Billy Barry first caught our eye as a Juilliard student, dancing a featured role in Larry Keigwin’s urban-chic Megalopolis. We were mesmerized by his jellyfish-like moves—wiggly and graceful, but with a fierce sting. Of course, we weren’t the only ones who noticed: Gallim Dance director Andrea Miller hired him while he was still in college, and Ohad Naharin, the director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, invited Barry to join the group’s second company (the Batsheva Ensemble) after graduation. He entered the first company in 2012, and he’s been impressing Tel Aviv audiences ever since.
This month, Barry returns to the U.S. with Batsheva, performing in several states. Dance Spirit spoke with Barry about the tour.
Billy Barry in Ohad Naharin's Virus (photo by David E. Tadmore, courtesy Batsheva)
Dance Spirit: Will this be your first time dancing in the U.S. since joining the Batsheva Ensemble?
Billy Barry: Yes! The Ensemble traveled quite a lot, but not to the U.S. And since I’ve been in the main company, we haven’t been to New York. I’m so excited about dancing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—it’s been at the top of my bucket list since graduating from Juilliard. I’m also excited about California. I’ve never been before, and this month we’re going to three cities there!
DS: What work is the company bringing?
BB: In most of the cities, we’re performing Naharin’s Sadeh21. It’s got a reputation as one of the company’s masterworks. When it’s over and the crowd goes wild, you realize that using such bold language to describe the piece is accurate.
DS: What’s the piece like to perform?
BB: It evolves. In the first part—or “field,” as we call each section, because that’s what sadeh means—I’m zigzagging back and forth in a quick solo. In field 5, the music is really up-tempo; later on, we do really slow movement on the floor. I get to show all sides of myself within one work. By the time it’s over, it’s like I’ve checked off every possible way to move.
DS: What’s most challenging about the work?
BB: We’ve done Sadeh in so many theaters, and Ohad will spend time before each performance changing things to fit the space. That can get confusing, because then it’s like, “Which version are we doing now?” But those changes also keep us from getting bored with the work.
DS: How would you compare life in Israel to life in the U.S.?
BB: In NYC, everything is go, go, go. And it’s freezing. In Tel Aviv, my life is just as busy, yet I’m more mellowed out because of the beach-city vibe. I get to bike along the beach to get everywhere. At first, it felt like a gamble to leave my whole life behind and move to the Middle East. But it’s been going so well. I’m happy here and plan on sticking it out a bit longer.
Remember that feeling you used to get on Christmas morning, as you ran downstairs to see what presents were waiting for you under the tree? That's how I felt walking into the Juilliard Dances Repertory concert last night. The annual showcase gives Juilliard's stable of dancers a chance to tackle well-known contemporary works. And every year, new faces have big breakout moments. Hence the Christmas-tree feeling: What phenomenal young dancers will surprise us this time around?
This year's lineup includes works by Jose Limón (The Waldstein Sonata), Nacho Duato (Gnawa) and Ohad Naharin (Secus). Three very big names—and three very different styles. It was wonderful to see Maddie Swenson, one of last year's Cover Model Search finalists, come into her own in Gnawa, and to discover the delightfully odd Kyle Scheurich (who reminds me of recent Juilliard alum Billy Barry—right down to his topknot) in Secus. But I left thinking less about individual dancers and more about the remarkable range all these young artists have. To be able to transform themselves into celestial innocents in the Limón, sensual mystics in the Duato and alien flashers (!) in the Naharin—how extraordinary is that?