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Contemporary Israeli Dance Week in New York City

Posted on 07 June 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s Heroes.  Photo by Tamar Tal.

Contemporary Israeli Dance Week in New York City

by Stacey Menchel Kussell

With world renowned choreographers like Ohad Naharin, Yasmeen Godder, and Inbal Pinto, over sixty registered dance groups and many more emerging artists – Israel has become a powerhouse in the world of modern dance. While Israeli contemporary dance companies have been headlining prominent European dance festivals for years, many Israeli choreographers are still unknown in the United States. New York’s Contemporary Israeli Dance Week, June 8-12th, 2011, is going to change that.

The festival, a five-day event including performances, video presentations, and community classes, profiles nine of Israel’s up-and-coming dance groups – Arkadi Zaides, Idan Cohen, Yossi Berg & Oded Graf, Maya Brinner, Maya Stern & Tomer Sharabi, choreographers based in Israel; and Deganit Shemy, YelleB Dance Ensemble, Netta Yerushalmy, and LeeSaar Company, based in New York City. The dance films featured are by the “D for Dimension – Animative Videodance” project – a collaboration between three leading Israeli professional schools of dance, photography, and video.

The LaMaMa Experimental Theatre Club (E.T.C.), a home to New York avant-garde theater since 1961, will fittingly host the performances as part of its LaMama Moves Dance Festival, an annual international dance showcase. Created by the late Ellen Stewart, the LaMaMa E.T.C. is a world renowned cultural organization that seeks to nurture and support performance work by artists of all nations and cultures.

YelleB Dance Ensemble.  Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

“There is really an intense and pervasive energy in Israeli contemporary dance right now,” says Edo Ceder, who is both a producer and a dancer in the YelleB Dance Ensemble. “This series will feature both Israeli choreographers based in New York and in Israel, and will be an opportunity for the U.S. to see our work represented as a community. By exhibiting both emerging and more established artists at a venue like LaMaMa we can show the full range and texture of what is really happening in the field.”

Arkadi Zaides’s Quiet.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

While each artist investigates diverse topics in their choreography, all of the works involved in the series are in some way about pushing past boundaries. Arkadi Zaides’s internationally acclaimed Quiet, a quartet that features two Arab and two Jewish men, will make its U.S. premiere at the festival. The piece explores the concept of communication and delves into the tension of the Arab-Israeli conflict that Zaides feels is “imprinted on the body” of everyone in the region. “There has been such an emotional reaction to the piece,” explains Zaides, “it has opened up so much discussion about the need for dialogue–the need to talk, and to not be in silence, just ignoring our issues. I’m excited to show the piece and open it up to the New York audience.”

Idan Cohen’s My Sweet Little Fur.  Photo by Ran Biran.

Idan Cohen, who will present his solo My Sweet Little Fur, is also enthusiastic for this opportunity to connect with the American audience. He feels that his choreography, like many of his peers, is a coping mechanism for the confusing elements of his environment: “There is a lot of commotion in Israel – diverse people with diverse convictions who live in a very confined space. Our dance helps us articulate our identity.”

Maya Brinner’s Red Ladies. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Maya Brinner, whose Red Ladies, will also make its New York premiere, feels that while she is challenged by her surroundings, she is also nurtured by a very supportive artistic community. Before creating her own work, Brinner performed with Noa Dar and Emanuel Gat, and studied at the Jersualem Acadamy of Music and Dance. She recognizes the importance of the excellent training available in Israel, and the great foundation the bigger companies like the Batsheva Dance Company have established for the country. Many of the dancers in the New York festival have trained or danced with Batsheva and studied with its director, Ohad Naharin. Naharin’s influence on Israeli contemporary dance has been profound, and even choreographers with different movement styles have felt his effect.

“I think we all owe a great deal to Ohad for paving the way,” says Maya Brinner who will show her work in the festival. “But, I also think this dance week in New York is an opportunity to see how far we’ve come. There are many companies in Israel now, and new projects are sprouting up all the time. We are greatly supported by our government and local arts programs, and have also received great praise for our performances in Europe and Asia. Contemporary Israeli dance has really come of age.”

