Intimadance 2009: Ugly Dance at Tmuna Theater

Events, Israeli Choreographers, Israeli Festivals

Ariel Cohen's "Venus de Meatloaf"

Photo: Ariel Cohen’s Venus de Meatloaf.  Photo by Nir Arieli.

I grew up in the ballet world, where “dance” and “beauty” went hand in hand.  Ugliness was a foreign concept, perhaps invoked only in the portrayal of a story ballet’s villain.

So it was a challenge for me to wrap my mind around the theme of this year’s Intimadance festival: ugliness.  How would dances that explore ugliness look?

With this question in mind, I spent part of this weekend in Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theater.  The works were diverse, but I couldn’t help noticing that a few of the dances invoked a ballet vocabulary and aesthetic at times, perhaps as a reference to conventional standards of beauty within this art form.

To learn more about Intimadance and the choreographers’ investigation of ugliness, check out my preview below, “Ugly Dance,” which was first published in the Jerusalem Post.  The festival continues tonight with two performances.

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Ugly Dance

Chances are, when you think about dance, the word “ugly” doesn’t come to mind.  But for the Intimadance festival at Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theater, choreographers were specifically asked to explore the concept of ugliness.

“This year the choice was to ask the question [about ugliness] in a discipline that is based on beauty – beauty of the body, beauty of the movement,” says Nava Zuckeman, co-artistic director of the festival.

Examining ugliness in an art form typically concerned with beauty may be an intimidating challenge, but Intimadance provides a safe platform for choreographers to tackle this task without pressure to succeed or meet a particular ideal.  Ariel Efraim-Ashbel, who has co-directed the festival since last year, explains that the agenda is to try and search rather than to win.  “We’re in a theater, not a war – we’re not trying to conquer anything,” he notes.

Einat Ganz and Ben Buchenbacher's "Yesh Po Oneg"

Photo: Einat Ganz and Ben Buchenbacher’s Yesh Po Oneg. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Intimadance started in 2000 after Zuckerman observed that Israeli choreographers were rushing between festivals at home and abroad without time to more closely investigate their artistic process.  She recounts, “I wanted to give [the choreographers] permission to stop and see where they are on a line of creation.”

From the festival’s beginning, ideas and process were privileged over a polished final product.  Zuckerman stresses, “The question is more important than the result. Afterwards they go to other places to give the show. But [in Intimadance] I allow them to question.”

After the first few years, Zuckerman began assigning a theme to each Intimadance season.  These themes are designed not only to focus the choreographers but to stimulate them.  With their feelers spread throughout the dance world, Zuckerman and Efraim-Ashbel have developed a keen sense for selecting choreographers who are open to probing specific topics.

This year, Ariel Cohen was one dance-maker ripe for the challenge.  “In my life, all the time I walk the thin line between ugliness and beauty,” he says.  “I always dwell in that, so I was lucky to have a place to deal with that onstage.”  In Cohen’s Venus de Meatloaf, the female soloist’s movement shifts from balletically graceful to grotesque as her character’s obsessions emerge.

Like Venus de Meatloaf, the other eight works in Intimadance are thought-provoking and often disturbing.  Clad only in shoes, a jacket, a shirt and a helmet, Andreas Mark stumbles throughout the space to an unsettling text about religion and sex in Butt, it’s OK!

A rectangular glass pane freakishly magnifies Ben Buchenbacher’s face in Yesh Po Oneg, co-created with Einat Ganz.  The sound of helicopters lends an atmosphere of disquiet as two women frantically circle their arms in Shelly Permon’s Im Himmel.  And Rotem Taschach breaks preconceived notions of dance in Israelika, which relies more on absorbing, sometimes sharply witty text than on movement.

Intimadance’s two engrossing programs are rounded out with works by Renana Raz, Tal Porat, Avi Dangur, and Merav Svirsky.  This year, the festival has added a special guest performance with choreography by Ronit Ziv, Berlin-based duo Anat Eisenberg and Saga Siguroardóttir, and the England-based Yair Vardi (not to be confused with the director of the Suzanne Dellal Center).

Like the dances themselves, the festival deviates from a strict focus on movement.  Tmuna’s gallery will feature a video installation by London-based artists Naama Yuria and Jihoi Lee, while before each concert, choreographers will deejay YouTube videos at the theater’s bar.  The sights and sounds at Intimadance may not be pretty, but they’re guaranteed to spark curiosity, insights, and – as befits the festival’s agenda – intriguing questions.

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