Experiencing Yasmeen Godder’s Repertory Workshop

Posted on 30 September 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Yasmeen Godder's "Two Playful Pink"

Yasmeen Godder and Iris Erez in Godder’s Two Playful Pink.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

More than a year ago, I had the opportunity to take a week-long repertory workshop at Yasmeen Godder’s studio.  I found the intensive enriching both as a dancer and as a dance researcher, and I recounted my experience on The Winger on April 4, 2008; that article is posted below.

Now another batch of advanced dancers will have the chance to sink their teeth into Godder’s meaty material during a brand-new, year-long intensive.  Hosted by ActSearch and held at Godder’s studio in Jaffa, this program will build participants’ physical and expressive skills through a mix of technique classes, repertory workshops, and sessions with dramaturge Itzik Giuli.

Besides preparing for this exciting endeavor, Godder has been touring one of her latest works, Singular Sensation. Want to watch some of her work and see what’s in store for her new students?  There are lots of upcoming performances in several locations.  After one more performance of Singular Sensation at Suzanne Dellal on October 1, the production is traveling to Prague and Bern in October before touring Germany and Belgium in November.  For more information on the intensive workshop and the tour, check out the links at the end of this article.

* * *

Yasmeen Godder’s Repertory Worskhop (April 2008)

It’s been more than seven months since I have learned new repertory, and while I’m loving my dance classes and improvisational projects, I do miss the process of absorbing and living in a piece of choreography.   So even though my body feels a bit tired now, my spirit is extremely happy after tasting a bit of Yasmeen Godder’s work!

I just finished a five-day workshop at her studio in Jaffa (at the south of Tel Aviv – technically, the city is Tel Aviv-Yafo).  Yasmeen is currently on tour in Europe with her production Sudden Birds, so two of her dancers led the intensive.  Each day began with Eran Shanny’s technique class, which was very similar to Yasmeen’s with its influences of release technique, yoga, Feldenkrais, and more.

After Eran helped us absorb the principles of Yasmeen’s movement style, Iris Erez took over for the repertory segment of the workshop.  We did improvisational exercises like those Yasmeen uses in her creative process, and we learned solo and duet material from Two Playful Pink.  Yasmeen’s choreography is meaty, both in its movement vocabulary and its emotional content, and Two Playful Pink – a piece originally performed in 2003 by Yasmeen and Iris – is no exception.  The dance concerns attitudes towards femininity and the body, and the movement often shifts a conventional expression of sexuality into more unfamiliar (or unaccepted?) territory: a hand seductively placed on the upper thigh soon insistently clutches the crotch; the slow fixing of messy hair is paired with a sudden spank-like slap to the hip; a smile is distorted by tucking in the upper lip or tugging the cheek into a sneer.

Yasmeen Godder's "Two Playful Pink"

Yasmeen Godder and Iris Erez in Godder’s Two Playful Pink.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

There’s so much I could say about what I gained through this experience – in fact, my stream of consciousness free-write in my notes file was enough to make Word send me a few error messages last night – but I’ll try to keep my post here manageable . . . If you haven’t noticed yet, I tend to be a bit wordy!

I’ve found myself explaining recently that yes, I am both a dancer and a researcher, so I’ll write a bit about how these two activities are complementary.  Quite wonderfully, this workshop reinforced my belief in the value of physical research.  My experience in technique classes this year has provided me with important information about the physicality used in Israeli contemporary dance.  Yet with repertory, there’s another level of experience and analysis to be found; instead of simply dealing with the raw material of technique – some of the building blocks of a finished dance – learning choreography allows me to explore issues of composition and content along with the movement itself.

This week I got a physical sense of Yasmeen’s partnering work, which epitomizes an intricate, aggressive style employed by many young Israeli choreographers.  Actually attempting to dance excerpts of this duet gave me a deeper appreciation of what I had admired from afar because I myself got to experience (or, well, try to experience) the speed, precision, and trust involved in this kind of partnering.  I was also reminded that in the hands of the right choreographer (and ultimately in the bodies of the right dancers), movement can be wonderfully loaded with meaning.  In the duet excerpts from Two Playful Pink, each tug, shove, jerk, drop, fall, and look is a challenge from one woman to the other, a chance to manipulate, dominate, taunt, display . . .

Yasmeen Godder's "Two Playful Pink"

Yasmeen Godder and Iris Erez in Godder’s Two Playful Pink.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

Learning repertory also provides an extraordinary opportunity for me to recognize and question the assumptions I make as a spectator of choreography.  As I realized this week, what you perceive when you are an audience member does not always get at the truth of the matter from the performer’s perspective.