The festival, produced by Edo Ceder, Michal Gamily, and Hila Kaplan, is the first Israel focused dance event of its kind in the U.S., and has plans to develop into an ongoing tradition. “We don’t expect to change the world with one festival,” says Ceder. “But we do hope to make an introduction and foster dialogue. We want to show others the variety and the power of the dance that comes from our nation.”

Contemporary Israeli Dance Week runs June 8-12, 2011 at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. 74A East 4th Street (btw Bowery & 2nd Ave) New York, NY 10003. For more information call: 001 212.475.7710 or go to www.lamama.org

About the Guest Author

Stacey Menchel Kussell received her Master’s degree in European and Mediterranean Studies from New York University. She has previously written on the Mediterranean experience of the Holocaust, and the Jewish community of Spain. Her work has been published in the Jerusalem Post, The Forward, and Presentense Magazine. Her current project examines contemporary Israeli dance.

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Contemporary Israeli Dance Week: Gala in New York

Posted on 22 January 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Quiet by Arkadi Zaides. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Heads up, New Yorkers!  In June, a wave of contemporary dance from Israel is coming your way as part of the annual La MaMa Moves Festival.  The city is already home to an astonishing number of Israeli-born choreographers, and La MaMa’s celebration will include five of these New York-based artists and groups: Deganit Shemy, LeeSaar The Company, Netta Yerushalmy, YelleB Dance Ensemble, and Neta Pulvermacher.  But the Contemporary Israeli Dance Week mini-festival is also scheduled to feature a stellar line-up straight from Israel.  Yasmeen Godder, Arkadi Zaides, Idan Cohen, Maya Brinner, and the team of Tamar Borer and Tamara Erde will offer a glimpse of the latest in Israeli-made productions, and master classes will give New York dancers a taste of what’s happening in local studios.

On Monday, January 31, a gala evening featuring Deganit Shemy, LeeSaar The Company, Netta Yerushalmy, and YelleB Dance Ensemble will be held at La MaMa E.T.C. (Experimental Club). The gala is a fundraiser for the Contemporary Israeli Dance Week, and more information about tickets can be found at the festival’s website.  For those of you who can’t make it to the gala, here’s a sneak peak at the festival with clips of works by Godder, Zaides, Cohen, Brinner,and Borer and Erde.


Video: Preview of Contemporary Israeli Dance Week

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Maholohet: SummerDance 2010 Heats Up at Suzanne Dellal

Posted on 29 June 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Batsheva Dancers Create

The Batsheva Dance Company’s dancers might have cooled off at the beach to make this video, but this July, they – and many of Israel’s finest dancers – will be heating up the Suzanne Dellal Center’s stages during SummerDance 2010.  The annual festival, called Maholohet in Hebrew (a play on the words for “dance” and “hot”), will take place from July 1-August 31 and boast 84 performances.

Nuevo Ballet Español.  Photo courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

This year’s programming kicks off with a festival within the festival.  From July 1-10, Madrid Dance will showcase Spanish dance including the Antonio Najarro Dance Company, Nuevo Ballet Español, Sharon Friedman and Jesus Pastor, and Pastor and José Marino.  More international guests arrive later in the summer with dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet performing their own creations in Incidence Choreographique and with the Black Light Theatre from Prague in Africania.


Video: Rachel Erdos’s OU’ premieres at SummerDance 2010

As in previous years, premieres abound at SummerDance.  This year’s bounty, totaling 19 new works, will include premieres by Dana Ruttenberg, Kamea Dance Company, Tamar Borer and Tamara Erde, Portal Dance Company, DaNaKa Dance Group, Yoni Soutchy, Idan Sharabi, Ronit Ziv, Sigal Ziv, Elina Pechersky, Rena Schenfeld, Dafi Altebab, Mami Shimizaki, Sharon Vazanna, Anat Grigorio, the Jerusalem Ballet, and Rachel Erdos.  Sahar Azimi, Elad Shechter, and Ido Tadmor offer pre-premieres, and Yaniv Cohen’s work will be shown in its Israeli premiere.

Arkadi Zaides’s Quiet.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

For audiences who missed some of this year’s most intriguing premieres, SummerDance offers a second chance to check them out.  Among the offerings are Arkadi Zaides’s Quiet, which recently returned from a tour of Europe, as well as the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Rami Be’er’s Infrared, Fresco Dance Group in Yoram Karmi’s Particle Accelerator, Kamea Dance Group in Tamir Ginz’s SRUL, Kolben Dance Company in Min-Hara, and Animato Dance Company in Nadine Bommer’s American Cinema. Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s Rushes Plus and Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Z/na 2010, both highlights of the last season, combine excerpts of older works in a strikingly new context. And Vertigo Dance Company presents not only its recent hit Mana but also White Noise and the now classic Birth of the Phoenix.

Batsheva Dancers Create.  Photo by Yoav Barel.

Several evenings pop out from the schedule with a mixture of interesting fare.  This year’s festival includes Batsheva Dancers Create, an annual workshop featuring two programs of Batsheva’s dancers in an array of their own choreography.  Another intriguing evening is Noa Dar’s presentation of her recent Anu alongside a work-in-progress, Banu, which is the extension of her previous creation.  And audiences will have a chance to sample a combination of choreographers when established artists host up-and-coming contemporary choreographer.  These programs include Dana Ruttenberg and Shlomit Fundaminsky hosting Neta Ruttenberg and Uri Shafir; Sahar Azimi hosting Elad Shechter and Yaniv Cohen; Dafi Altebab hosting Mami Shimizaki; and Idan Cohen hosting Sharon Vazanna.

Beta Dance Troupe in Meeka Yaari and Ruth Eshel’s Fathers and Sons. Photo by Ofer Zvulun.

SummerDance 2010 also features several companies and choreographers that add an ethnic flavor to the Israeli concert dance scene.  Beta Dance Troupe blends Ethiopian traditions with contemporary choreography in Meeka Yaari and Ruth Eshel’s Fathers and Sons as well as Adam McKinney and Daniel Banks’s What We are Saying. Rona Bar-On, Sigal Ziv, and Elina Pechersky bring belly dance to the stage, while COMPAS, Silvia Duran, and Tania Vinokur offer variations on flamenco.  Adding to the mix is Bangoura, an African dance company that will perform The dance of the drums.

Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Want to attend a dance performance with your family?  Several family-friendly programs are dotting this year’s bill, including the Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot, Kamea Dance Group in Or Abuhav’s The Ugly Duckling, COMPAS in Carmen and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Noa Dar Dance Group in Children’s Games.

Rounding out the programming are several critically acclaimed works created in recent years, including Yasmeen Godder’s Singular Sensation and Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s Four Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer, and evenings of work by independent choreographers including Iris Erez, Shlomi Frige, Maya Levy, Michael Miler, and Michal Herman.

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Exploring Israeli Society through Dance at International Exposure 2009

Posted on 02 January 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Video: Promo for Arkadi Zaides’s new Quiet

As guest writer Brian Schaefer wrote in his article, for most visitors from abroad, International Exposure is a veritable “crash course” in Israeli contemporary dance.  For me, however, International Exposure serves another purpose.  Since I’m now intimately familiar with both the scene as a whole and with the artists themselves, this festival provides an unparalleled opportunity to consider developments in the field over the last year.

While Brian rightly noted that the vast majority of works in International Exposure did not overtly address the Israeli context, a few works did tackle issues in Israeli life – and as someone who has seen the vast majority of contemporary dance created in Israel since 2007, I can vouch that this is a notable shift.  Out of all the dances I watched during my first two years in the country – a number which easily surpasses 100 and probably nears 200 – I can probably count the number of works which explicitly examine Israeli culture and society on less than two hands.  Most of them, such as Renana Raz’s We Have Been Called to Go, were works that had premiered in previous seasons; while I saw this dance on stage, I had to seek out other works such as Yasmeen Godder’s Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder on DVD.  Indeed, when I saw Hillel Kogan’s Everything at Exposure in January 2008, its focus on Israeli machismo was such a revelation because it was the only new work I had seen which openly examined an aspect of Israeli identity.

So it was absolutely astonishing for me to watch as not just one but a handful of the offerings at International Exposure unmistakably explored Israeli society. Two of these dances had premiered just weeks earlier in the Curtain Up festival, and while they both took the relationship of the individual to the surrounding Israeli society as their main theme, they approached the subject from different personal perspectives and aesthetics.

Noa Dar’s Anu.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

In Noa Dar’s trio Anu (Us), one dancer – perhaps dressed to look younger in pigtails and a skirt – is initiated into the group, first observing her two fellow performers and then modeling herself after them until she becomes a participating member.  Though at times the context is universal, there are several scenes which bear the recognizable imprint of Israeli culture.  Gathered center stage in a tight circle, the trio performs a speeded-up mishmash of Israeli folk dance steps; occasionally, one dancer breaks out of the group, causing the others to pause, but then the three immediately resume their folk dance at an even more frenetic pace.  Another powerful section references the army service which is compulsory in Israel.   Juxtaposing stylized miming of military actions (loading, aiming, and shooting guns; throwing grenades; scoping out a building and breaking in; strip searching a suspect) with sweetly tranquil classical music, the scene is chilling.

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s Big Mouth.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Whereas Anu follows the process of indoctrination into society, Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s Big Mouth considers the reverse process of an individual critically considering this group mentality.  The strains of an Israeli folk song set the stage even before the curtain rises, and the tone is further established as the three dancers (Sheinfeld, Laor, and Keren Levi) begin by turning their backs on the audience and striding in unison around the perimeter of the space.  Gradually, the trio’s regimented marching is punctuated by Israeli folk dance steps – a mayim here, a three-step turn there – and eventually, Levi tries to break out of this seemingly never-ending pattern with her own idiosyncratic movement.  Later, to the swelling melody of an Israeli military hymn, Levi stands downstage and slowly opens her mouth wide until her face is distorted in the shape of a silent, terrible scream; this simple yet virtuosic act leaves a haunting imprint even after the booming music dies down and Levi’s face returns to its normal state.  Despite the tenderness with which Sheinfeld and Laor cradle Levi during their final trio, keeping her perpetually aloft while passing her back and forth, the emotion which prompted such an agonized cry clearly lingers, prompting her to leave the group at the close of the work.

Besides Anu and Big Mouth, two other brand-new works showcased in International Exposure 2009 also seemed to be colored by the political and social dynamics within the Israeli context.  Rami Be’er’s choreography has often explored Israeli life, and his Infrared, which the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company premiered in November, seems to follow in this pattern.  Though much of the choreography itself is more abstract, the work opens with a man’s voice solemnly intoning a poem (written by Be’er) about soldiers in a garden and with one dancer slowly emerging from what appears to be a body bag.  Meanwhile, Arkadi Zaides’s Quiet, which was presented in a studio showing as a work-in-progress, features a mixed cast of Jewish and Arab performers and effectively plays off the tensions between these two groups.

After two years of barely seeing any choreography explicitly grappling with the Israeli context, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many dances were now openly invoking this subject and its intense undercurrents.  Could it perhaps be that, after the war in Gaza last year, some choreographers felt compelled to reexamine their surroundings?  What other political and personal factors were at work?

