The observational documentary “Bobbi Jene” tracks two years in the life of modern dancer-choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith, an Iowa-born, Juilliard-trained performer who spent nearly a decade with the Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company, under the tutelage of its renowned artistic director, Ohad Naharin. There may be an intriguing, perhaps even profound story behind Smith’s growth as a singular artist and woman, but director Elvira Lind keeps too much on the surface, making it hard to invest in Smith’s often esoteric, self-centered journey. The film begins in 2014 with Smith’s move from Israel back to the U.S. to forge her own creative path, leaving behind devoted boyfriend Or Schraiber, a fellow Batsheva dancer 10 years her junior. Lind then choppily follows Smith’s travels to California and New York to teach and to stage her edgy, enervating, (mostly) solo act, as well as her return to Israel to perform. Vérité-type footage captures Smith’s many frank, if at times stagy, interactions with Naharin, Schraiber, her supportive evangelical Christian mother and others. But Smith’s deeper goals and beliefs can feel oddly elusive despite a self-stated desire to expose truth through art. The less initiated may find Smith’s work, sometimes done naked, more akin to head-scratching performance art than “dance.”
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles.