Surveying Dance Technique in Israel: A Report from the Studios

Dance Training, My Reflections

(A studio at Adama in Mizpe Ramon)

Right now I am spending my time in Hebrew ulpan rather than the dance studio, but last year I happily spent my first few months traipsing from studio to studio.  I was fortunate enough to return regularly to several teachers while funded by my Fulbright grant, including some of those mentioned in “Surveying Dance Training in Israel: A Report from the Studios.”  Over the course of the year, my impressions of technique styles and influences developed not only through my continued attendance but through conversations with my teachers.  You will get to hear from some of these artists themselves in my podcasts and in write-ups of interviews, but for now, you can read my first impressions as a newcomer to Israeli studios.

I first wrote this post on November 6, 2007 for my own blog.

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Besides attending concerts and meeting dance scholars, I am busy investigating technique classes in Tel Aviv.  I am attempting to do my initial survey in a relatively methodical manner, working my way slowly from studio to studio and taking classes labeled modern (מודרני – “moderni”), contemporary (עכשווי – “achshavi”), or release (רליס – “release”) before plunging into the world of Gaga, a technique developed by Ohad Naharin, or indulging myself with a ballet class.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to quickly summarize my own physical background as a dancer, since it certainly colors my perception of the classes I am taking here.  I trained in ballet for 12 years and had small tastes of Graham, Taylor, and Limón-flavored modern dance before abandoning my pointe shoes completely in college.  My modern dance education continued with those mainstream flavorings, and I also studied a lot of Cunningham technique in graduate school.  In the last few years, however, I have branched out and taken more release or release-influenced classes, primarily with Bebe Miller and Michael Estanich at The Ohio State University.  Thus I am familiar with a range of styles, but I am still figuring out the boundaries of release and finding our how my body operates within this framework.

Back to Israel:

In early October (2007), I took classes from Gilat Amotz (גילת עמוץ), Shimrit Kobalio (שמרית קובליו), and Shlomit Fundaminsky (שלומית פונדמינסקי) at The Group in Jaffa (הקבוצה ביפו, HaKvutza B’Yafo).  Next I took a class from Coralie Ladam (קוראלי לאדם) and another from Inbal Aloni (ענבל אלוני) at Noa Dar’s studio (סטודיו קבוצת מחול נוע דר), which is just 10 minutes away from my flat in central Tel Aviv; Shlomit Fundaminsky also teaches there.  On Sunday I took a release class with Yasmeen Godder (יסמין גודר) at her studio in Jaffa, and yesterday I went to the studios at Suzanne Dellal for a class with Niv Sheinfeld (ניב שינפלד).  The one exception to my modern-contemporary-release rule was a technique/improvisation class given by Ilanit Tadmor (אילנית תדמור) at Studio Play, in which we joined together in some particular stretches and exercises but primarily explored specific concepts through guided improvisation.

With the exception of Coralie Ladam, who moved here from France two years ago, all of the teachers I have studied with are Israeli.  Several of them are choreographers (at least Godder, Sheinfeld, Amotz, Fundaminsky), and many of the teachers perform either with their own groups or with other companies.  While some of their classes – especially Yasmeen Godder’s – were tailored to advanced dancers, others were geared specifically towards an adult population (Niv Sheinfeld’s) or a broader, mixed-level group.  Despite these differences, I was able to observe many similarities among the classes.

Whether or not the classes were explicitly labeled as or described with the term “release,” all of them seemed heavily influenced by release work (I couldn’t resist that phrasing . . . ).   With the exception of one or two classes that began with guided improvisation, most began with floorwork incorporating Bartenieff Fundamentals exercises (working in the X, warming up the head-tail connection, femoral flexion, knee drops building into gentle leg swings, etc.) and yoga (downward dog, warrior poses, etc.). (Editor’s note: I perceived many exercises as Bartenieff-related because of my own experience in the Fundamentals, which I studied in graduate school.  However, none of my teachers have talked specifically about Bartenieff as a direct influence.)

Next the classes progressed to some standing exercises: pliés; perhaps some rolling down the spine and swings; footwork; etc.  A few classes included brief traveling exercises across the floor, several featured a walk or two around the room so we could sense our bodies in the space, and all culminated in phrasework.  Shared principles included an emphasis on connectivity among body parts, a focus on ease of movement, and a general privileging of energy flow and momentum over particular shaped positions.  Upon learning that I was not fluent in Hebrew, all of the teachers gave at least part of their instructions in English, and at times they verbally referenced very familiar concepts such as head-tail or sits-bones-to-heel connections.  Some also encouraged us to assess how our bodies felt after specific exercises.

As I take more classes with each of these teachers, I am sure I will pick up on the nuances of their individual teaching and movement styles.  So far, Niv Sheinfeld’s appeared to the most differentiated from the bunch, with fewer, less overt yoga and Bartenieff references (though perhaps some references to qi gong); at times, shapes were quite important, but this positional specificity was within the context of his quirky phrasework which, like his full choreography, was imbued with clear intention.  I plan to talk to each of these teachers about their influences, styles, and preferred labels, and I hope that these conversations in English will allow me to move beyond language barriers and class population differences to more fully understand their approaches.

There are still a few studios I have yet to visit, such as Studio Naim, Bikurei Haitim, and Studio B, and there are a couple of  teachers I have not met at the venues I have frequented thus far, so my quest continues . . .

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Interested in taking dance classes in Israel?  Check out our resource page, Studying Dance in Israel, for more information.

*This post was made possible thanks to a Fulbright student grant funded by the U.S.-Israel Educational Foundation and hosted by the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

One thought on “Surveying Dance Technique in Israel: A Report from the Studios

  • Did you locate any summer intensive programs for high school dancers? I have a high school dancer trained in classical ballet, but more interested in modern. She is looking for a program in Israel because we have family there.

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