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Locating 2019 in Time and Space: Reflections on Ohad Naharin’s Latest Work

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Put together Ohad Naharin’s two most recent works – Venezuela (2017) and 2019 (2019) – and the titles alone create clear associations with space and time, respectively. Yet while Venezuela is unmoored from the geographical turf of its namesake, rooting itself instead in grounds of form and spectatorship, 2019 presents a full-bodied embrace (and full-throated interrogation) of the current moment – and, further, it delineates a specific location. If Venezuela exists in and expounds upon the world of the stage, 2019 exists very much in our world, spilling off the platform and onto our laps in Tel Aviv. We, the viewers, are in Israel, and so too is this work.

My instinct is frequently to focus on the movement of a work, but as 2019 echoed in my mind after two viewings, the elements of space and time surfaced repeatedly. With these two dimensions as the linchpins, I began sorting through my own multilayered reading of Naharin’s dance. Spoilers ahead – this is best read after you, too, have taken in 2019 and turned it over in your mind. 

I. Space: Studio Varda, Batsheva Dance Company’s largest rehearsal hall, is rendered unrecognizable by Gadi Tzachor’s stage design. Although the space of the work is unconventional – resembling a fashion show runway – 2019’s location comes sharply into focus as the opening announcements forbidding photography and cell phones are cheekily delivered in three languages: Hebrew.  English. Arabic. The first two are standard for Batsheva shows drawing an international crowd, but the inclusion of the third points to the site not only of the performance but of its subject matter. And when a dancer slowly turns his back to the audience during the Arabic announcement, hands raised as if apprehended, his physical position signals, perhaps, the work’s critical position in relation to its locale.  

II. Space and time: From this opening, bridging the pre-performance and performance worlds, 2019 alludes to the world outside Studio Varda with a series of references to “here” and “now.” Here: A soundtrack dominated by Hebrew lyrics, with a not insignificant dose of Arabic. A brief ululation. Now: The inclusion of songs in English and Japanese, perhaps a reflection of porous cultural borders in a globalized world (and perhaps a reflection of the artist’s personal life). Also now: Bold, strikingly individual clothing and edgy jewelry that would not be out of place on the runway or in a club, and that in some cases upends gender norms. Here: A line of dancers hopping rhythmically, their boots stomping on the floor and their leader briefly flicking his wrist as if kicking off a debka. Now: A movement vocabulary that at times would not be out of place at a club or in a music video, with hints of twerking, pelvises jutted out, saucy snaps, deep squats and soaring legs, explosive acrobatics, and suspended freezes. Also now: An attuned performance presence and physical facility nurtured by Gaga, Naharin’s decidedly contemporary training practice. Though less obvious to viewers from outside the field, this too is reflective of the moment.  

III. Time: The first time I saw 2019 was December 2, 2019. The second time was December 9, 2019. The third time will likely be in February 2020 – at which point, 2019 will automatically reference the past even while it exists in the present. Sharing its name with the year of its creation, Naharin’s work foregrounds the passage of time – and it is fitting that 2019 will exist in the world of 2020, 2021, and beyond, for the nowness of this work speaks to the ethos of a period rather than that of a specific, self-contained calendar year. It stretches back to the optimistic 1970 “BaShana HaBa’a” (“Next Year”) and to the honeyed voice of the Lebanese singer Fairouz crooning “Ana La Habibi” (“I Am for My Lover”), a voice that – even if recorded in 1995 as Google indicates – evokes an undefined, earlier golden age. It connects the childhood chant of “LaKova Sheli” (“My Hat has Three Corners”) to the chilling adult experience of Hanoch Levin’s “At, Ve’Ani, Ve’Hamilchama” (“You, Me, and the Next War”), penned after the Six-Day War of 1967. 2019 reflects at least a few decades, and perhaps, even a full lifetime; there are glimmers of light, hope, and peace – glimmers from the past, and of a more innocent, idealistic youth – but these shine out from a mature, darker view of the world.  

IV. Here and now: And yet, there is something about 2019 itself, as it unfolded in Israel. At the time of 2019’s premiere, Israel’s government was in an unprecedented situation. The year saw not one but two elections which failed to yield a governing coalition, and as audiences filed into Studio Varda in early December, the announcement of a third round of voting seemed increasingly inevitable. We are in a holding pattern: unable to move forward decisively, though time marches onward and decisions must be made. Meanwhile, the Israeli-Palestinian “situation” continues as “normal,” with Tel Aviv’s bubble briefly punctured by sirens indicating incoming rockets from Gaza on the morning of November 12. On this front, too, we are in a holding pattern: cycles of violence and fragile cease fires, a morally questionable status quo that is alternately upheld or upended by proclamations of building, annexation, sovereignty . . . 

