From Writing to Talking about Dance

Abroad, Israeli Choreographers, Lectures, Screenings, Ceremonies, & More, My Reflections, Video Views

DTW’s artistic director, Carla Peterson, talks about Deganit Shemy’s work

Now that the jetlag is wearing off and I’m more or less settled back in to Tel Aviv, I’m ready to tell the tales of a dance blogger on vacation in the U.S.

What does a dance blogger do on vacation?

Well, besides seeing family and friends, this blogger did a bit of work and went from writing about dance to talking about dance.

Lecturing on Dance in Israel

I started my trip with two lectures about dance in Israel.  Many thanks to all of my readers who sent me suggestions and voiced their interest when I posted my “Call for Help,” and a special thanks to Kathy Hassinger at Emerson College and Jodi Falk at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School for inviting me to talk to their classes.

After months of staring at my computer screen while typing posts – and then desperately hoping to get some feedback, no matter how delayed, in the form of comments or e-mails – the immediate responses of the Emerson and PVPA students was a welcome change.  When I talked about the history of concert dance in Israel and the flowering of Israeli contemporary dance, curious students peppered me with questions; when I showed video excerpts of choreography, the rooms buzzed with students’ excited murmurs.  I loved sharing my insights and hearing their reactions – and I hope that I will have many more chances in the future to talk about dance in Israel.

Seeing Deganit Shemy’s Arena and Meeting Dance Bloggers

With my lectures in Massachusetts over, I turned my attention to the New York leg of my trip.   As I perused the performance listings, I saw that Deganit Shemy, a New York-based choreographer from Israel, was scheduled for a performance at Dance Theater Workshop (DTW) on April 16th.  Adding to the lure was a pre-performance talk moderated by Eva Yaa Asantewaa, who runs the Infinite Body blog and Body and Soul podcast.  I decided to make a day of it and scheduled a meet-up at DTW for dance bloggers before the event.

Since entering the blogging world last year, I’ve discovered that there are many other people writing about dance online.  I’ve followed many of them on their blogs and on Twitter, and now I finally got to meet several of them in person.  Tonya Plank (Swan Lake Samba Girl), Marc Kirschner (TenduTV), Taylor Gordon (a fellow Winger and writer of Off Center), Doug Fox (Great Dance), and DJ McDonald (City of Glass) met up with my partner Tal and I for some lively discussion about dancing, blogging, and life in general.  We still had several threads of conversation open by the time the pre-performance talk started, and hopefully these will continue online.

Nearly all of us stayed for “Coffee and Conversation” with Eva and Deganit, and the discussion proved enlightening.  Although she started dancing late, Deganit Shemy won accolades here in Israel with her early work, even garnering the Gvanim Bemachol (Shades of Dance) prize in 2003.  We heard of her training in visual art and in Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation, which Deganit studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.  This background was evident later that evening in the premiere of the choreographer’s latest work, Arena.  Deganit’s repeated use of prolonged, posed stillness lent the dance a sculptural quality, and when the dancers burst into action, they did so with great precision.

Before the conversation concluded, Deganit also talked about her choice to use female dancers, the connection of memory to her work, and Arena‘s theme of competition.  The discussion enriched my viewing of Arena, and I was pleased to learn even more about the dance in a post-show talk which included the dancers and the sound designer.

Reflections on Talking about Dance

After spending so much time talking about dance, I started thinking more about how, when, and where we have dialogue about this non-verbal art form.  In some theaters, studios, and universities, there are conversations about dance – but not enough.  I discussed this problem with many New Yorkers during my vacation there, and back here in Tel Aviv, I feel the lack of discourse even more sorely.  While the plethora of college dance departments in the U.S. cultivates some conversation, there is no similar framework of dance in higher education in Israel.  Furthermore, the occasional pre- or post-performance talks with choreographers or other knowledgeable dance professionals which occasionally take place in the United States are nearly nonexistent here.

I would love to see – and participate in – more discussions about dance, and I’m curious to know what you think about this issue.  How can we increase the number of conversations about dance and make this dialogue more accessible and inviting?

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  • Deborah,
    I don’t have any good ideas about creating more dialogue in Israel – especially since I barely have time to go to any performances. However if you are interested in exposing more people in Israel to modern concert dance (and some extra money for you), have you thought about giving talks in senior housing facilities? There are some that have large Anglo population such as the Protea chain. Also, the various Anglo immigrant societies organise lectures for their members quite regularly. These are people who have a general interest in the arts, but may not know about much more than Bat Sheva.
    As a general note – I am really enjoying your blog. I thought your coverage of the Bayit BaNamal was great (especially as I could only get to one of the family shows on Sat morning), however I would be interested in a more critical approach too. For instance, what about Naomi Fortis’ resignation as CEO of Bat Sheva? I don’t necessarily want you to wash any one’s dirty laundry, but I think it’s significant enough to warrant a post and perhaps your informed quesstimate as to where this could lead the company and whether there are any candidates to fill her (very big) shoes.

    • Jade, I have thought about giving talks here in Israel, but I hadn’t thought about senior housing facilities. That’s a great suggestion (same with Anglo groups), and I’ll keep it in mind as I move forward with my lectures!

      Thanks also for your support as well as your suggestion that I offer a more critical perspective on the Israeli dance scene. I’m still very much figuring out what my voice is on this blog; my background is much more in dance history with a bit of an educational flavor, so I’m evaluating how journalistic I want to be. Do I cover everything that happens? If so, how much do I write, particularly with something where I’m not as informed? Naomi Fortis’s resignation from Batsheva actually came when I was on vacation in the U.S., which was part of why I didn’t write anything. The other part is that I honestly don’t know much about either her resignation or what this means for the company – my research and involvement is much more centered in the artistic sphere than the political and financial side of things. I am hoping that over time I will be able to bring an even deeper, and perhaps wider, perspective to the blog – and it’s helpful for me to know what my readers are interested in, so thank you!

  • Thank you for joining us for Deganit’s “Coffee and Conversation” at DTW! It was wonderful to finally get to meet you (and Tal) after so much Internet interaction!

    I think there are more and more opportunities for dance artists (as well as artists and audiences) to get together and talk about the ideas, process, developing and finished work and more. This is where we are moving, and it’s very stimulating. I’m also excited to see projects in which dance artists are moving beyond the tight, sometimes inbred-seeming, community here in New York City to converse with people in other disciplines such as neuroscience and environmental science (e.g., Daria Fain’s work, Jennifer Monson’s work).

    And I hope that Body and Soul podcast contributes to this new movement, in its small way, offering dance artists a venue to talk about their lives and work, opening their ideas and language and experiences to newer and wider audiences.

    Thank you for all that you also do to make this possible.

    Wishing you all the best,

    Eva Yaa Asantewaa
    InfiniteBody dance blog
    Body and Soul dance podcast

    • Eva, it was a pleasure meeting you as well (Tal says so as well).

      I’m glad to hear that you feel there is a movement towards more dialogue among dance artists, between dance artists and audiences, and between dance artists and those in other disciplines. I hope that the scene here will move in a similar direction over the next few years.

      I do think that your podcast is a valuable platform for discussion that is accessible to audience members, and I hope my podcast serves a similar purpose. I also believe that all of the writers in the dance blogosphere are providing places for some dialogue about dance. Happily some dancers and choreographers are among those bloggers, and I think this would be an excellent avenue of growth. It will be interesting to see if the dance blogosphere grows and how that can further dialogue among dance artists and enthusiasts.

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