What do you get when you combine soccer, dance, and women with beards? Invisiball!
Nadine Bommer brings her unique kinetic dance method to New York City.
It's a sight to behold: Two soccer teams, one clad in red, the other yellow, running onto a stage, kicking, jumping, twirling and leaping like there's a game going on. Only there's no ball, and all of the players, who have manly beards, are actually women.
That in a nutshell is "Invisiball," the first show from the Nadine Bommer Theater Dance, which premieres on June 24 in Brooklyn. The New York-based company performs a dance method that Bommer began with her Nadine Animato Dance Company and academy just outside of Tel Aviv.
It's hard to describe the "Nadine Bommer Method," even after looking at a bunch of examples on YouTube. It's definitely kinetic, with constant movement that's always changing. And it feels a bit improvised, as if the moment and the dancer's body is telling her where to move. Even Bommer herself has a tough time putting it into words.
"It’s not acting and it’s not like doing a movement by itself, it’s really what we call 'Animato,'" she told From The Grapevine. "It’s believing in the character and becoming that character and being in those situations. Like you need to really find a way through the technique to be present, bring it to life. I think that that’s what we do."
Bommer, who was born in New York and moved to Israel as a teenager, created this method in the late 1990s and formed the academy in 2003. After studying with the American Ballet Theater and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, she returned to Israel and "got bored of all the choreography from the same vocabulary of ballet."
That changed after she was introduced to the work of Ohad Naharin, the influential artistic director of Tel Aviv's Batsheva Dance Company and the founder of the Gaga dance method. Gaga uses body awareness as a basis for a more flowing, less classically oriented set of movements. Bommer used Naharin's method as inspiration that Israelis would embrace modern dance that isn't based in ballet, and used that inspiration to create her own unique method.
"We had our own academy. It was like my laboratory with my dancers, and I started thinking that I can have also my own movement that can be created from just abstract movements," she said. "So I can really be anything I want because I always liked to have my dancers become something. I didn’t like just movement. I wanted the movement to be inspired by something."
She was inspired by a trip to the beach. "I was on the beach watching the movement of the waves and it was changing. I start thinking, 'That’s what I need to come from. That’s it.' It’s like I saw everything that moment. That was 20 years ago."
She started with the movements she calls "Kinetica," adding the "Animato" part, where the dancer inhabits an animated-style character, later on. She discovered that doing both the movements and inhabiting a character was something she was very eager to teach. "I started working on something, and then I said, 'You know what, can you do this kind of face for that,' because I thought something was missing. And then I started laughing at what they were doing because they are kind of crazy, and then I saw the humor. That’s what makes me grow. I needed humor and I needed those faces and I needed to go that direction, then I started getting it."
The dancers who come to Bommer's academy, and the 15 other dance schools in Israel that teach Bommer's method, are there because "they want this different approach to movement and they want to be more artistic to be able to be an artist and dancer in one company, to be able to express themselves and be themselves," she said. "You have to say something new about yourself, [becoming] other characters. Each piece, they are really growing a lot as a human being."
It took six years to mount a production. The company's debut was in Florence, Italy. "There were choreographers from all over Europe [in the audience] and they came to me and said, 'Listen, it will take 15 years for people to understand what you are doing. You’re ahead of your time.' I said, 'No, no, no, it will be fine,' but they were right. It took time," she said.
Word of mouth, plus support from Israeli choreographers, dancers and public funding, helped establish the method and the dance company in its home country. Because it established a fan base in Europe, though, they continue to tour there.
Bommer created "Invisiball" because she was interested in how soccer is a collective experience for people in Israel, especially for the country's men.
"When I was walking with my dog in the neighborhood, and it was a very important game, I see people going and buying sunflower seeds to eat while watching the game," Bommer said "That’s Israeli. That's what they do when they look at the television. I hear them in their apartments and homes and houses. When there was a goal, you can hear everybody shouting."
She uses an all-female cast because, well, it's just funnier to see women trying to play soccer like men, she said. But she has also been able to teach her dancers how to think like men in order to play their parts.
"Females are moving a lot and very dramatic," she said. "I find out that they just need to be quiet, not think about anything, just be there. Just take the drama out." From there, it was a matter of teaching the dancers the physicality of running and manipulating an imaginary ball.
Although Bommer still hasn't watched an entire soccer match in her life, fans have come up to her after watching "Invisiball" and told them that she got the movements right. She thinks it comes from how she approaches these characters. "I need to be inside and just feel it, whatever I have in my imagination or what I have related to those characters, that’s what I need. That’s it. More than that would make it like theater, really," she said.
The red and yellow teams are supposed to represent two of Israel's fiercest soccer rivals, so audiences get into the "game" that's in front of them. They're split into red and yellow rooting sections, and given sunflower seeds to eat, just like they were watching a real match (the audience in Brooklyn will be able to eat the American stadium staple, hot dogs).
"They get mad at me if they didn’t win or something like that because they’re such fans," she says of the soccer fans in her audiences. "Even if it’s art, and it’s like theater dance, they still want their group to win. It’s ridiculous and I swear that’s what it was: 'You know what, I don’t like the red,' and I’m like 'It’s just a show.' They still were fans." Little do they realize, though, that all the "matches" end in a tie. "They are so confused; they want [their side] to win."
The New York company was formed in the spring of 2015 by Bommer and one of her former dancers, and she's been in the city teaching American dancers her method for the last three months. It's been tough, she said, not only because these dancers are relatively new to her, but because, in the U.S., "they are trained to [hear] yes or no. They don’t have the ability to be free and just go and be yourself and connect to what I’m saying. It’s like either I say 'That’s good' or 'That’s not.' They’re not free enough to just be there. Be, like, naked in our own mind, and so that’s I think what I love to share with my dancers."
Bommer is cautiously optimistic that the group of dancers performing this week finally "get it," in her words. But she'll still be excitedly nervous, because she wants the American company to take "Invisiball" and more complicated shows on the road around the country.
"This can work," she said of establishing her method in the U.S. "It would be amazing. That’s really something that can be amazing, and I would love it. You know, be humble and do what we love and see where it takes us."
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