Archive | Dance Histories

Gazing Anew at Jugs, Curves and Maps

Posted on 08 January 2014 by Deborah Friedes Galili

This is a guest article by Judith Brin Ingber.  

Besides the fact that Suzanne Dellal Dance Centre brought together more than 130 international personalities interested in dance Dec. 4-Dec. 8, what I saw brought me to some new thoughts and quandaries.

Of course one person couldn’t possibly watch all the dance offerings in large and small spaces (starting in the morning and lasting past midnight), nor could one meet all who came from such far distances. I’m always curious about political perspectives, dance tastes and choreographic motivation, what someone else thinks are the ideal and the practical, plus who executes the choreographic intentions effectively in performance. Some of these concerns I talked about with a dashing woman from a big festival in Eastern Europe, and the gallant, elderly director of a theatre in southern Europe who gave me a picture postcard of his most beautiful 18th century theatre. The comments were far different with a radio personality who spoke Arabic as well as several European tongues, English and Hebrew—she’d grown up in North Africa and fled a hostile situation against Jews when she was young. She was upset and left one of the dances described below; her responses to what she saw were decidedly different than a Broadway dancer I also spoke with who’d graduated to handling a big American university theatre.

Politics come up all the time in Israel, but just this morning in conversation with dance writer Gaby Aldor, she mentioned that politics aren’t necessarily a defined political act or obviously from the right or the left– it could be an action of everyday life. But after watching a few of the new performances I wondered about politics from several different points of view: what were the politics of the presenters watching the dances and how might they affect what the international presenters bring to their venues? In fact, the issue of what is overt and what subversive, what is clear to us viewers and what is not became more and more interesting. Obviously political was Arkadi Zaides’s 4 Years 4 Projects 40 Minutes presented in one of the Centre’s studios. Once an acclaimed Batsheva dancer, he’s left behind the demands on an extraordinarily accomplished company dancer for Naharin dances in favor of his own highly individualized post-technique moves. We sat on the floor in front of two large screens. Zaides sat on a chair with a microphone in hand and typed papers he later read from in English.  Rather than a live performance we saw a video of Zaides dancing, in regular guy garb, his movements distorted and agonizing to watch. Next to the large screen showing his relentless moves was another showing a loop of video clips he’d chosen from an archive of the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights. Program notes indicated he was strict in choosing only clips “recorded by Palestinians” that “portray Israelis only” seeking, he wrote, to map the movement of the human body in the “local reality of ongoing conflict and emergency in Israel/Palestine.” We seemed to be peeping at roadways and some separation barriers or yards with encounters recorded in everyday shots, sometimes parents with children, sometimes religious Jews with soldiers. It was hard to understand what the incidents were about with no context. All the while, on the screen to the right, Zaides’s convulsive movements pulled his body askew in disturbing ways. He read a monologue about being a refugee himself and how he was searching for ways of connecting  “political and personal spheres.” After the presentation, I got to talking to a presenter at Zaides’s performance who mentioned his own facial scar from barbed wire. Without asking where was his encounter with the barbs, I knew they weren’t from a cattle ranch in the Western U.S.  A different presenter had walked out and later told me she didn’t agree at all with what Zaides was presenting.

I sat in a much bigger audience for the second afternoon of the Festival in a surprising place. How much of a political act was it that we were bused to a new alternative space outside the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre? Not as comfortable as their main hall because it’s an unheated proscenium theater but it’s a daring cooperative venture, controlled by dancer/choreographers within a huge old building known as the “hanger.” In one of the Old Jaffa Port’s weathered warehouses, it opens out to the sea. Just because I was sitting in the “hanger” I had the odd feeling that a plane might swoop down with the gulls and come right in. But I settled down to watch several dances, and I want to disclose that my politics agreed with those in the dance Bodyland. I was delighted with what Oded Graf and Yossi Berg choreographed, for 5 men including the choreographers plus Soren Linding Urup, Pierre Enaux and Robin Rohrmann.  Before they began speaking to the audience (in English) I could imagine from their names in the program that some of the cast were European. By their accents and autobiographical comments, we learned the dancers were Israeli, Danish, French and German.  The mélange of comments were put together with movement to humorous as well as physical and political effect.

'BODYLAND' by Yossi Berg & Oded Graf, photo Christoffer Askman

 Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s Bodyland.  Photo by Christoffer Askman.

