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Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga

Posted on 21 September 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Ohad Naharin's "Hora"
Rachael Osborne and Iyar Elezra in Ohad Naharin’s Hora. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

I first wrote the article below for the Forward last winter, when the Batsheva Dance Company toured North America in three large-scale productions.  Now, right before New York audiences catch Ohad Naharin’s duet B/olero in City Center’s popular Fall for Dance festival, I decided it was time to revisit this piece.

Fall for Dance features an array of internationally-renowned companies, and while Batsheva has boasted a world-class reputation since its inception, its style and structure have changed dramatically over the last few decades.  This article, originally titled “Going Gaga for Batsheva in America,” traces Batsheva’s transition from a strongly American-influenced company to the more distinctive troupe which has captivated contemporary audiences.

Going Gaga for Batsheva in America

Since its first tour of the United States in 1970, Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company has won over American crowds and critics alike with its energetic approach to dance.  At the time, it was, perhaps, a novelty: an Israeli group performing primarily American repertory with unbridled verve and vigor.  But in the past 18 years, the company has become a phenomenon of a different sort.  The Batsheva Dance Company, which is currently crisscrossing North America, is widely recognized as one of the world’s top dance ensembles, featuring audacious choreography with inventive movement.

Founded in 1964 with the financial backing of Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, Batsheva began as a repertory company in the American mold.  Martha Graham, a founding mother of American modern dance and a beneficiary of de Rothschild’s patronage, served as artistic adviser.  The Israeli dancers trained intensively in Graham’s technique and channeled both their physical power and their emotional passion into some of the choreographer’s most acclaimed works. With many of Graham’s disciples contributing to Batsheva’s repertory, the Tel Aviv-based company was part of American modern dance’s family; New York Times critic Clive Barnes even called Batsheva’s members “the Israeli children of American dance” upon seeing the company’s American debut.

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Behind the Scenes at Gvanim: Shades of Dance Festival

Posted on 17 March 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Michael Miler's "Speed of Light"

Michael Miler’s The Speed of Light will be performed in program 1 of Shades of Dance.  Photograph by Eyal Landesman.

Last Saturday night was chilly and wet, but despite the discouraging weather conditions, I bundled up and trekked down to the Suzanne Dellal Center.  Choreographer Micheal Miler of Haifa’s Sigma Ensemble had invited me to a rehearsal for the Shades of Dance festival (called Gvanim in Hebrew).  Shades of Dance is mounted biennially, and since last year was an off year, I had effectively been waiting to attend the festival for over a year and a half.  A little rain wasn’t about to stop me from this special sneak peak.

Since its inception in 1984, Shades of Dance has showcased artists who are relatively fresh to the field of choreography.  It has helped launch the careers of some of Israel’s best-known choreographers including Yasmeen Godder, Inbal Pinto, Emanuel Gat, Ronit Ziv, Barak Marshall,  Renana Raz, Shlomi Bitton, Anat Danieli, Itzhik Galili, Sally-Anne Friedland, Yossi Yungman, Tamar Borer, Liat Dror and Nir Ben-Gal of Adama, Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al of Vertigo Dance Company, and Yoram Karmi of Fresco Dance Group.

Perhaps this is why my anticipation of this festival feels different: I can’t help but wonder what new choreographic voices will be revealed this year.  A mind-boggling 80 dances were submitted to the festival’s selection committee, composed of artistic director Hanoch Ben Dror with Ya’ara Dolev, Sally-Anne Friedland, Renana Raz, and Niv Sheinfeld.   I’m looking forward to seeing what sets the 10 chosen works apart from their competition when the 15th Shades of Dance festival opens this week.

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Home Port Festival: 54 Choreographers in 33 Concerts at the Jaffa Port

Posted on 11 March 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Choreographers Association

The choreographers of the Amuta in Jaffa for the Home Port Festival.  Photo by Dorit Talpaz.

The first hint that something big was happening in Israel’s concert dance scene was an e-mail from Yossi Berg and Oded Graf about their upcoming performance schedule.  One listing mysteriously said that the duo was presenting Heroes at the Jaffa port for a choreographers festival.  Choreographers festival?  In Jaffa?  Many dance festivals here are annual ones, and I didn’t remember anything like that from last year.

Next I started to see some Facebook events popping up, with choreographers including Hillel Kogan, Noa Dar, Shlomit Fundaminsky, and Niv Sheinfeld & Oren Laor inviting friends to attend performances at the port during March.   My curiosity grew as the number of choreographers involved increased.

Finally, Yasmeen Godder pulled me over before class one day and told me I should look into a very exciting, unprecedented event: the Home Port festival.  As I talked more with her and followed a few leads, I found out that this was, indeed, something big.

The Home Port festival was initiated by the Amuta (which translates as the Choreographers Association or the Choreographers Society), an umbrella organization for fifty-four independent choreographers who draw from styles as varied as contemporary dance, flamenco, and belly dance.  Working outside of the country’s larger companies, these established choreographers are responsible for much of Israel’s flourishing concert dance scene – and all of them will present their creations in thirty-three different concerts over the next four weeks in a hangar at Jaffa’s port.

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