V. Now, whether here or not: And yet, Naharin titled his work 2019, not Israel. 2019 – the year, though perhaps also the choreographic work – is not exclusively Israeli. The name 2019 obviates the necessity to translate or transliterate the title. We may all pronounce 2019 differently, but we do not need a multitude of alphabets to make it widely legible. And around the globe, 2019 had no shortage of political turmoil and impasses, conflict and violence, and -isms that threaten to rend relationships, dash dreams, and endanger lives.  

Batsheva Dance Company 2019

VI. Space and time: Reading 2019’s deployment of space and time as “here” and “now” provided the foundation for my initial reaction to Naharin’s creation. But excavating further, I found myself intrigued by the compositional workings of space and time in 2019. Naharin often talks about the interplay among many elements in his choreography, about the tensions and balances he creates for each world. If 2019 at first appears to amplify content, theatricality, and a more concrete and even obvious message, it can do so only because the form is meticulously crafted. Each element’s volume is subject to a plethora of precise adjustments so that alone or in tandem with other elements, the impact is powerful. Space and size: A stepping pattern is performed exuberantly, with loose-limbed strides propelling dancers through the space with a confident ease; now it’s marked nearly in place, just a hint of what was. Space and time: The glacial pace of a processional across the space sets off speedy, complex solos; protracted periods with little action provide room to digest the action – and challenge us to stay as alert as the dancers, ready to catch the next flurry of movement. Time: Time is stretched, with songs looped or slowed down nearly beyond recognition and compositional structures audaciously extended, matching the length of the audio tracks. Space, time, stillness, weight: From the beginning, the stage design draws us close to the dancers, underscoring our shared world – and the separation between performers and spectators breaks down towards the end of 2019 as the dancers climb into the risers. The volume of the movement is dialed down to total stillness when Hanoch Levin’s haunting text resounds through the space, each word delivered in an unhurried drone. In the absence of motion, these words carry more weight. There is time and space for them to sink in, and the unmoving mass of each dancer’s body lying corpse-like across the viewers’ laps amplifies the message.  

VII. Here? During the general rehearsal on December 2, a colleague turned to me and asked if I was familiar with the song to which the dancers were swaying and singing. It was, for growing up in a strong Jewish community in the U.S., “Hinei Ma Tov” was part of my repertoire from a young age. Likewise, I sang “LaKova Sheli” at Purim celebrations, and “BaShana HaBa’a” was a favorite at camp singalongs. I do, however, recognize the different relationship many Israelis have with these songs. And so I wondered: how would it be to watch 2019 with different eyes informed by a different upbringing in a different place? How do we as individual spectators, each with our own background, locate ourselves in relationship to the sights, the sounds, the content of a choreographic work that itself is so rooted in a specific place? Questions about viewership that swirled after seeing Venezuela flooded back to me, but with twists molded by the form and content of Naharin’s newest creation.   

Batsheva Dance Company 2019

VIII. Where? Although some of the Hebrew songs in 2019 were familiar to me, at other times I found myself wondering what language I was hearing. Were the slowed-down lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic, or another tongue? Does it even matter? Naharin offers a specific series of references, but there is universality beyond the specificity. This is the tale of our time in Israel, but it is also the tale of our time outside Israel. A flock of dancers weaving through the space, arms raised up, brings to my mind both prisoners of war and refugees, more a category and less a nationality; four women hanging from the wall of the set could be hanging from one of many walls erected around our globe. Rich with form and content, there is room for a layered reading of 2019 that does not require the viewer to be steeped in Israeli culture and society. The images resonate across context, across space, and across time. As 2019 comes to a close, as the second decade of the 2000s reaches its end, we live in a world that is rife with conflicts and challenges. As Naharin’s 2019 is born, as it begins its lifespan as a work of art and welcomes viewers to spend 75 minutes of their time in its space, it provides opportunities for reflection, on aesthetic and political grounds alike. 

IX. 2019: You will yet see, you will yet see, 
How good it will be,
Next year.”  
To a better 2020. Happy New Year.

Batsheva Dance Company 2019

Photos by Ascaf.

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Machol Shalem Dance House & the Suzanne Dellal Centre Present a Tribute to the Late UK Dancer and Director, Nigel Charnock

Posted on 06 September 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili

This is a guest post by Meredith Nadler.

In commemoration of the maverick and unforgettable performing artist, Nigel Charnock. 


Nigel Charnock. Photo by Hugo Glendinning.

The international dance world is greatly saddened by the loss of one of its most gifted and original artists as well as its most maverick and controversial performers with the untimely death of choreographer, dancer and director, Nigel Charnock. In 1986, together with Lloyd Newson, he founded the DV8 Physical Theater whose works over the next 25 years would revolutionize what we thought of as dance and theater. His pieces, especially his solos, deeply touched, inspired and often outraged audiences. The Arts Council of England hailed him as “a national treasure” while he was branded by London Metro newspaper as the “bad boy of physical theater.”  In 2011 he came to Israel at the invitation of dancer Talia Paz and the Machol Shalem Production House of Jerusalem to create 2 new works here in Israel, a duet and group piece. In mid-June, after completing the duet and back in the UK hard at work on his project 10 Men, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  On August 1st at St. Christopher’s Hospice in South London, Nigel Charnock lost his battle with the disease at the age of 52.


Nigel Charnock’s
Haunted by the Future. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum.

 As a tribute to this great man, on August 22nd the Suzanne Dellal Centre and BI-Arts of the British Council presented Nigel Charnock’s  final piece, Haunted by the Future, completed only months before his death. This posthumous premiere of his last new work left no one unmoved as it ran, and at times literally through the audience, the gamut of emotions – from tenderness to sheer rage. “Love versus Sex and Art versus Life” describes well this duet combining dance, theater and comedy and that brought the audience face to face with a couple at war, and yes – sometimes even in love. Michael Winter and Talia Paz, two seasoned and exceptional performers, tested to the limit their desires, needs and the illusions they have about being a couple. Love’s pitfalls and man’s vulnerability and egoism were narrated to hilarious effect through a succinct narration of Pop music favorites, from Motown classics like the 1964 Supremes’ “Baby Love” right through an array of anthems from the 80’s and 90’s.  Charnock’s Haunted… is in fact a high strung masterpiece, where the sinews of the pair’s relationship are pulled taut and not a moment goes by that extremes of brutality and fragility towards each other aren’t vying for dominance. The two repeatedly withdrew to opposite sides of the stage, where chairs, water bottles and towels awaited them, as if in a boxing match, only to begin sparring again after they had regained a semblance of composure and the courage to continue the fight. Michael Winter, with his verbal virtuosity and biting, comic flair, had the audience reeling as he deflowered the topical assumptions of a man’s role, duties and even his own virility. Modern day coupledom, that is in this piece meaning the expectations, ambitions and animosity that the opposite sex has in respect to one another, is put on display with a frankness and an absurdity that both enthralled and disquieted us.


Nigel Charnock. Photo by Hugo Glendinning.

The duet Haunted by the Future was followed by a special screening of Charnock’s One Dixon Road, an improvisational solo performed in Jerusalem last year in which Jerusalem itself is caught in brutal clarity by video artists Sascha Engel and Youval Landsberg. The video reveals in stark relief the volatile panorama of a city submersed in the tension of its religious and sectarian polarities. Fleeting glimpses of  the city awash in saturated colors frame for the viewer a most extraordinary landscape and people. Images known around the world are interspersed with everyday scenes that are compelling in both their ritualistic fever and urban mundaneness. True to form, Charnock’s solo relates this reality in a tour de force of spoken word and dance, served up in a satiric manner of a man who declares emphatically that there is no God. Religion, framed by him as a bamboozle, a sham, no more than a car salesman pitch aimed to the susceptible, is put on display as a forgery of love and faith. In his trademark improvisational style, he segues at breakneck speed from the holy, to the personal, to a comical dissection of the most familiar elements of dance, theater, cabaret and stardom.


Ofra Idel’s
Force Majeure. Photo by Hamutal Vechtel.

The evening’s program also included two more duets by Israeli choreographers. Force Majeure, choreographed by Ofra Idel and performed by herself and Danielle Shoufra, tantalizes the audience with a stirring intimacy in which the two women play out a relationship characterized by teasing, compassion and violence. Both possessing powerful presences, they physically test one another to the point of frequent discomfort as they struggle with each other along a journey of separations, reunions and final farewells.  Danielle Shoufra’s quest for self control, her belabored breathing, convulsions and repeated need for resuscitation, mark this piece with a lingering note of death and grief. With a rough and visceral movement language, the two grapple with each other and some unforeseen doom. Accompanying music is an eclectic mix which includes Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue and the Tarantella punctuated by a crystal clear soundscape of rattling chains and a brittle laughter that teeters between hysteria and mockery. Its rawness seems to push the performers to extremes and sometimes even over the edge, in moments that invoke confessions and narrowly aborted suicidal acts. This piece is dedicated to the memory of Tamir Natan, childhood friend of the choreographer, who died in a road accident in La Paz, Bolivia when she was just 21. Further performances of this work will be in Tanzania at the Visa2Dance Festival in October and at the Akko Dance Center later this year. A short film by Betina Fainstein and Lior Har Lev about this piece will be presented as part of a TV series on Jerusalem artists for Channel 8.


Nadar Rosano’s
Off-line. Photo by Kfir Bolotin.

The other Israeli work was Nadar Rosano’s Off-line, in which Nadar Rosano and Adi Wineberg dance a duet that resembles a duel of sorts between man and woman, with an almost constant drumming pace set by the two sidestepping in synchronized fashion throughout much of the piece. A series of choreographic recapitulations of well defined movement phrases emphasizes a routine which grows tenser with each repetition.  Control and a consuming drive to maintain it denotes an irreparable imbalance of power between the two dancers, with Adi Wineberg seeking flight and freedom with swift, deft movements but resolved to return and hold her own against her male counterpart. Music by Japanese ambient electronic artists Chichei Hatakeyama and Kouhei Matsungama serves as a backdrop of continuity which emphasizes the restlessness of their power struggle.  The hypnotic melodies and insistent rhythms that permeate the piece act as an atmospheric anchor, pinning down one under the dominance of the other. This piece can next be seen on September 29-30 in Nicosia, Cypress and in March of next year at the Zurich Tanzhaus.

Meredith Nadler is a Berlin based writer, critic, artist and choreographer. For more about her work, see YouTube videos:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6I_4QBNd0I and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyFRyfpGbY8

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Batsheva Dance Company: Ohad Naharin & Tabaimo’s “Furo”

Posted on 14 March 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Video: Excerpts of Ohad Naharin & Tabaim’s Furo, performed by the Batsheva Dance Company.

Nearly four years ago, I saw Furo – a collaboration between choreographer Ohad Naharin and video artist Tabaimo – when it was performed at Tel Aviv’s port.  Now Furo is back at Batsheva Dance Company’s Studio Varda in the Suzanne Dellal Centre from March 15-26.

Furo fascinated me in 2008, spurring me to write two posts at the time: one after attending the press conference and one after watching the performance on the day of its Tel Aviv premiere.  Both of my reflections are below, and ticket information for the current run of Furo is at the end of the article. 

* * *


Batsheva Dance Company in
Furo.  Photograph by Gadi Dagon.

The text below was originally published as “Moving Forward with Ohad Naharin’s ‘Furo'” on The Winger on May 14, 2008.

A question was asked in Hebrew, restated in English, and then translated into Japanese. This was part of the scene at yesterday’s press conference for Furo, a collaboration between Ohad Naharin and the Japanese video artist Tabaimo.

In the last two decades, Israeli choreographers – led by Naharin – have pushed the boundaries of their art form along with their foreign counterparts.  Furo continues this move forward.  Globalization, collaboration, installation, technology, and video art are some of the hot words right now, and every one of these terms can be used in a discussion about Furo.

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Batsheva Dance Company’s Mixed Bill: Yasmeen Godder and Sharon Eyal & Gai Bachar

Posted on 06 January 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Batsheva Dance Company in Yasmeen Godder’s The Toxic Exotic Disappearance Act

On first thought, Batsheva Dance Company’s new mixed bill seems an unusual choice of programming.  House (titled “Ha’avoda shel hofesh” in Hebrew) by Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar is a natural pick, since Eyal has served as the troupe’s house choreographer since 2005.  The first half of the evening, however, belongs to someone from decidedly outside of the Batsheva fold: Yasmeen Godder.  Godder is not a complete stranger to Batsheva, having created Green Fields on the Ensemble in 2000, but her The Toxic Exotic Disappearance Act is the first work by anyone other than Ohad Naharin or Eyal to be performed by Batsheva in several years. Beyond the novelty of a guest choreographer working with the company, the combination of these particular artists initially seems to be an odd coupling.  Were I to make a family tree of contemporary dance in Israel, Godder’s branch would be far away from that of Eyal and Bachar.  Indeed, aesthetically, these creators occupy nearly opposite ends on the art form’s spectrum.