All kinds of unexpected things happened in an almost childlike, nonsensical way: balloons attached to fingers and toes of one of the dancers making an extraordinary, colorful bouquet before rocketing off or an inflated, enormous Mylar arm shape joined by a gargantuan inflated pair of silvery hands (designed by Sille Dons Heltoft) engulfing the dancers. The first performer came onto the stage in gym shorts, t-shirt and silver high-tops. He started a cumulative movement routine about body parts, talking and pointing out “heart, brain, butt” with comments, some morphing into self-deprecation. Some Jewish audience members could personally relate to his aside “I hear my nose is too long.”  Eventually four men in their work-out shorts and gym shoes join him in jumping rope, a sequence as staggering a show stopper as 32 whipping fouette turns from Swan Lake. Flawlessly they jumped and jumped, their ropes beating an unceasing rhythm before beginning to talk in their different accents—the Frenchman saying as he pulls up his shirt, “This is the welcoming face of France,” then pointing to one of his nipples reporting “this is my home town.” The audience laughed from the unexpected comments. The Dane explained where is Copenhagen as if his bare torso also was the map of his country.  Movements accompanied the repartee with a remark that “Since the creation of the European Union it has become very flexible.” The commentary got a little more provocative and cutting as the two Israelis indicated on their bodies how enmeshed is the map here, including a certain male part to stand for the territories. True invention ran amuck as one explained where is there a bakery and where is the Western Wall, while one mooned the audience. Legs and body parts entangled with outstretched arms evolving into an obvious reference to the sacrifice of Jesus. Through daring, physical originality we then witnessed a recapitulation of the original body parts: “butt, brain, heart, cheek.”  Now however, we saw them as locations in a “bodyland” map that had taken us on a journey we could not have imagined.

Dancers at second Dalia Festival

Dancers at the second Dalia Festival.  As pictured on page 111 of pictured in Judith Brin Ingber’s book Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance.

The Festival showed so many different solos and group pieces by women and about women that it caused me to think about womanhood anew. It used to be in the 1920s and 1930s and even in early days of new Israel in the early 1950s through the early 1960s, decorative arts and dances showed young women with jugs on their heads or held on their hips. The jugs tied to ancient Biblical stories of matriarchs at the well, and symbolized renewed Jewish life on the land. (These thoughts were crystalized for me when visiting a recent Haaretz Museum exhibition on jugs and young women.) Classic Israeli dance choreographers like Yardena Cohen and Sara Levi-Tanai plus countless folk dance creators evoked these thoughts too. Nowadays however that image of an Israeli woman no longer fits. Instead the dances are posing questions about what are the expected and unexpected roles for women, and how do choreographers approach femininity and feminism? Many dances we saw dealt with different phases and ages of women. I report below on a few that struck me.

Mr. Nice Guy

Anat Grigorio’s Mr. Nice Guy.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

I was instantly caught up in the solo called Mr. Nice Guy by the outstanding dancer/choreographer Anat Grigorio. It graphically or should I say choreographically and performatively dealt with the politics of The Male Gaze as it’s come to be known. What is the effect of the male looking at the woman and objectifying her? In this case, we in the audience are captivated watching Grigorio dancing in her chic, black, backless short dress, sometimes covered with a lush leopard coat. She tries over and over to physically answer the demands of a guy for whom she’s apparently auditioning. With no set to soften what we see and no music to distract us from the voice, we watch Grigorio trying to please the demanding voice. She changes her body and her dance to fit his directions. His disembodied cloying voice is relentlessly demanding and asks what seem to be impossible moves and positions.  Amazingly, she succeeds as she’s led into faster and faster executions of more and more grueling shapes and phrases. We cheered for her at the end for two-fold reasons: to buck up the maligned and underappreciated woman we had seen auditioning and also to cheer the superb dancer that is Grigorio who has such pizzazz and an extraordinary technical facility.

A different view of women altogether but still related to the Male Gaze was Michal Herman’s Plan B. It began with two women also on a bare stage—Herman and Inbal Shahar. They were perfectly dressed and coifed as old fashioned stewardesses in high heels in belted and elegant suits (was that in the 1950s or 1960s that women looked like that?). They showed us exits with the conventional stretching out of arms and pointed figures to direct our gaze. These gestures were also to a voice over, but it turns out the directions were not for exits in an airplane, but for the theatre where we were seated. Suddenly there was a black out and when the lights returned, we were presented with the Present. The stewardesses were now two young women dressing as modern dancers, the audience laughing at their transformation from elegance to rags as they pulled on leg warmers and stretched t-shirts, so different from their previously perfect lady-like looks. We watch them effortlessly fulfilling the directions of the teacher-director-male voice, “improvising” he says. The demanding voice causes them to show familiar movements necessary to master in dance today, aping contemporary class movements (even images that come out of Gaga classes, in fashion today).  They seemed to be showing us pages from a current dance manual. Through wit, clever costuming and moves, we watched how young women are expected to look and move, transported through a portal of time from past to present in a satiric, very successful piece.

Many dances showed the difficulties and challenges that could arise as time goes by in a woman’s life. These might include: does she accept herself? Will someone else accept her? What might have been true in other eras? What is true for her in the moment? In Yasmeen Godder’s See Her Change a figure is set apart as she ages. Or, is she questioning how to accept her aging body in her dance profession? Three dancers — Dalia Chaimsky, Shuli Enosh and Yasmeen Godder –- performed on a messy stage littered with costume pieces, a dressing table and a patchwork of ideas, the sections, seemingly casually presented. There was strutting in high heels, then shuffling in clogs, coffee cup in hand, changes of clothing topped off with wigs, or not, boas and pieces of clothing off and then on, hung up on the stage curtains, or not. A child’s voice is heard saying “mama, mama” but the lead character is too distracted to respond; instead there are silent screams, chocking gestures and many repeated movements pulling scraggily hair unhappily across the face.

Instead of obscuring the face, obscuring the hair was the subject of a more modest piece, Hat with a Feather choreographed by Tami Izhaki for the all-women Nehara Dance Company shown in one of the studios.  I was fascinated with its originality and have been pondering a situation it portrays for observant Jewish women. We are introduced to four young women and one older in demure pastel colored pantaloons or dresses. Two primly walk next to each other and we realize their braids are attached as if they are Siamese twins. Their movements are therefore circumscribed, one skirting only just so far around the other, their heads held just so. Another young woman perches mermaid-like on the floor, trying to rise but as she moves, we notice her big toe is entangled in the end of her incredibly long braid. Her foot jerks her head backwards menacingly whenever she tries moving, her extremely arched backward position a marvel. The demands of her hair stretch her head towards her foot in painful-looking pulls. A mother figure arrives, seemingly to straighten things out, first flicking off some awful sounding music, and corralling the young women. She matter-of-factly demonstrates how to properly adjust a long scarf over one’s hair to conceal all of it as required by strict Jewish code once a woman marries. On the one hand she frees the braid from the young woman’s foot, but the freedom is circumspect. Another young woman struggles and is tamed through the reins of convention and traditional expectations. She is finally crowned; the hat with the feather ending the moves for self-sufficiency and bringing modesty.  In truth, the five accomplished dancers practice traditional Judaism exploring through their dancing some of the challenges of their observance. The Hat with a Feather serves them well.

Much more menacing was Cassandra, the duet by Ronit Ziv, based on Aeschylus’ texts about Cassandra’s power of prophecy cursed by disbelief from others. The paradox begins when we confront two dancers standing with their backs to us. We assume they are naked on top with their bare torsos, their flowing skirts incongruous in their fullness. When Gefen Liberman and Sofia Krantz turn, however, their nipples are taped over with wide black swatches. It was a hideously disturbing look throughout as I watched their torsos freed of clothing yet marked with the terrible tape.  Even though their torso movements were so articulate, they were stifled and marked. The two moved often in unison leading me to believe they were two sides of one, reaching one way and the other in their yearning madness –huge reaches of limbs whether stretching in their uprightness or pulling on the ground in one direction and then another. Are we watching something of the dark and painful state, maybe even a feminine flaw dealing with uncomprehending, authority figures who ignore and refuse to accept what is present, never mind what might happen in the future?

Other dances were also disturbing and unsettling on the same subject of womanhood. Atom by Oded Zadok and Kazuyo Shionoiri with animation by Neta Canfi was enhanced by extraordinary shadow puppetry enacted by the two choreographers. But it was a cruel depiction of a submissive wife who never figures out an alternative to her doomed life.  All we watch happened to her in her kitchen and bedroom. In Ich Bin Du by Ella Ben-Aharon and Edo Ceder, the two choreographer/dancers sometimes showed a Madonna figure that was needed but repulsive. Aging was also the thrust of two pas de deux in a collaboration between Ido Tadmor for himself and Elwira Piorun. Danielle Agami’s Shula danced by women in the Batsheva Ensemble remains a fascinating piece in my memory. Young women making a real salad, and serving dinner for each other, carrying on with life as they straighten enormous upturned structures that transform into tables and chairs, literally straightened things out for one in their social group. Another voice over in English harasses a young woman listening on the phone to her supposed lover’s sarcastic, cruel remarks: “Call me in April to remind me of your birthday in May” he says. Her apt moves with dismissive flicking legs, or crashing off upended benches and crawling into others showed her state of mind.  The young women help each other in understated moves that literally still carried weight and showed us they would manage, unlike some of the other women characters we had seen in other dances.

I began to wonder why were there so many dances with male voice-overs? And why were the voice-overs in English? I asked one of the choreographers if there were versions in Hebrew for Israeli audiences.  “No,” he slowly said, surprised, “Dance is so international and performers come from all over to work in Israel, so English suffices for all of us from all over, and besides, audiences here, too, all understand English.” Is that a political statement, I wondered? Who in Israeli audiences is left out from fully understanding the layers of a dance if the language projected is English? Does it also represent something of the invasive style of America and her expectations? I couldn’t get away from the feeling the sound scores were created with foreign audiences in mind, ready for tours abroad.

I don’t remember voice in the sound score created by choreographers Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s for their group dance Dust performed by their company of eleven on opening night of the festival. It wasn’t outwardly political, nor about the plight of women, filled with the choreographers’ signature plethora of imaginative images. Real dust invades everything on earth, so perhaps they thought that justified the endless unearthly images? The set was enchanting with a door upstage that opened to let in a flood of dust motes like children in odd school uniforms of white caps and white knee-length gowns. These unruly children in their classroom sat at their desks, a stymied teacher barely managing in stuttering steps, often crossing the room to no effect. The desks collapsed with odd legs, others were up-ended and transformed into spinning flip books of animated images; others were projected on the upstage wall (by Roni Fahima and Shimrit Elkanati). Through the door odd characters emerged, a boneless figure oozing to the floor and canes of the blind tapping as many pushed in through the classroom door. The canes became lines of structures and suddenly we saw a construction, a house, invaded by the children/dust.  Whether seen or not, the ubiquitous dust motes in the hands of Pinto and Pollak took over all the space in an orchestra of originality.

After watching so many dances, another set that stood out was the askew playground in Nadar Rosano’s Asphalt, a broken down bench and slide inhibiting the dancers’ freedom and possibilities.  Another set piece was a bird’s nest in Idan Cohen’s Songs of a Wayfarer to Gustav Mahler’s music of the same name.  It became a surprising mask, blinding the solo dancer in a evocative piece that connected the choreographer to his European-born grandmother, who suffered from the Holocaust despite a life of freedom afterwards in Israel. Rami Be’er’s Undividided Void for his Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company had a monumental set for his evening length piece featuring a sensual figure (Renana Randy) sought after by all the men—in a beige leotard she was sometimes seen in a raised space outlined by a metal frame upstage—showing off parts of her sinewy torso undulating in alluring ways; at first there was one wooden panel also placed upstage, opposite the screen. I misunderstood it to be an empty bookshelf, as if culture and history were missing in the rush of movement and aggression. The sensual figure came down off her pedestal, out of the shadow box even becoming a regular figure in the crowd. Sometimes however she was threatened and sometimes she was danced with lovingly—was she the old sides of the desired but the object to discard? Or just a part of all of us? Whatever the murky meaning to her, the oddest part of the dance to me remains the set. More and more wooden sections were brought in by stagehands during the evening, standing them contiguously, upright along the perimeter of the stage. The wooden panels did add a warmth and a sheen as the stage lights bounced off the wood.

One could never level triteness as a criticism of the dances presented at the Festival, but repeated movements did cause visual fatigue. Of course there are arabesques, turns and deep knee bends in many dances, but when a gesture seems specific but then pops up in many dances, it loses its punch. Unfortunately the sequential bending backwards requiring virtuosic control by the dancer became a matter-of-fact accomplishment as did a sudden swirling to the floor in sudden dramatic falls. Nonetheless, profound originality in a myriad of dances (often dealing with womanhood, the politics of place and coping with everyday living) confronted me in so many of the dances. Based on my impressions and what I’ve tried to describe of the extraordinary International Exposure 2013, the foreign presenters who came to Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance the Theatre have provocative and thrilling choices for their audiences world wide.

