Thu, Oct 14, 2010 - Page 13 News List

From Taiwan to Israel, in just a few steps

By Diane Baker  /  Staff Reporter

Taiwanese dancer Lee Chen-wei will perform with the Batsheva Dance Company at the National Theater this weekend.

PHOTO COURTESY OF LEE CHEN-WEI

Dance fans have been anticipating the Taipei debut of Israel’s acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company this weekend at the National Theater for the chance to see the work of its artistic director, Ohad Naharin. However, there are several dozen people — at least — who are more interested in one of the dancers.

Lee Chen-wei (李貞葳) was recently promoted from the junior troupe — the Batsheva Ensemble — to the main company. When she was in Taipei in August as part of the National Theater’s promotions for its Dance in Autumn series, we met to talk about how a young woman from Yilan County ended up living in Tel Aviv and working for one of the world’s best-known contemporary dance companies.

Sitting in the coffee shop on the ground floor of the theater, Lee — who turns 25 in December — made the transition from being a member of Yilan’s Lan Yang Dance Group (蘭陽舞蹈團) to majoring in dance at Taipei National University of the Arts (國立台北藝術大學) to moving to Israel sound very easy, though she admitted that adjusting to life there has been a challenge.

“There aren’t enough 7-Elevens,” she said.

Lee graduated in 2008 and traveled to Europe last year, thanks to a Lo Man-fei (羅曼菲) dance scholarship and a European Foundation for Culture and Arts Dance grant. Chance led her to an audition in Sweden, which led to a job offer in Israel and opportunities not only to perform, but to choreograph; a piece she did with fellow ensemble dancer Christopher Peterson earlier this year, Elephants, received good reviews.

“I auditioned for a project to tour Sweden for several months doing Batsheva repertoire [a piece called Kamuyot]. It was a three-day audition and I survived to the third day. We warmed up in the morning, than learned the repertoire, then improvisation. They were picking 20 dancers,” Lee said. “After the audition finished, they gave me a private interview. I told them I didn’t know who Ohad [Naharin] was, I only knew the name of the company and that it was from Israel.”

She wasn’t picked for the Sweden project. Instead Naharin wanted her to join the ensemble. She told him she needed time to think, since she had auditioned previously for a small Danish company and had also been offered a job.

“I came back home, checked out Ohad [Naharin] and found out he was a famous guy, so I immediately sent an e-mail to say yes,” she said with a laugh.

Her family in Yilan supported her decision, despite reservations about the dangers of living in Israel.

“My mom really supported me. I have been studying dance since I was five and she has supported me whatever I chose. I told her Batsheva was a famous company,” she said.

Lee is the first Taiwanese to dance with the company, although there have been Japanese members before, as well as dancers from the US, Australia and Europe. She has had to make big adjustments, not only to a new country, but having to learn two new languages simultaneously — Hebrew and then Gaga, the movement technique developed by Naharin.

“The biggest difference is Shabbat — having Friday and Saturday as the weekend and working on Sunday — and seeing all the Haredi [ultra-orthodox Jews],” she said. “They don’t have a lot of Asians there, so a lot of people stare at me. Now I’m used to it. I am always saying ‘I work with Batsheva and I’m from Taiwan.’ I had to learn very quickly how to say in Hebrew: ‘I’m a dancer with Batsheva.’ As soon as people hear that, they are very excited and supportive.”

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