Yet watching the performance at Suzanne Dellal on January 4, this pairing started to make sense.

For all their stylistic differences, Godder and the team of Eyal and Bachar do have one key trait in common: they are artists who are audacious and provocative, in the best senses of those words.  Rather than play it safe, these creators unabashedly delve into the realms of the twisted, the disturbing, and even the grotesque in their repertory.  Rarely have I heard anyone deliver a lukewarm review of either Godder’s or Eyal’s work; indeed, it’s practically impossible to not react strongly to their choreography.

Yasmeen Godder’s The Toxic Exotic Disappearance Act.  Photograph by Gadi Dagon.

Batsheva’s mixed bill of Godder’s The Toxic Exotic Disappearance Act and Eyal and Bachar’s House may not be an aesthetically cohesive evening. But it’s savvy programming, for each dance has the capacity to leave a significant impact on the audience – and together, these electrifying works outline the range of contemporary dance in Israel today.


Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar’s
House. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Batsheva’s new program continues at Suzanne Dellal in Tel Aviv through January 7 and returns from January 18-20.  Additional performances are scheduled later in the season; for more details, please visit Batsheva’s website.

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Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s “Animal Lost”

Posted on 25 July 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Trailer for Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s Animal Lost, with the original cast

“It started from the fact that we wanted to have more shows in Israel,” Yossi Berg remarks of the decision to create a second cast for Animal Lost. Berg and his partner, Oded Graf, premiered the work in Copenhagen with an international cast in 2010, and the full-length production has since made a splash with performances at prestigious venues ranging from the American Dance Festival to Montpellier Danse in France. Yet juggling the schedules of the standout cast members, who work as freelance artists throughout Europe, proved a formidable impediment for mounting regular shows in the choreographers’ home country. Recounts Berg, “We would like to keep running the piece on a regular basis in Israel, because it’s quite new and it doesn’t make sense that we are invited all over the world and we are performing all over the world but not here, which is our base. This is how we started the idea of making another cast.”

Now Israeli audiences who have heard the buzz from abroad will get their chance to catch the wildly popular production with locally-based dancers as part of the Suzanne Dellal Centre’s Macholohet (SummerDance) festival on July 29-30. Two of the dancers joining Berg and Graf on the Inbal Hall’s intimate stage are Israelis Ofir Yudilevitch and Ayala Frenkel. Completing Animal Lost’s second cast – and keeping the mix international in flavor – are Olivia Court Mesa and Rosalind Noctor, more recent additions to Tel Aviv’s contemporary dance scene. The new group has a different balance of gender and nationality than the original cast, but ultimately, Berg and Graf believed that these individuals could form the dynamic, cohesive ensemble that drives the dance theater production. “We felt that all these four people have very beautiful energies, and from our experiences, it’s very important to work not only with artists but with people who are very nice and have their unique personalities,” reflects Berg.

Animal Lost by Yossi Berg and Oded Graf. Photo by Christoffer Askman.

While developing Animal Lost with the original ensemble, which continues to perform abroad, Berg recalls, “We dealt a lot with stereotypes and clichés. There’s some truth in this, but also, at the same time, it can be nothing, it can be nonsense. And this gap is interesting.” Restaging the work on the new cast has enabled Berg and Graf to dig further into the subject, to pose questions anew and to discover novel perspectives with this different group of performers. Berg acknowledges that resetting Animal Lost spurred him to search inside himself to find what he wanted to pass on to the dancers, a process that will no doubt enrich his own interpretation of the work.

Audiences returning to the piece may also notice some slight changes, since the co-creators strove to make the dance fit for the local ensemble. Yet the structure has remained the same, and so too has much of the text in which performers proclaim their nationalities, religions, occupations, and hobbies. With some of the declarations based on those made by the original dancers, the tensions between fiction and truth or expectation and reality are heightened, adding an additional layer to this cast’s exploration of cultural stereotypes. Noting that “some things were true and some things were not” in the first cast’s text as well, Berg explains, “We work a lot with this line of how you reach this place that you present it as if it’s true. . . . Some things have the potential of being truth, and these are the places that are important for us to present as reliable, because here we touch the deep place of the subject that we are dealing with.” As the dancers remove their masks on stage this weekend, they will reveal faces that are fresh to Animal Lost, but even in their debut, they are likely to go beneath the surface and probe the production’s theme to its core.

More Information

The new cast of Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s Animal Lost will perform at the Suzanne Dellal Centre on Friday, July 29 and Saturday, July 30 at 20:30. Tickets are available at 03-5105656.

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