Judith Brin Ingber lives in Minnesota but returns often to Israel to teach dance history and to catch up on dance performances.  She lived in Israel from 1972-1977 teaching apprentices for the Bat Dor and Batsheva Dance Companies. She also choreographed a program for young audiences for Batsheva, assisted Sara Levi-Tanai at Inbal Dance Theater, and co-founded the first dance magazine with Giora Manor called The Israel Dance Annual. Her recent book, Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance, was published by Wayne State University Press. 

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Mr. Gaga: Tomer Heymann Casts His Lens on Ohad Naharin

Posted on 16 December 2013 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Still5 - 600

 Photo still from the film Mr. Gaga.

Filmmaker Tomer Heymann released Out of Focus the same year I arrived in Israel to research the country’s contemporary dance scene.  I still recall excitedly watching a DVD of the documentary, which offered an inside look at Ohad Naharin’s process as he worked with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet on a staging of Deca Dance.  Between clips of Gaga classes and rehearsals – which were themselves both revealing and compelling – Heymann interspersed footage of refreshingly honest interviews with his sometimes reluctant subject.

Heymann’s fascination with Naharin continued, and now, with his brother Barak as producer, he is completing an ambitious and far more comprehensive documentary about Naharin.  The title?  Mr. Gaga, a clever play on Naharin’s movement language and the pop diva of the same name (for those wondering, the choreographer chose the name Gaga years before the singer became an international phenomenon). In the trailer below, the Heymann brothers – along with special guest Natalie Portman and Naharin himself – discuss the film and the significance of this project.

Trailer of Mr. Gaga

As the brothers attest, this documentary is a major undertaking, and in order to fund the completion of the film, the pair launched a Kickstarter campaign.  Week after week during the campaign, the Mr. Gaga team has released tantalizing teasers that testify to this project’s great importance.  Not only has Heymann captured Naharin’s masterful choreography in performance, but he takes the viewer into Batsheva Dance Company’s studios and into Naharin’s personal life.  Some clips have highlighted humor, joy, and camaraderie during rehearsals; others have focused an unwavering lens on more challenging, emotionally fraught moments.

Beyond the scenes that Heymann and his team have filmed, the director has also amassed a veritable treasure trove of archival footage hearkening back to Naharin’s youth on Kibbutz Mizra, his stint as a performer in the Israeli army, and his early professional life.  The sneak preview below reveals what happened in 1974 when Martha Graham came to choreograph for Batsheva Dance Company, where Naharin was then an apprentice.

Sneak preview of Mr. Gaga

With more rare footage like this, Mr. Gaga stands to make a substantial contribution to the historical record while offering an intimate and in-depth look at one of today’s most acclaimed choreographers.

The Heymann brothers’ Kickstarter campaign is welcoming support from around the world through January 4, and they are rewarding contributions with a variety of souvenirs including either a download or a special-edition DVD of the finished film.  For more information, visit the following websites:

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The Revival of “Two Room Apartment” – An Interview with Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor

Posted on 29 November 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili

It is a truism that dance is the most ephemeral of art forms. When a dance performance is over, there is no concrete art object left behind for posterity; instead, the dance lives on in the minds of the viewers and the bodies of the performers. Yet these traces are fragile and temporary in nature. Once a dance is no longer in active repertory, it is in danger of being lost forever.

Working against the inevitable passage of time, dance professionals have long engaged in the act of reconstruction to bring new life to older dances that have disappeared from the stage. The formidable process of re-creating and re-embodying a dance raises a slew of questions. What is the essence of the dance? What sources do you consult, and when there are multiple versions of the dance – whether in the form of notated scores or videos or memories of previous performers – what rendition do you privilege? What is your goal in reconstructing this work? How do you respect the past while recognizing that this work must now live and resonate in the present? What contemporary relevance do you find in this dance? How do you bring yourself to roles originated by dancers who lived and trained in a different time with different norms?

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor faced these and other questions as they embarked on their reconstruction of Nir Ben Gal and Liat Dror’s iconic Two Room Apartment (1987). With little precedent in the sphere of Israeli concert dance, the couple forged ahead into unknown territory and emerged with an innovative production that lays bare the complexities of their project. Prior to the work’s premiere, Niv and Oren sat down with me to discuss their process.


