Bobbi Jene: Lady Gaga, by Alexander Miller
Bobbi Jene Smith decides to depart the Tel-Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company to establish herself in the states and find her creative wheelhouse back in America. Utilizing intuitive psychology, she learned from her mentor (and former lover) Ohad Naharin, who developed the Gaga movement language and was the subject of the 2015 documentary Mr. Gaga.
Bobbi Jene Smith also struggles with the prospect of leaving her boyfriend Oh Schraiber, an Israeli native who is ten years younger and wants to continue his time with the Batsheva Dance Company, so the two decide to maintain a long distance relationship.
Elvira Lind maintains an intimate focus on Smith’s personal and professional life, successfully securing our attention on this creative soul in a state of major transition. Lind’s ability to capture the immediacy of emotional action seems intuitively assured, and the chemistry with her fearlessly open subjects yields a candid look at Bobbi Jene Smith.
There’s a sense of momentum that pairs with the atmosphere of life in transition and, in capturing the essence of creative evolution, it loses some footing in deliberating the core concept of what motivates Smith, defaulting too much focus to her interpersonal life.
While the more hands-off approach is commendable in creating a casual avenue without the crutch of talking heads, title cards, or narration, it might leave those who are on the periphery of contemporary dance (or oblivious to it) searching for context.
Bobbi Jene Smith possesses a great deal of talent. Her strong personality and artistic resolve become the bedrock of this feature. It feels as if Lind was inextricably drawn to this powerful persona regardless of what their feature would become. There are an affection and place of admiration for Smith but her motivation to leave the Batsheva Dance Company is the result of uncertainty as she’s torn between her life in Israel and her home in San Francisco.
When she stages two solo shows that premiere in Jerusalem and Manhattan, the film’s destination feels more like a career-shaping juncture than a touchstone moment with dramatic gravitas.
Smith’s venture is a relatively compelling narrative crux that’s made more so when it’s revealed that part of her performance is going to be nude, where she achieves an orgasm on stage by straddling a bag of sand. It goes without saying that this is a bold and open artist, and the challenging nature of her show takes on a handful of dimensions. You could extrapolate that she’s breaking taboos of sexualizing the female form, expressing the duality of the pain and passion that’s required of committed dancers; but it feels more akin to a cathartic demonstration of her artistic identity.
However, the film’s presentation is mostly limited to the masturbatory moments, which is an artistic shorthand by the director.
Bobbi Jene Smith is a compelling figure and this profile offers some intriguing moments but there are too many hanging threads. For instance I walked away from this knowing that her instructor was her lover when she was twenty-one, her mother’s an evangelical Christian (there’s some conflict for you), she and her boyfriend are a cute couple, he has a thing for her feet, and he shows his penis via facetime conversation with Bobbi.
It would have been a bit more enlightening to learn more about Gaga movement language (are orgasms frequently achieved on stage?). Some background about her inspirations and history with the Batsheva Dance Company would have been applicable, by the end of Bobbi Jene I was glad to have met the subject but was left wanting and found the more comprehensive feature Mr. Gaga, about The Batsheva Company’s instructor and Gaga creator Ohad Naharin from 2015. There’s more on the horizon for Bobbi Jene Smith and I hope to see what her future will yield. I guess there’s this film to thank for that. Laura Dern’s brief appearance is a plus.