When the Batsheva Dance Company of Israel appears this weekend at Royce Hall, UCLA, for two of the company members, the performances will be a homecoming.
Shula Botney, 28, grew up in Van Nuys. Gad (Gary) Feingold, 31, lived in Los Angeles from 7 to 17.
Neither of them had planned on becoming modern dancers. Botney dreamed of tutus and tiaras as a child at the Eugene Loring school in Los Angeles. Feingold began his dance career by studying ballet in his second year at UC Santa Cruz.
"Like all girls in America, I always had a dream of ballet," Botney said recently. "I didn't see much of modern and what modern I had (seen), I didn't take seriously."
Feingold says he made the shift to modern dance because "you have the opportunity to be much freer in your movement and in your expression."
Botney began her professional career in New York, then took a job with the Classical Ballet Company of Israel (now the Israel Ballet) in Tel Aviv because she "wanted to get out of the United States to see the world." She joined Batsheva three years later.
"As I grew as a person, I realized (modern dance) was an art," Botney said. "It's much more holistic. It incorporates all your self. You're not just a princess."
However, Botney felt her lack of training in modern dance, so she went back to New York to study for a year at the Martha Graham school. (Graham had co-founded Batsheva in 1963 with Bethsabee de Rothschild. The company's name is Hebrew for Bethsabee.) She has been with Batsheva for five years.
Feingold also had to confront a lack of training in modern. Born on a kibbutz in Israel to a Canadian father and an American mother, he had come to dance late, beginning to study ballet only while a history major at UC Santa Cruz. But once he started, he left school and committed himself fully.
"I began studying dance full time because I thought it was now or never," he said.
After joining ballet companies in Venice and Florence, he moved to Israel and accepted an offer with Batsheva.
But he left after six months "mostly because my training was classical and my modern training was not that serious," he said.
He danced for five years with the Israel Classical Ballet, during which he kept hearing the siren call of modern.
"I started finding the repertory of Batsheva more interesting than the repertory of a classical ballet company," he said. "It's not just steps as in classical ballet, which calls more for technique than anything else. It's very varied."
Botney explained the variety as a reflection of the diverse makeup of the company.
"Everyone comes from a completely different background," she said, "some from ballet, modern, folk-dancing, even the army. Instead of (developing) a technique, everyone has developed themselves."
Botney feels that these differences fuel choreographers' creativity.
"Many people come to do original pieces on us," she said. "Many times they come with abstract ideas and we help develop them. We actually do part of the choreography. These pieces come from us."
Botney cited two works on the UCLA programs by former Pilobolus and Paul Taylor Company member Daniel Ezralow--"Eight Heads" and "SVSPLKT"--as having gone through such a process.
"Eight Heads," she said, was inspired by a discussion of political separatist movements on a Ted Koppel television program.
"We set a rope down the middle of the stage," she said. "It was a house divided. We fooled around and did improvisations. We'd jump over the rope in different ways. From that we worked on bleachers, benches, different kinds of steps. We developed it through our experiences, with Danny supervising."
Similarly, she said that in "SVSPLKT," a four-section dance depicting loneliness and isolation, the dancers "built the movements.
The last thing Batsheva wants is to be identified as a single kind of company, Botney said.
"There has been a lot of pressure from the outside world that we should be a Jewish or Israeli company," she said. "But we've stuck with being an international company. . . . We don't stick with a Jewish theme. . . . We look at ourselves as contemporaries of the world, just as do companies in New York or Paris."
Both Botney and Feingold acknowledged that recent social and political events in Israel have made the relationship between America and that county "increasingly tense."
"But I wouldn't want to talk too much about the political stuff," Botney said. "I have very strong views on it. But I wouldn't want (just) a one-sentence summary (printed in the paper). I think things are going to change in Israel. But they could change either way."