Oren Laor and Niv Sheinfeld in
Two Room Apartment.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Q: How did this project start? Do you have anything you want to say about why you chose Two Room Apartment?

Oren: For quite some time we’ve had a desire to create a duet for ourselves, to meet each other on stage. Then we thought, “What, do we go into the studio now and talk about our relationship and try to create something out of it?” It didn’t feel right. We wanted a text that was premade, something that we can mold and play with. It might seem like a paradox, but we felt that choosing material that is not ours will enable us to get close and find each other. We thought the duet [Two Room Apartment] would be a good piece to dive into because of what it enables.

Niv: I even see it as a play, some kind of score that we can refer to, and we can give it our own twists, ideas, and interpretations. For me there is also a personal attachment to Nir [Ben Gal] and Liat [Dror] – I started my dancing career as a dancer in their company between ’92 and ’97.

In terms of Israeli dance, this work had been very significant. After this, the whole dance scene in Israel changed. This work was presented dozens of times, all over the world. It had a relatively long life span, and it triggered a lot of interest.

Oren: I want to add another perspective. I think there are many similarities between Nir and Liat’s artistic statement in this duet and what Niv and I are seeking in our own creations. I think we share the same kind of vision and desire of what we want to give to our audience. We’re trying to reduce, to be more minimalistic as a means to peel off layers that will expose the core. Not to show how tons of money can be poured onto the stage, not to present immortal gods on stage, but the other way around: we are mortal, what you are witnessing is temporary, and it is present only here and only now. We seek simplicity, and this duet was very simple and humble to begin with.


Oren Laor and Niv Sheinfeld in
Two Room Apartment.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Q: Niv, going back to what you touched on regarding your performing career with Nir and Liat, how is it for you to dance Two Room Apartment now? How does it connect physically with what you had done with Nir and Liat in their company?

Niv: Some basic principles in terms of plié, release, falling to the floor, free movement, energetic movement, and psychological behavior in movement – these are all things that I grew up on in their company, and so it felt very natural to get into this work, which is based on those elements. I felt at home in terms of the movement.


Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor in Two Room Apartment.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Q: Had you seen Nir and Liat perform Two Room Apartment live?

Niv: Yes. I saw it before I joined their company, and Oren saw them on stage three years ago when they did it at the Gvanim [Shades of Dance] in 2009. But they only did the first ten minutes of the work and that’s it.

Oren: It really blew me away. They were, of course, not young anymore, not in shape anymore – still, it was so fascinating to watch the simplicity and humbleness of them doing these repetitions of what seem to be everyday gestures. I felt, “Wow! This is so new; this kind of thing is still missing so much from our stages.”


Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor in Two Room Apartment.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Q: Let’s talk about the process you have been going through in bringing this work to the stage today.

Oren: We went to the dance library in Beit Ariela, and we took all the material about Two Room Apartment from that time: interviews with Nir and Liat, reviews, reflections on the work. It was important for us to gather as much information as we could about what Nir and Liat thought the piece was about and what the critics thought the piece was about.

Niv: There was also this book that we bought – Preservation Politics – that looks into past reconstructions of dance works. We wanted to learn more about how other artists dealt with reenactments that they did. Then we went to meet Nir and Liat in the desert, to conclude this legitimacy that they gave us in recreating the work the way we want. They told us to feel free to change whatever we want in the recreation. They were generous and they trusted us; we are very thankful to them for that. We also asked them, “What do you think this duet is about?” Liat said, “For me, it’s about two people: when are they alone, when are they together. That’s the basic thing.”

Oren: “Solitude versus togetherness.” I liked that they didn’t speak about the dancing. They spoke about the idea behind it – not that the dance should be so-and-so and the movement should be so-and-so, but about the issues that stir the action onstage from underneath.

Niv: After that, we took the video, and we started working from the video. We had two versions on video. The first version was from 1987 from Shades of Dance. That video was edited, which meant we sometimes had problems learning the material because we couldn’t see all of the body. And then we had one other version that I had found. It was one of their last performances of Two Room Apartment. It’s from 1996 in Berlin at the Podewil. We took a lot from the ’96 version because they had updated small things in it.

I think the main thing for us during the process was to find the key to our own apartment. The process raised many questions for us, and we kept some of them onstage as part of the performance. So there is actually this tension throughout the work between artistically processed material and raw, in-between moments of reflection on what we just did.

