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Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance, edited by Judith Brin Ingber

Posted on 14 December 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Image courtesy of Judith Brin Ingber.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance ever since writer and editor Judith Brin Ingber first sent me a table of contents.  When I finally met her in person last year at the Modern Jewish Experience through the Lens of Dance conference at The Ohio State University, she whetted my appetite for the anthology even more with her slide show of images from the book.  And now, having carefully read through my copy of this sizable volume, published this past summer by Wayne State University Press, I can vouch that this book was well worth the wait.  For those of us who study the field – and for those who wish to know more about the subject – Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance is an invaluable resource.

Besides a few of Brin Ingber’s own writings, this anthology includes an extraordinarily diverse array of writers: Sara Levi-Tanai, Felix Fibich with Judith Brin Ingber, Janice Ross, Nina S. Spiegel, Josh Perelman, Ayalah Goren-Kadman, Dawn Lille, Shalom Staub, Giora Manor, Zvi Friedhaber, Barbara Sparti, Yehuda Hyman, Jill Gellerman, Dina Roginsky, Elke Kaschl, Naomi M. Jackson, and Gaby Aldor.  Some of these authors are themselves dancers and choreographers who offer their first-person insights, while others approach their topics from a scholarly point of view.  This breadth of voices is one of the book’s greatest strengths, engaging the reader anew with the start of each article.

Moreover, with writings by such a substantial number of authors who boast different areas of expertise, Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance provides perspectives on a remarkably wide range of subject matter.  Articles on Jewish dancing masters in Renaissance Italy, Israeli folk dance as practiced in Israel and New York City, Hasidic dance, Yemenite dance, Kurdish dance, Ethiopian dance, ballet, contemporary dance, and more all find their place in this book.  Spanning history and geography, and encompassing dance performed both onstage and off, the anthology portrays a broad yet nuanced vision of how Jews have danced and continue to dance.

In keeping with the title of the book, Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance features not only texts but also a wealth of images.  182 illustrations illuminate the authors’ points.  You can view some of the images and hear Brin Ingber’s explanations in the video produced by the Jewish Daily Forward below.

Images of Jewish & Israeli Dance from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.

Since the publication of Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance, Brin Ingber has embarked on a series of book signings and lectures, and her travels have now brought her to Israel.  On Sunday, December 18, she will speak at the Dance Library of Israel at 8:00 p.m.  Entrance is free, but due to limited seating, reservations should be made by e-mailing [email protected]

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Batsheva Dance Company: The Evolution of Ohad Naharin’s “Sadeh21”

Posted on 14 April 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Photo: Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Watching Batsheva Dance Company in an open rehearsal of Ohad Naharin’s latest creation, I was keenly aware that evolution is at play.  Sadeh21 – literally Field21 – is roughly 6 weeks into its genesis, and it is scheduled to premiere at the Sherover Theatre as part of the Israel Festival in Jerusalem on May 25, 2011.  Dressed informally in their own clothes, the troupe’s twenty members showed a sizable segment of the work to a crowd of journalists in Studio Varda on April 13.

During a few sections, Naharin called out instructions to the dancers, highlighting the element of change that is part and parcel of the creative process. And indeed, in the six weeks between now and its premiere, Sadeh21 will no doubt undergo many changes. What we writers will see in May will bear a resemblance to its forerunner, but it will look decidedly different. Onstage, there will be choreographic sections that we have not yet viewed and alterations to what we did watch – additions, subtractions, refinements. Naharin noted that he and the cast have paid special attention to the interpretation of the work, which will certainly deepen with time. And in the theater, Sadeh21’s full staging will be revealed, including lighting by Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi) and costumes by Ariel Cohen.

