In 2015 a friend gave Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal a copy of a poem called OCD by American slam poet Neil Hilborn, which has been watched on YouTube over 13 million times. Running just under three minutes, it tells of an unusual love affair. Initially, a young woman is charmed by the tics and eccentricities caused by the man’s obsessive-compulsive disorder but eventually it becomes too much for her and she leaves him. Brilliantly written by Hilborn, the poem is personal, funny and crushingly sad.

Sharon Eyal. Photograph © Gigi Giannella

Eyal was immediately fascinated by it and created an intense dance piece for her company L-E-V Dance Company called OCD Love, which premiered in 2016, and which came to the Adelaide Festival in 2017. In 2018, she followed it with Love Chapter 2, about the devastating aftermath of an affair. L-E-V will perform both works at the Sydney Opera House in a program called Love Cycle, running January 29 – February 3.

Reviewing Love Chapter 2 at Sadler’s Wells, London in 2018 for The Guardian, Luke Jennings described Eyal as “one of the most startlingly inventive choreographers working today”. Born in Jerusalem, Eyal danced with Israel’s renowned Batsheva Dance Company between 1990 and 2008, and began choreographing with its Batsheva Dancers Create project. From 2003 to 2004, she served as associate Artistic Director to Ohad Naharin, and as a House Choreographer between 2005 and 2012. She was closely involved with Naharin’s transformation of the company as both a dancer and choreographer.

In 2013, she and Gai Behar – a Tel Aviv-based curator of multi-disciplinary events with whom she had been collaborating since 2005, and who is also her off-stage partner and father of her children – formed L-E-V Dance Company, which is now a leading player in Israel’s contemporary dance scene. Renowned for their work with DJ and musician Ori Lichtik, a friend of Behar’s since childhood who creates the sound for Eyal’s work, L-E-V (lev means “heart” in Hebrew) has performed at over 200 venues around the world, including a Christian Dior fashion show in Paris last year.

L-E-V’s OCD Love. Photograph © Regina Brocke

Chatting to Limelight by phone from Tel Aviv, Eyal recalls the first time she came across Hilborn’s OCD.  “A good friend of ours who is also an amazing artist, always exchanging information and inspiration, sent it to me and I really fell in love with this poem first of all because of the structure of it. It felt like it was written as choreography already, and, of course, inside that poem it really touched me, it’s very beautiful and very sad and I felt connected to it. This was the thing that inspired me. It was very beautiful material, very spicy. I relate to it in a lot of aspects. I am a very emotional person and I think it touches me in very deep places,” she says.

Asked about how she creates work, and about her process of working with her dancers, Eyal says: “You know, when I am creating, it’s not suddenly [the start of a] process. I am creating it with my partner Gai Behar, I am creating it with Ori Lichtik, I am creating it with the dancers. It is something that is continual. Physically I need the people around me. I am not doing it for possession of them. I am the only one that improvises and does the movement because for me it’s not interesting to see them improvise and take movement from them. It’s interesting to give them all the material and then the emotional and different layers come in from them. So first of all I come in and improvise and they film me, and then I can take things from the video and combine it, cut it, edit it, change it in one big solo and then create layers of composition [with the dancers]. It’s always like I’m building and destroying, building and destroying, and then finding something in there.”

Gai Behar and Sharon Eyal. Photograph © Gigi Giannella

As for the music, she says: “Ori is a very good friend of ours. He is always here, it is an on-going continuation process so there is no one starting point. It’s like the choreography, it is the same. He is coming and playing stuff, and I can ask him to write original material, and I can bring in a song that I like… it can be so many layers of inspiration, but I feel like the piece and the music comes together in one piece. I think all the elements come together. I believe in collaboration.”

Eyal says she likes the idea of “a continuation” in her work, so the creation of Love Chapter 2 felt natural – not that she did it expecting that they would be performed alongside each other. “I never thought about it because I’m not such a practical person. When I am creating, I am creating because I need to create and then ideas will come,” she says.

“I think it is beautiful because each piece is really very different but there is something very beautiful to see them together….They are from the same mother but really different children.”

Eyal had many wonderful years with Batsheva, and still uses Ohad Naharin’s famous movement method Gaga. “It’s amazing and I love it and I think the best of Gaga is the freedom for your own creativity and technique, so yes I am doing classes using Gaga and I love it,” she says.

But she loves having her own company: “It is very organic and really authentic that I can use my own language and be different with it.”

Love Chapter 2. Photograph © André Le Corre

She now works with six dancers rather than the vastly bigger ranks at Batsheva, but is very happy either way. “For me it is not right or wrong because I can work with a thousand people or one person. It’s the connection and the intimacy that I have with the dancers, so it’s not so much the amount it’s the quality. Sometimes one dancer can feel like 100 so it is all about the quality,” she says.

Eyal says that she hopes to create a new work soon. A third to make a Love Cycle trilogy perhaps? “Everything is a possibility; I hope so yes,” she replies.

In September, she worked on the Christian Dior show at Paris Fashion Week, helping to create a theatrical presentation in which eight dancers interacted with the models as they showcased Dior’s Spring-Summer 2019 Ready-to-Wear Collection. Presented at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, a racetrack on the outskirts of Paris, YouTube footage shows what a stunning event it was as the dancers and models perform beneath clouds of falling white petals.

Eyal says that she received a call to meet with Maria Grazia Chiuri, the head designer of the French fashion house, out of the blue. “It was a very beautiful, magical moment because I really felt connected to her and it was a big operation together. It was one of the most beautiful, inspiring, free, challenging [things I’ve done], a really big inspiration for me. It was the most amazing, extreme moments that I have had in my life.”

In recent years, Eyal hasn’t danced herself – but it is something she may change. “I want to dance. I am planning to dance. Not dancing is becoming a bit sad. Right now I haven’t danced for a long time but I am planning to come back slowly. It is always challenging because I want to see the pieces, and I want to be with my kids, so it’s a lot of things but dancing is something that is in you, so I think it will [happen[ again. I love it so, so I need to do it.”

Love Cycle plays at the Sydney Opera House, January 31 – February 3