Oren: It was really important for us to avoid – by all means – putting a dinosaur onstage just to show how beautiful it was. This is not the aim of bringing it back. After running the work several times exactly like Nir and Liat performed it, we realized that it was not going to work. It was going to be a dinosaur; it was going to be a museum to this work. We had to do something to infuse it with our own awareness: if we’re doing this, we are going to do it our way. This was the second phase of the process – liberating ourselves from the image of Nir and Liat performing the duet, and exploring our own language inside the basic structure.


Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor in Two Room Apartment.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Q: How are you, Niv and Oren, similar onstage in this work to Nir and Liat, and how are you different? How are you being yourselves in this? Where are there similarities, and where do you diverge from who they are in the piece?

Oren: Two months before the premiere of the work, after having copied all the material from the video and running it several times in the studio, we confronted a crisis. The movement was not ours, the nuances were not ours, the behavior was not ours – it was all theirs. We couldn’t tell whether we were being ourselves or representing Nir and Liat. It was elusive. But it was not only the question of who we are but also questions of artistic choices; some of the choices made in 1987 are not convincing for us today anymore.

So we decided to open up the work for improvisation in the studio. We took the liberty to cut material; to change and re-arrange material; to play with musicality, intensity, and speed; and to insert our own variations on Nir and Liat’s material. We also allowed ourselves to talk during the work if we felt we needed it. Scene by scene, we injected our own sensibilities and our own sense of authenticity into the work.

For example, in the original version there was a seduction scene in which Liat walks over to Nir and starts undressing him in an erotic way, leaving him in his underwear and shoes before walking away. We, on the other hand, had a totally different approach to this scene. We sought emotional, non-sexual intimacy in that moment, so we re-directed the scene. I strip to complete nudity in front of Niv and then climb into his arms like a child seeking comfort and protection, and Niv carries me and moves slowly, as if he is putting me to sleep. This scene became such an intimate scene for us that we couldn’t even leave the original soundtrack untouched; we needed to bring something that we will deeply relate to, something that is “our” music. So we decided to use Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

Niv: The fact that we are two men on stage – and they are a man and a woman – is by itself a major difference. Elements such as energetic output, nuances, balance, and tenderness all yield to a different set of expression and behavior when it comes to two men with high testosterone levels. The original work reflected on the issue of gender by looking into the eternal battle of the sexes; we, on the other hand, reflect on the issue of gender by looking into the relationship of two people of the same gender.
We also decided to have the public sit around the stage and not in front of it. We wanted to share our intimacy with the audience, and the proximity to the stage allows them to watch every detail and every nuance.

I would say that generally the process developed in three stages. First we had to re-write the text of the work in our bodies, and when we finished that stage, we were a representation of the text that Nir and Liat wrote. We were being “them.” In the second phase we decided to improvise, change, and allow talking while we move or in between movement sequences. We could speak about everything and ask any question that ran in our minds. This situation enabled two layers: one was their score and the second was our reflection. In the third phase we fused these two elements into what today came to be our version of Two Room Apartment.

Performance Information

Two Room Apartment will next be performed at Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv on December 7, 2012 at 14:30 and 20:30.  For tickets call 03-5611211.

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My book (Contemporary Dance in Israel) has been published!

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili

If you have wondered why I have written less on this website lately, it is in large part because I have been pouring much of my time into several other large-scale projects.  Last year, I wrote a book – and today, I am happy to announce that Contemporary Dance in Israel has been published by Asociación Cultural Danza Getxo!

While there are other books about the history of dance in Israel as well as journals and anthologies featuring articles about the country’s contemporary dance, this is the first book in English fully devoted to one of the world’s most vibrant contemporary dance scenes.  Composed of short sections about choreographers, companies, festivals, theaters, and other organizations, the book introduces newcomers to Israeli contemporary dance and enables readers familiar with the field to learn more about leading artists and institutions.

You can learn more about my book on a new website designed as a multimedia companion to Contemporary Dance in Israel.  There you can find short videos of works discussed in the book as well as links to the websites of choreographers, companies, festivals, theaters, and other organizations.  And of course, if you want to read the book itself (and I hope you will do so!), you can buy the English version of Contemporary Dance in Israel at the following links:

I am very excited about publishing my first book, and I would love to hear any thoughts you have about it either in comments on this blog post or through e-mail and Facebook messages. If you would like to like to help me by spreading the word to other dance fans on Facebook or through e-mail, I would greatly appreciate it! And if you are interested in hearing me lecture about my research, please use the form below to contact me.

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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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