Photo: Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Yet even at this early point of its development, Sadeh21 is rich with layers.  The composition juxtaposes solos and duets with larger ensembles, clean lines and formations with an organic chaos that, when featuring all twenty dancers, brings to mind the image of children gleefully tearing across a playground.  Sometimes a particular structural motif surfaces, the clarity of form enhancing the strength of a section as it unfolds.  And throughout, the movement captivates and surprises.  Bodies extend to their furthest points and then contract, speedily changing shape with seemingly no preparation and referencing motions both familiar and novel.  These dancers may have the same flesh and bone makeup as the rest of us, but at times they appear to be pure liquid, poured into constantly shifting molds.

Naharin’s movement language, Gaga, has been used as a toolbox throughout the construction of Sadeh21, and traces of the ideas explored in classes are visible to viewers who have taken Gaga.  Several women slink into their own gentle grooves before periodically convening to start a small gesture in unison – clapping, tracing a circle in the air with one finger, making a fist and punching, pushing the pelvis upwards from a crablike crouch.  Keeping the same tempo, the dancers gradually increase the size of the movement until it is as big as possible, enlisting more and more of their bodies until every part is contributing to the effort.  While the movement can be silly, it is sophisticated, imbued with pleasure in the discovery of new options and laced with humor.  Both a woman pattering offstage on all fours with her tail in the air and a man hopping across the space with one leg tucked up flamingo-style bring a smile to my face; a woman rhythmically lifting her hips in a long and winding march endears herself to me.

It’s not just the clever, sometimes lighthearted physicality that stirs my feelings in this version of Sadeh21.  The interactions between the dancers – from simple looks to tender clasps of hands to more intricately designed contact – resonate with a range of emotions.  And when a man tilts his face up, assumes an optimistic expression and high-pitched tone, and verbalizes sweetly in an invented language, I can’t understand what he is saying.  But I am nevertheless drawn to him, and I find myself responding with laughter, affection, and a touch of concern as he is forcibly removed to the side of the stage.

Photo: Ohad Naharin’s
Sadeh21. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Somehow, the emotional power of the dance seems closer to the surface in Sadeh21, more readily available and potent than in some of Naharin’s recent creations such as MAX (2007) and Hora (2009).  From this viewing, it seems that the work may share the epic tone and theatrical prowess that enthralled audiences in Naharin’s earlier productions for the Israel Festival, including Kyr (1990) and Z/na (1995).  It may well be that in Sadeh21, Naharin has gathered the fruits of his artistic research over his twenty-one years at the helm of Batsheva – the more overtly dramatic sensibility that characterized his large-scale works from the 1990s and the cornucopia of physical possibilities gleaned through Gaga – and married them together.   Sadeh21’s own evolution will continue in the womb of the studio during the next six weeks, and knowing Naharin’s ongoing engagement with his creations, the work will certainly change further as it lives in performance.  I for one am interested in seeing the dance in its next developmental stages – and in contemplating its place in Naharin’s artistic evolution.

Performance Information

Batsheva Dance Company will premiere Ohad Naharin’s Sadeh21 during the Israel Festival at Jerusalem’s Sherover Theatre on May 25-27, 2011.  Additional performances include May 31-June 4 (Herzliya Performing Arts Centre), June 5 (Modi’in Performing Arts Centre), June 9-11 (Suzanne Dellal Centre), and June 13 (Carmiel Performing Arts Centre).

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Dance Today – A Resource for Dance Lovers in Israel

Posted on 09 April 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

The cover of the second edition of Dance Today.  Courtesy of Ruth Eshel.

Dancers and budding researchers often ask me where they can find more writing about dance in Israel.  One of the most invaluable resources I have drawn upon here is Machol Achshav, known in English as Dance Today – the dance magazine of Israel. Published since the year 2000, the journal not only reflects upon the development of Israeli contemporary dance over the last decade but also features articles about other genres ranging from folk dance to ballet, approaches to dance pedagogy, and dance history both in Israel and abroad. 

The cover of Dance Today 17. Courtesy of Ruth Eshel.

The 19 issues of Dance Today published to date have included articles by well-known authors including Dr. Ruth Eshel (the journal’s founder and editor), Dr. Henia Rottenberg (who co-edited volumes 14-18), Gaby Aldor, Dr. Dina Roginsky, Dr. Dan Ronen, and Giora Manor.  Although Dance Today is primarily a Hebrew-language journal, each issue also includes an article in English.

