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

Posted on 16 December 2013 by Deborah Friedes Galili

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 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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International Exposure 2012: Showcasing Israeli Dance

Posted on 04 December 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s
Black Fairytale.  Photo by Sharlota Hammer.

It’s time for an annual ritual in the world of Israeli concert dance: International Exposure.  From December 5-10, arts presenters and journalists from around the globe will view a substantial amount of the dance productions created in Israel over the last year.  This is International Exposure 2012 by the numbers: in its 18th year, the 6-day festival will showcase 39 choreographers in 27 performances for over 100 guests from abroad.

Beyond these impressive numbers, several Israeli choreographers are marking major milestones at this event.  Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al are celebrating 20 years of their Vertigo Dance Company, Rina Schenfeld is celebrating half a century of creativity, and Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar – who in recent seasons created repertory for Batsheva Dance Company and major international companies – are introducing their new troupe, L-E-V, to the world.

Below is a schedule of International Exposure 2012.  While there are also private studio showings in addition to these listings, most of the performances mentioned are open to the public, with tickets available at the Suzanne Dellal Centre and Tmuna Theater’s box offices (Suzanne Dellal: 03-5105656; Tmuna: 03-5611211).  And if you’re not in Israel, you can still get a glimpse of the International Exposure lineup by viewing the video trailers.

Wednesday, December 5

After an opening celebration, guests of International Exposure will enjoy a program celebrating Vertigo Dance Company’s 20th anniversary in Suzanne Dellal’s main theater at 20:00.  The first evening will be capped off at 22:00 with Shelly Alalouf’s Megida in Yerushalmi Hall.

Thursday, December 6

The second day of International Exposure starts at 10:00 at Suzanne Dellal with the Be’ersheva-based Kamea Dance Company in Status, choreographed by artistic director Tamir Ginz.


Video: Kamea Dance Company in Tamir Ginz’s Status

Guests will then travel across Tel Aviv to Tmuna Theatre for the afternoon.  The programming begins at noon with Dafi Altabeb’s Sensitivity to Heat.


Video: Dafi Dance Group in Dafi Altabeb’s Sensitivity to Heat

After a short lecture about Israeli dance by dance scholar Gaby Aldor, the afternoon continues with a mixed bill including excerpts from Renana Raz’s YouMake, Remake series, Michael Getman’s Face to Face, and Idan Cohen’s 3 pieced swan, op. 1.


Video: Renana Raz introduces YouMake Remake


Video: Michael Getman’s Face to Face


Video: Idan Cohen’s 3 pieced swan, op. 1

Back at Suzanne Dellal, Tamar Borer presents BOHU, a collaboration with Tamar Lamm, in the Yerushalmi Hall at 17:00.


Video: Tamar Borer’s BOHU

In Suzanne Dellal’s main theater, the Orly Portal Dance Company will perform Portal’s Rabia at 19:00.  Then Vertigo Dance Company will offer artistic director Noa Wertheim’s Birth of the Phoenix outside on the theater’s plaza.


Video: Vertigo Dance Company in Noa Wertheim’s Birth of the Phoenix

The second day closes with Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s Black Fairytale at 22:30 in the main theater.


Video: Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s Black Fairytale

Friday, December 7

Friday kicks off at 10:00 with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company performing artistic director Rami Be’er’s If At All in the Suzanne Dellal Hall.


Video: Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Rami Be’er’s If At All

After meeting Rina Schenfeld, who is currently celebrating 50 years of achievement in dance with photography and video exhibition, guests will continue to the intimate Inbal Theatre for C.A.T.A.M.O.N.’s performance of Elad Shachter’s Trilogy.


Video: C.A.T.A.M.O.N. in Elad Shechter’s Trilogy

At Tmuna Theatre at 14:00, Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor present their reconstruction of Two Room Apartment, originally choreographed by Nir Ben Gal and Liat Dror in 1987.


Video: Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor in their reconstruction of Two Room Apartment

Returning to Suzanne Dellal, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar unveil their new company – L.E.V. Live Entertainment Vultures – in House.  A shorter version of House was premiered in December 2011 by Batsheva Dance Company.

Video: Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar present L-E-V in House

In the Inbal Theatre at 19:00, the Moving Hold Group presents Year of the Hare, with choreography by Efrat Rubin and animation by Osi Wald.  The program also features Ella Ben-Aharon and Edo Ceder’s Pericardium.


Video: Moving Hold Group in Year of the Hare


Video: Ella Ben-Aharon and Edo Ceder’s Pericardium

Studio Varda will host a showing of Land Research by Arkadi Zaides and his collaborators.


Video: Land Research by Arkadi Zaides and collaborators

At 22:00 in Suzanne Dellal Hall, the Holon-based Fresco Dance Group will perform artistic director Yoram Karmi’s Cerebrus.


Video: Fresco Dance Company in Yoram Karmi’s Cerebrus

Finally, at 23:00, guests will be able to screen the new film Let’s Dance in Yerushalmi Hall.

Saturday, December 8

The morning begins at Suzanne Dellal with mixed bills featuring selected works from the annual Curtain Up festival.  The first program at 10:00 includes Dana Ruttenberg’s Armed, Eldad Ben Sasson’s Strange Attractor, and Noa Shadur’s We do not torture people.


Video: Dana Ruttenberg’s Armed


Video: Noa Shadur’s We do not torture people

The second program includes two works from Curtain Up – Gili Navot’s May Contain Nuts and Roy Assaf’s The Hill – along with Talia Paz and Mike Winter’s performance of Nigel Charnock’s Haunted by the Future.


Video: Gili Navot’s May Contain Nuts


Video: Roy Assaf’s The Hill


Video: Talia Paz and Mike Winter in Nigel Charnock’s Haunted by the Future

Next, FENIX Dance Company and the National Youth Theater present Offer Zaks and Marria Barrios’s Anne Frank in the Inbal Theatre at 15:00.


Video: FENIX Dance Company in Maria Barrios and Offer Zaks’s Anne Frank

The Jerusalem-based Kolben Dance Company performs Amir Kolben’s Kmehin at 17:00 in Suzanne Dellal Hall.


Video: Kolben Dance Company in Amir Kolben’s Kmehin

Some guests will travel to Yasmeen Godder’s studio in Jaffa to view a work in progress by the choreographer.  Then the festival continues at Inbal Theatre at 20:00 with Rotem Tashach’s Paved Life.


Video: Rotem Tashach’s Paved Life

Rounding out Saturday’s programming at the Suzanne Dellal Hall at 22:00 is Maria Kong Dancers Company in Talia Landa’s Open Source.


Video: Maria Kong Dancers Company in Talia Landa’s Open Source

Sunday, December 9

Some guests will tour Jerusalem during the day.  In the evening, the Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company presents Goldfish at the Yerushalmi Hall at 19:00.


Video: Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company in Goldfish

After a farewell reception, the festival closes at Suzanne Dellal at 21:00 with the Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance.


Video: Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance

Monday, December 10

While the festivities in Tel Aviv are over, some guests will travel to Nir Ben Gal and Liat Dror’s Hangar Adama in Mizpe Ramon.  There, they will see selections from the Other Dance Project, a festival for young choreographers produced by the Suzanne Dellal Centre this past summer.  The program will include Tvika Izikias and Shiri Kapueno Kvanz’s Tarab, Hanania Szwarts’s No flesh will dwell, Nadav Tzelner’s Anything goes, and Dorit Guy and Zeev Yelinik’s [email protected].   The Nir Ben Gal and Liat Dror Dance Company will also present Up Chi Down Chi.


Video: Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal Dance Company in Up Chi Down Chi

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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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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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