The first Washington appearance at Lisner Auditorium last night of the Bat-Dor Dance Company of Israel, currently making its debut tour of the United States, left one thinking that independence -- in the arts, at any rate -- is a state of mind, and not easily won.
The 25-member troupe was founded in 1968 by South African-born, internationally trained Jeanette Ordman, still the group's artistic director and also one of its principal dancers, together with well-known arts patroness Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild.
The company prides itself on having striven to achieve a universality of idiom, compounded of both classical and modern strands ("Bat-Dor" means "contemporary" in Hebrew), but at the same time, a distinctively national character.
Though the dancers come from five continents, many are native Israelis. And though it has buttressed its offerings, as many emerging troupes do, with the work of such outlanders as Alvin Ailey, John Butler, Lar Lubovitch and Rudi van Dantzig, the bulk of its repertoire has been created by Israeli choreographers, composers and scenic artists.
All this bespeaks a commendable sense of purpose. It also was clear even at first viewing that the technical training, on strong classical foundations, is solid and thorough -- thees are disciplined dancers who move cohesively as a group and with much skill individually.
If you sense a "but" coming, you're right. The opening program consisting of works by Mirali Sharon, Gene Hill Sagan, Robert Cohan and Domy Reiter-Soffer had a decidedly second-hand look, and very few signs of viable choreographic invention.
If you were to take away the decor and program notes -- both on the pretentious side in any case -- what you'd be left with, far from evoking a recognizable Israeli slant, would suggest a haphazard melding of Graham, Bejart, the Netherlands Dance Theater and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
Two of the pieces even borrowed the very same image -- a huddle of dancers with upreaching, waving arms -- from Ailey's "Revelations." Possibly tonight's program will provide a different perspective, but the first night implied a severe case of identity crisis.