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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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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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A Perfect Storm of Dance

Posted on 10 December 2013 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Tel Aviv Port

 The view from the port.  Photo by Judith Brin Ingber.  

This is a guest article by Judith Brin Ingber.  

The sea was stormy today as I walked along the seashore to get to the Suzanne Dellal Dance Center from Jaffa where I’m staying. It’s the first full day of the extraordinary International Dance Exposure, in its 19th year of bringing dance presenters, producers, performers too from all over the world to see Israeli dance. I wondered what kind of dance gales or becalmed ideas would I see?

According to last night’s audience barometer the dance that swept everyone off their feet was Hillel Kogan’s We Love Arabs. In reality John Kerry has traveled again from DC to Tel Aviv for negotiations, but we heard a different kind of story told with spoken text. “I’m not really into text,” said Hillel chatting non-stop as the audience roared, hardly interrupting his musings about how he feels certain parts of the space reject him as he works, about how hard it is to occupy one’s space and keep one’s identity….the dance duet played out with humor for the wrong assumptions we make, for the naïveté of politics, for what a choreographer takes and demands from the dancer — is there a metaphor here? Two of the funniest images? Hillel says there should be outside symbols of who was the Arab and who the Jew and gives his young charge a black pen. The obvious Magen David symbol with its two interlocking triangles is drawn on Hillel’s blue t-shirt. But where to put a symbol on the young Arab dancer’s black shirt? Hillel goes for his forehead and the Arab dancer asks, “What did you draw?” Hillel holds up his fingers in a half moon shape, “You know, the ummmm, the crescent…” “Yes but I’m a Christian.”  The audience roared at the confusion. Text and dance interlocked as the two flipped into and sashayed out of each other’s supposed sides. A bowl of hummus appeared and Hillel slathered their faces with it, beard and all, since it’s something in common both cultures love. Then he hopped off the stage and sardonically passed out pita with hummus to the audience members sitting down in front.

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 Hillel Kogan’s We Love Arabs.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

All 135 guests from 28 countries plus 8 cultural attaches and perhaps some of the diplomats who attended the opening of International Exposure were bused to a new performing space in the old Jaffa fishing port the first afternoon. We saw seven different choreographers’ works before busing back to the dance center. Clearly the International Exposure is one of the reasons for the interest in Israeli dance all over the world — I have spoken to presenters from Senegal, Russia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Germany and that dance country known as New York, plus words of Korean, Swedish, Chinese, Italian and many others swirl around as we wait to get into studios and theatres big and small.

This doesn’t count all that we might see today and tomorrow… Countless rules and expectations are upended in this Festival as the storm of dance pours over us.

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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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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