“Dear Universe, react to me.” These words were spoken during LeeSaar The Company’s four sold out performances of “Grass and Jackals” at the Jacob’s Pillow Doris Duke Theater in Becket late last month. Seven dancers in black skin suits and overly exaggerated eyebrows filled the stage, leaving no empty space. Their movements were fluid, eloquent, still and contorted—at times they mimicked the act of making love, at times they appeared to be having seizures. “Grass and Jackals” is the latest production of LeeSaar The Company, created by Israeli choreographers Lee Sher and Saar Harari. It is a testament to the critical acclaim the duo has earned over their fourteen-year partnership.
“They don’t follow any conventional logic,” Ella Baff, the Executive and Artistic Director of Jacob’s Pillow told the Jewish Ledger. “You’re not just watching choreography. You find yourself in a world that they create and you are drawn into it.” Jacob’s Pillow, founded in 1931 by modern dance legend Ted Shawn, is home to the most prestigious dance training center and oldest summer dance festival in the United States. Each season, the summer dance festival hosts some of the most influential and celebrated dance companies in the world. This season, LeeSaar The Company was one of them.
Lee Sher and Saar Harari formed LeeSaar The Company in Tel Aviv in 2000. The longtime friends both had extensive histories in the performing arts and were in a transitional period in their lives. Lee Sher had worked as an actress since she was seven and had just graduated from the exclusive Nissan Nativ Acting Studio in Tel Aviv. Saar Harari grew up at Delia’s School, a performance arts center founded by his mother, champion gymnast Delia Harari, in a small farming community on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. He had danced with other companies in Israel but had left to choreograph his own projects.
“We decided to work together,” Lee Sher told the Jewish Ledger. “We thought it would be interesting.” The experiment brought them to Australia where they were awarded a scholarship from the Mosman Art Gallery in Sydney for their production “Ester,” an early work in what would become their signatory blend of theater and dance. After residency in Australia, “Ester” was performed at the City Hall Theater in Tel Aviv for two years. Emboldened by their early success, Lee Sher and Saar Harari decided to pack their bags and relocate to Brooklyn, NY in 2004. The United States has since awarded them green cards for extraordinary achievement in the performing arts.
“You need to leave where you’re from to really find out who you are,” Saar Harari explained about LeeSaar’s decision to settle in NY. “It took us time to really understand what we need and what we want and to develop our language.” The tool that LeeSaar The Company brought with them from Israel and used to help find their voice was Gaga, a unique mind-body-movement practice developed by Ohad Naharin, Artistic Director of the BatSheva Dance Company. Gaga is not easy to define. It has simultaneously been described as a language, an experience, a spiritual practice, a training technique and a rehabilitative exercise. Dancers from around the globe have flocked to Gaga workshops to enhance their art form. Its focus on healing through motion is currently being explored as a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
Lee Sher and Saar Harari are both Gaga instructors and offer weekly classes for dancers and laymen alike at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn. Saar, also serves as Executive Producer of Gaga USA, which is spreading the exercise throughout the country. The nine dancers who compose LeeSaar The Company practice Gaga every day. For them, it is not just a training technique. Gaga is a crucial part of LeeSaar The Company’s creative process. “It [Gaga] is not something that’s already done,” Saar explained. “It’s happening as you speak. Every time you do it you feel like you admit something that your body already knows but that you forgot. It wakes you up.” “It’s a way of life,” Lee continued. “It helps connect you to your imagination. It increases your happiness and your desire to live your life.”
Through the practice of Gaga, the productions that are making LeeSaar The Company a tour de force in the dance world are born. The 10 performance pieces that LeeSaar The Company has produced have been met with critical acclaim and earned Lee Sher, Saar Harari, and their dance company grants and fellowships from the Greenwall Foundation, the Asian Cultural Council, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, amongst others. “We start from life,” Lee Sher said of LeeSaar The Company’s process. “What we sense and what we see. What we remember and what we want to forget. Then we slowly discover what it is that we want to express.”
For 16 years, Ella Baff has hand-selected the dance companies that perform at the Jacob’s Pillow summer dance festival. LeeSaar The Company has been on her radar for years and she has witnessed the impact the practice of Gaga has had on the development of the group. “Their dancers are absolutely remarkable,” Baff said. “Gaga releases the body in ways that I have absolutely never seen. I’ve watched as LeeSaar’s dancers deepen their practice of Gaga. They become freer, more flexible and more articulate. Their power to communicate becomes so much stronger.”
LeeSaar The Company has had a long-standing relationship with Jacob’s Pillow and had previously participated in the Jacob’s Pillow Creative Development Residency Program, a one to three week opportunity for dance troops and choreographers to develop new material. “Grass and Jackals,” however, was LeeSaar The Company’s first production to become a part of the historic dance festival. Subtle lighting changes, music that vacillated between pulsing beats and quiet melodies and simple props such as hot glue released from the ceiling created stunning effects that accentuated LeeSaar dancers in their performance. “Every piece has an otherworldliness to it,” Baff said. “That’s how you know that it’s from LeeSaar.”