To read through the index of Dance Today, which includes both the articles fully translated into English and the English titles of articles which appear in Hebrew, click on the link below to download a Word document.

English index of Dance Today 1-19

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Choreographer Ze’eva Cohen at the Dance Library of Israel

Posted on 06 March 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

It’s not surprising that as I shifted my focus from ballet to modern dance and began researching both in the U.S. and Israel, I repeatedly came across Ze’eva Cohen’s name. Cohen started her illustrious dancing career in her native Tel Aviv, performing with Bimat Machol and Anna Sokolow’s Lyric Theatre. In 1963, she moved to New York where she studied at Juilliard and appeared as a soloist in Sokolow’s American troupe. A founding member of Dance Theater Workshop, now one of the most prominent institutions in New York’s downtown scene, Cohen launched her solo dance repertory program in 1971; during the next twelve years, she toured the globe, performing not only her own compositions but those of more than twenty artists. She expanded to a group format in 1983 with the establishment of Ze’eva Cohen and Dancers, and she was also invited to work internationally as a guest choreographer, at times returning to Israel for engagements with the Batsheva Dance Company and Inbal Dance Theater. Besides enthralling audiences as a performer and choreographer, Cohen became a pioneering dance educator, creating and directing the dance program at Princeton University.

After years of reading about Cohen’s achievements, I finally met the artist in person last month during the conference Modern Jewish Experience through the Lens of Dance. Introducing a video of her duet Negotiations (2000) for the opening session and later delivering an inspiring, insightful reflection on the Jewish and Israeli aspects of her work, Cohen proved to be as compelling at the lectern as on the stage.

This initial encounter piqued my interest even further, and now I – along with local dance enthusiasts – can look forward to an evening with the artist at the Dance Library of Israel on Thursday, March 10. In a program starting at 8:00 p.m., Cohen will show video and discuss her work as a dancer, choreographer, and founder of Princeton University’s dance program. Places are limited, and spots can be reserved by contacting the library at [email protected]

The Dance Library of Israel is part of the Beit Ariela library on Shaul Hamelech 25 in Tel Aviv.  Doors open for the program at 7:30 p.m.

Can’t make it to the library on Thursday? Get a glimpse of Cohen’s talent in the video excerpt below:

Video: Ze’eva Cohen and Aleta Hayes in Cohen’s Negotiations

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Liat Dror of Adama: Dancing from Tel Aviv to the Desert

Posted on 23 June 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Download the podcast (You can right-click the link and press “save as” to download the file to your computer.)

Liat Dror.  Courtesy of Nir Ben-Gal and Liat Dror.

(This podcast was initially produced for Israel Seen in 2008.  You can subscribe to this podcast using the iTunes software by clicking this link to the podcast feed.)

The several hour trek south from Tel Aviv to Mizpe Ramon in the Negev desert is tiring, but at the end of the journey is a refreshing oasis: Adama, an extraordinary dance center created by Liat Dror and Nir Ben-Gal.   I first experienced the magic of Adama during a two-day visit in January 2008 and was thrilled to return in April 2008 for some more dancing and an interview with each of these choreographers.

I interviewed Liat after she taught a dance class for the Adama school’s students, the company members, a group of photography students visiting from Sderot, and a few “tourists” like myself who had dropped in for a few days.  The mixture of people was as unique as Adama itself.  Intrigued?  Join us as Liat talks about how she and Nir forged a new path in Israeli contemporary dance, moved to the desert, and developed an innovative approach to healthy, healing movement.

* * *

Adama’s dancers rehearsing in April 2008.

Adama is currently gearing up for a busy summer: the company runs a summer course from July 12-17 and a teachers’ course from July 25-28.  Visitors may also enjoy Adama’s Magic Summer Night from July 16-17, which includes a performance of the company’s latest work.

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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.

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