What I often see in Israeli contemporary dance is power – but it’s not always a controlled power or a power composed of force.  In my experience with Yasmeen’s choreography (and specifically thanks to the feedback Iris gave me), I understood that this power is at times a matter of energy unleashed by giving into momentum and gravity.   Having trained primarily in ballet and older modern dance forms such as Cunningham technique and Graham, Taylor, and Limón-influenced styles, I find working in this released-influenced mode quite challenging – but also quite necessary for my growth as a dancer.  You can bet I’ll be back in Yasmeen’s classes after she returns from her tour!

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Related Articles on Dance In Israel

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*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.

4 Comments For This Post

  1. SanderO Says:

    I know this is off topic, but what is like to try to find the calm place to dance and other creative pursuits surrounded by so much turmoil, social unrest and violence? I understand that people living there grow used to this, but it seems as if it would be very difficult for sensitive artists to flourish in such an environment. Can you comment on this?

  2. Daphne Says:

    I’ve been in Israel for the past year, more or less, and it’s great to read more about the Israeli dance scene here on The Winger–Thanks, Deborah! I think that your comment about controlled power vs. power coming from momentum and gravity is particularly interesting, and I hope you can give us some more examples of it soon.

  3. GWTW Says:

    SanderO, that’s an interesting question. I’m sure Deborah will give you a much more educated answer than I can, but in my opinion the environment in Israel has profoundly influenced ‘dance scene’. It’s no wonder that modern dance, and particularly very physical modern dance, is so successful in Israel whereas classical ballet is much less so. There is always a feeling that time is short, because who knows what will happen tomorrow.
    On the other hand, Israel is a land with a long history and with great natural beauty (see Deborah’s latest post on Adama).
    It makes for a very delicate balance between the eternal and the ephemeral. Perhaps it is that balance that inspires artists (of whom I am, most decidedly, not one).

  4. Deborah Says:

    It’s definitely an interesting question (and GWTW, a good take on it). SanderO, I’ve wanted to address this since I saw your post but haven’t had time to sit and really take the time to write until now. I’ll preface my answer with an anecdote about this morning:

    At the end of my Gaga class in the Suzanne Dellal Center this morning, a siren went off in Tel Aviv as part of a national drill. We kept on jumping while across the country, teachers and students practiced going to shelters and a variety of authorities practiced their emergency response protocols. After class I sat down for a cup of coffee at a cafe on Nachalat Binyamin, watching the weekly crafts fair fill up with people and chatting with the waiter and a family of Australian tourists. When the tourists asked about the sirens and wondered how Tel Avivians responded generally to war, suicide bombings, etc., the waiter replied that everyone just went to the beach. The overall message here (and in many other conversations I’ve had with Israelis on this topic) is that life goes on; in fact, it MUST go on. Echoing GWTW’s thoughts above, as I have observed the society around me, I get the sense that people live really fully here in part because of the situation. This general attitude certainly influences the dance scene. If someone’s passion is dance, they’ll really throw themselves into it.

    I should note that dance isn’t the only art that flourishes here – there’s a vibrant theatre and music scene, I see lots of galleries around Tel Aviv, and I’ve been told that Israeli film is taking off. I still need to search for some statistical figures, but I have heard from a few people that Israel is one of the top ranking countries when it comes to the size of arts audiences. And why do people seek out art? Perhaps because it has the power to provide an escape from a harsh reality. There’s plenty of precedent for this; during WWI, for instance, the Ballets Russes was a fertile ground for artistic experimentation, and it drew huge crowds. While they were in the theater, European audiences could put aside the news of the day and be transported into a magical world.

    As I’ve watched dance and started talking with dance professionals, I have started to see how the “situation” shapes the dance world here. Most dances don’t deal with the situation, thus providing the escape I mention above. However, there are some choreographers who have explicitly dealt with the subject in their work (see http://web.mac.com/deborahfriedes/iWeb/Deborah%20Friedes,%20MFA/blog%20/FB96B6B4-7542-4B1C-A26D-6CD0AB1A52FF.html for a post on one of Yasmeen Godder’s works). Other choreographers have told me that the situation sometimes worms its way into their dances even when they are not planning on grappling with the issues (my next podcast, with Noa Dar, gets into this a bit).

    I also have started to think a lot about how the physicality of Israeli dance is connected to the situation. I’ll probably write more about this in some other posts and am thinking of doing a longer article about it, but I’ll just jot down a few thoughts for now. Several people I have interviewed say that the physicality in Israeli dance is characterized by aggressiveness, a tension in the body, a lack of borders, a sense of weight, etc.; all of these can be linked to living in this particular situation (and frequently the people I talk to mention these connections). On the other hand, newer techniques in Israel such as release-based approaches and Gaga seem to offer alternative modes of movement which allow people to release this tension, instead finding ease, efficiency, and joy in movement. Further, while talking with Nir Ben Gal this weekend at Adama, he spoke about finding a specifically non-violent way of moving.

    This turned out to be a bit longer and more fragmented than I’d intended, but I hope it helps you in thinking about the question you raised!

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