Noa Dar’s Anu.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

In a conversation with Noa Dar prior to the premiere of Anu, she said that her latest work stemmed from her experiences as “a mother and also as a citizen” of Israel.  While Dar talked about how her young children’s education was already “printing on them their future and the future as soldiers,” she also recounted her experience at a protest against the incursion into Gaza in 2008, during which not only right-wing counter-protesters but also passersby cursed the demonstrators as traitors.  The choreographer further discussed the media’s one-sided account of both Gaza and the 2006 Lebanon war and brought up recent legislation curtailing the rights of Arab Israelis.  “This work came out of these experiences, out of this fear that this country is getting more and more closed,” Dar acknowledged.  She continued, “It’s about the uniformity that Israeli culture brings and trying to explore how to survive it, to go against it but still be inside, to be able to comment on it, to try to change it.”

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s Big Mouth.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

While these recent developments spurred the creation of Anu, Big Mouth emerged from somewhat different roots.  Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor choreographed the dance during a period when they were frequently away from Israel; sometimes they were on tour with previous works, and at other times they were in the Netherlands where they collaborated on the new trio with Amsterdam-based Israeli dancer Keren Levi.  Sheinfeld remarked, “Somehow I think it affected this work; it made the piece somehow with reference to the Israeli culture.”  Laor chimed in the conversation, noting not only the physical distance of the three collaborators from Israel during the creative process but also other events which caused the artists to consider issues of nationalism and group identity.  While Big Mouth does include specific allusions to the Israeli context, Sheinfeld reflected that ultimately, “the way that we treat the subject is the personal level, is the individual, and how an individual acts in a group.”

Arkadi Zaides’s Quiet.  Photo courtesy of Arkadi Zaides.

Meanwhile, in the publicity for Quiet, which premieres this weekend at Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv, Zaides explains the backdrop for his latest work.  He writes:

Quiet arose from a real sense of emergency; in light of the growing violence and mistrust between communities in Israel, constantly subjected to states of shock which never allow the space needed for reflection, and thus never allow for change. In such an environment it felt acute to create a platform which allows for an open and honest communication; a place where it is safe to let one’s demons out and set them free; where the irrationality of response is examined and emotions are bravely explored; where a broad perspective is sought and where trust is continuously built.”

With these works’ diverse reference points and perspectives, they are welcome, thought-provoking additions to the Israeli contemporary dance scene.

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The works mentioned in this article are currently performed throughout Israel.  To find out about upcoming concerts and to learn more about the artists, visit the websites below:

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International Exposure 2009: Showcasing Israeli Dance

Posted on 05 December 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Rooster

Barak Marshall’s Rooster.  Photo by Avi Avin.

As autumn turns into winter, there’s an interesting progression from one dance festival in Tel Aviv to the next. Tel Aviv Dance introduces Israeli audiences to top-notch dance from around the globe before giving way to Curtain Up, a celebration of new Israeli-made works. And then, in a few concentrated days of concerts, International Exposure attempts to introduce Israeli dance to the world by showcasing the past year’s bounty (including recently premiered Curtain Up works) to foreign arts presenters who just might invite local choreographers to perform in their home countries.

Now in its fifteenth year, International Exposure will present the work of twenty-seven Israeli choreographers to over ninety guests including theater directors, festival directors, and journalists. These visitors will witness a stellar lineup boasting Israel’s most prominent dance companies as well as many independent choreographers at various stages of their careers. Some of the works on the program have been performed many times over the course of the year; others, such as the selections from the still in progress Curtain Up festival, are in their initial performances. Together, these dances offer a valuable retrospective on the past season and paint a representative picture of Israel’s vibrant contemporary dance scene.

International Exposure 2009 runs from Wednesday, December 9 until Sunday, December 13. Many of the concerts will be held at the Suzanne Dellal Centre and are open to the public, so local audiences can catch up on shows they missed during the last year. Other performances will be held at the Israel Classical Ballet Centre, the Nachmani Theater, Clipa Theater, and the Herzliya Theater, giving visitors a peek at the larger scale of dance venues in Israel.

Below is a day-by-day virtual tour of the festival with photographs and videos of many of the dances which will be performed. Want to learn more about the choreographers, companies, works, and festivals I mention? Click on the underlined names to see related articles published on Dance In Israel.

As we say here in Israel, צפייה מהנה – tzfiya mehana, pleasant viewing!

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