What happens when you have to leave a place you love to follow your dreams?
A new documentary follows dancer Bobbi Jene Smith's inspiring journey from Iowa to Israel to NYC.
Bobbi Jene Smith grew up in Centreville, Iowa, but her love of dance took her more than 6,000 miles to Tel Aviv, Israel, where she was a member of the Batsheva Dance Company for 10 years. She was in her freshman year at Juilliard, the prestigious New York arts school, when she saw Batsheva perform at Lincoln Center.
“I had never seen women allowed to dance like that,” Smith told From The Grapevine. “They were incredible beasts that had so much power in them, but also so much fragility. I said, ‘I have to dance like that.’ That was my goal.” She joined the company in 2005. “It immediately felt like I had a support system. It felt like I had a home in the Batsheva family,” she said.
Smith “loved everything about” Israel, including “the smells of the sea and how they would travel through the city, the food, the passion of the people there.” She also fell in love with a fellow dancer, Or Schraiber. So when she decided to leave Batsheva to return to the U.S. and pursue her own dance projects, it was emotionally difficult for her on both a professional and personal level.
Her journey is the subject of the documentary “Bobbi Jene,” which was honored for Best Feature, Cinematography and Editing in the Documentary Feature categories at the Tribeca Film Festival. It opens in New York on Sept. 22 and Los Angeles on Sept. 29.
Smith met with director Elvira Lind on another project she had in mind, but Lind suggested going to Israel to follow her. She did so for three years, continuing to do so in Smith’s current home city, New York.
Being naked on screen – figuratively and literally – in the emotional film is hard for Smith to watch. “It’s terrifying because it feels vulnerable and exposing and it’s a new medium for me. I’m used to being there with the audience. I guess I’m still there, but in a different way,” she explained. “There are many things I’m extremely embarrassed about – things I say, my reactions. But if those parts weren’t there I don’t think it would be the film I’d want to share. It’s my life seen through Elvira’s lens and through that collaboration it becomes something larger than my life.”
Although she misses taking Gaga classes (the style of movement taught at Batsheva) every morning like she did in Israel, Smith feels that “the place and the people are with me when I start dancing. That place will always be a part of my life.” In February, she returned to Batsheva for five months, and the door remains open. “We’ll see how it will play out.”
But right now, Smith is happily teaching dance and developing and performing her own dance pieces in New York. “I love the vibration that the city has. Sometimes it’s scary, sometimes you feel like you need to be constantly running or you’ll drown. But right now it feels like the right place to be,” she says. And while the film leaves their relationship long-distance, in August her boyfriend joined her in New York, where he’s studying acting at the Stella Adler Studio.
Smith hopes the film inspires people to “connect to what they love to do, and maybe if they’re not doing it now, it will give them power to do it.” For her, dance “has always been something that I couldn’t get enough of, it’s always been my way of communicating with the world,” she told us.” It’s my way of breathing. As long as I’m alive, I’ll be dancing.”
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