to your weakness, fragility and to your immense power.”

In addition to creating solos and group pieces here, she’s excited about teaching Gaga “with dancers and people who aren’t dancers and get people to enjoy their bodies and connect to their pleasure and effort,” she said. “That’s an amazing thing to share and come back with.”

She continued, “When I was in Israel, I missed home. Now that I’m here, I miss Israel. I’m starting over. I feel there’s a lot of work to do.”

Bobbi Jene
Tribeca Film Festival – World Documentary Competition (dance film)
Directed by Elvira Lind, written by Elvira Lind & Adam Nielsen (Denmark, Israel, USA)
96 minutes
Language: English, sometimes Hebrew with English subtitles
Remaining Tribeca Film Festival Screenings of Bobbi Jene:
Friday, April 28, 9:45 PM at Cinepolis Chelsea (Theatre 2)


Awards

- Best Documentary Feature – Bobbi Jene, directed by Elvira Lind (USA, Denmark, Israel). Winner receives $20,000, sponsored by Netflix, and the art award “THE REAPER” by Sterling Ruby. The award was given by Barbara Kopple.
- Best Documentary Cinematography – Elvira Lind for Bobbi Jene (USA, Denmark, Israel). Winner receives $2,500.
- Best Documentary Editing – Adam Nielson for Bobbi Jene (USA, Denmark, Israel). Winner receives $2,500. The award was given by David Wilson.

Awards Screenings

SUN 4/30 4:15 PM Cinépolis Chelsea 3
SUN 4/30 1:30 PM Cinépolis Chelsea 4
SUN 4/30 7:30 PM Cinépolis Chelsea 4
SUN 4/30 5:00 PM Cinépolis Chelsea 6

Cinépolis Chelsea - 260 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011. Phone 212-691-5519. For Tickets: tribecafilm.com
A scene from the documentary 'Bobbi Jene.'

A scene from the documentary "Bobbi Jene."

Photo © & courtesy of Elvira Lind

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