Amir Kolben’s “Gates of Jerusalem” – Dancing the Real Jerusalem

Events, Israeli Choreographers, Israeli Companies, Performances

Gates of Jerusalem

Amir Kolben’s Gates of Jerusalem.  Photo by Uri Nevo.

A version of this article, titled “Dancing Amongst Walls,” was published in the Jerusalem Post‘s “Billboard” entertainment guide on February 6, 2009.

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What is the “real Jerusalem”?

To choreographer Amir Kolben, the real Jerusalem is “a city of tensions, between being holy and being profane, between high and low, between dangerous and wonderful places, between dirty markets and serenity.  It’s so extreme,” he says, “I find the city lives within these tensions of so many things.”

It is this view of the world’s holiest city that Kolben will present onstage in his latest dance, The Gates of Jerusalem.  Intrigued by mayor Nir Barkat’s vision of ten million visitors ascending to Jerusalem each year, Kolben sought to create a complex portrait which stretches beyond the images that glorify the city to tourists.  His contemporary choreography also challenges stereotypes of Israeli dance.  While many foreigners may associate this country with folk dance, Israel boasts a thriving concert dance scene.

Kolben is more equipped than most Israeli choreographers to tackle the topic of Jerusalem.  With its many theaters, festivals, and studios, Tel Aviv is the center of the country’s dance activity and the home for most dance companies.  Yet Kolben has based his group, Kolben Dance, in Jerusalem since its inception twelve years ago.  It might be easier to live in the country’s artistic capital, but Kolben notes that despite the conveniences of Tel Aviv, he feels he belongs more in the “deeper, spiritual city of Jerusalem.”

Gates of Jerusalem

Amir Kolben’s Gates of Jerusalem.  Photo by Uri Nevo.

The Old City holds a particular lure for Kolben.  He explains, “Whenever I feel an urge to go abroad, I go there.  And in many, many aspects, it feels like visiting a foreign country.  Despite the fact that I know the place very well, and I know many parts of the history of this place, it never stops surprising me, and it never stops showing different facets of it whenever I go there.”

To capture the unique character of Jerusalem, Kolben took his seven dancers out of the studio and led them on journeys into the Old City.  As the cast wandered through winding alleys, they drew inspiration from sights, sounds, and smells.

Besides collecting vivid impressions, Kolben’s company also improvised in each of the Old City’s eight gates for videodances by Pavel Dibrov.  Each gate offers a different pathway into the ancient city’s mysterious maze; together, however, they unlock the door to a more complete experience of Jerusalem.  The videos of the dancers’ improvisations will transport glimpses of the gates to the stage, adding what Kolben calls a “spice” to his set choreography.

The musical backdrop for Kolben’s contemporary movement further brings the flavors of the city alive.  Itay Binnun of the world music group AndraLaMoussia composed much of music for The Gates of Jerusalem.  The rich score is rounded out by other selections from Arabic and Christian traditions.

This blend of musical influences and the combination of live action with videodance reflect some of the mixtures – east and west, old and new – which characterize Jerusalem.  By exploring the city’s many dichotomies rather than shying away from its tensions, Kolben avoids the superficially pretty picture that is sold to visitors from abroad.  Yet the choreographer emphasizes, “there’s a lot of beauty in Jerusalem as well, which I admire, which I love, which I am attached to, which I tried to express in this dance.”

This complicated beauty emerges in The Gates of Jerusalem, and Kolben believes that the dance offers a “special mixture which is available to everyone who wants to see a point of view of a Jerusalem-based artist on this city.”   Jerusalem residents and visitors alike can enjoy Kolben’s perspective when the work opens on February 11 at Mercaz Shimshon – Beit Shmuel.

The work’s world premiere takes place on February 11 at Mercaz Shimshon – Beit Shmuel at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are NIS 60-90, (02) 620-3455/6.


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