On a map of the current contemporary dance world, Israel would be a key hub.

The Mideast nation owes that status in large part to the Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company, which dominates the country’s dance scene and stages a whopping 200 performances a year.

The company was founded in 1964 by Batsheva de Rothschild and earned a good, but not glittering, domestic reputation.

Ohad Naharin, now 57, was appointed artistic director in 1990. Then, in the blink of an eye it seemed, Israeli-born Naharin turned the company into one of the world’s best. This was in large part due to his imaginative choreography and nurturing of apprentice dancers.

Naharin has a secret weapon, too. He created his own method of body movement that he calls “Gaga.” Explaining this “movement language,” Naharin said recently: “Gaga is a new way of gaining knowledge and self awareness through your body. It is a new way of learning about your body and strengthening it, adding flexibility, stamina and agility while lightening the senses and imagination. Gaga elevates instinctive motion and links conscious and subconscious movement.”

During their short season at the Saitama Arts Center, 10 of Batsheva’s leading dancers are set to perform Naharin’s 2007 work, “Max.” Dressed in simple earth-colored tank tops and short pants, the piece embodies Naharin’s philosophy, which sees dancers searching for the original state of the human being through movements that see them go from graceful to tense in a moment’s notice. Performers will work their Gaga magic to the accompaniment of folk music by Maxim Waratt.

However, for anyone still wondering what they might expect during this string of performances, Naharin has given his audiences in Japan a tip on how to enjoy the program: “It is,” he says simply, “an unlimited stream which invites you to get caught up by the moment and imagine a creation of your own.”

“Max” runs April 15-17 at the Saitama Arts Center, an eight-minute walk from JR Yonohonmachi Station on the Saikyo Line. Tickets cost ¥3,000-¥6,000. For more details, call Saitama Arts Foundation at (0570) 064-939 or visit www.saf.or.jp

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