Sometimes, the simplest parts of choreography make the biggest impressions. For weeks after seeing Batsheva perform Ohad Naharin’s Last Work, I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman running for the entire 65-minute piece (probably 6-7 miles) on a narrow treadmill upstage. I had so many questions for The Runner! Fortunately, dancer Bobbi Jene Smith, who shared the role with other male and female dancers, offered some answers.
Were you chosen for the role because you’re an avid runner, or did you train for this part?
I actually volunteered to do it. I’m not a runner at all but I wanted to experience the part. I had to train for several months beforehand.
What kind of shoes do you wear?
Everyone wears their own shoes. I wear Nikes. Once, I ran barefoot. I really wanted to, I think it feels more natural. Everyone tried to convince me not to do it, but I had to experience it for myself…I couldn’t walk right for days!
What’s it like running in a long dress?
The dress is the most comfortable part to me. It feels very free and more a part of the piece, it wouldn’t feel right to wear typical running clothes.
A trailer from Last Work, with another company member as The Runner.
What is more tiring—running or dancing Ohad’s work?
They are very different; they channel different colors or rhythms for me. While running, things come up like pain or a cramp, but you have to keep the rhythm going; how you deal with that is part of the experience. You also can’t see very well (it’s pretty dark), the treadmill isn’t very wide and if you lose track you could fall off or trip!
Do you feel like you are missing out by not dancing in the piece?
I learned a lot about the piece from being that runner, things are passing by, this endless trying, the different moods that Ohad creates. People always say how much they connect to the runner, and I also feel so close to the audience, like when the curtain goes up I feel the connection that we are going to do this together. The runner always gets the warmest response during the bows.
What are you thinking about during that hour onstage?
I connect a lot to the endlessness—committing to the fact that I’m going to run forever, what it takes to keep that rhythm going, letting go to continue, my breathing, how I place my weight. It all becomes meditative. Sometimes I feel like I’m running towards something, then running away. Then a magic point comes where I can’t tell which direction I’m running. It’s actually pretty lonely, but in a good way—she needs to continue no matter what happens.
Is the flag that the dancers make you carry at the end heavy?
No, although it starts to feel heavy because you are tired! It’s a beautiful moment where everything comes together. She just keeps going, what she has done the entire time.