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What is Israeli Dance? Two Festivals Hold Some Clues

Posted on 17 November 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

What is Israeli dance?

This is a question that I have contemplated ever since I arrived here, and as I sat in the audience at many performances during the Tel Aviv Dance 2009 festival, this query resurfaced. The vast majority of dance I have seen in the last two years has been Israeli dance – that is, by my loose definition, dance made in Israel by Israeli choreographers – but most of what I attended during this festival came from abroad.

As my eyes readjusted to fresh work from unfamiliar choreographers and, at times, unfamiliar cultures, I couldn’t help comparing the characteristics of these foreign productions to those of Israeli-made work.  By watching dance that was, by virtue of its far away origin, not Israeli, could I more definitively identify characteristics of Israeli dance and the Israeli dance scene?  As I sat in the darkened theater for show after show, I asked myself repeatedly, “Could an Israeli choreographer have made that work? Would an Israeli choreographer have made that work, and if so, would I have perceived it differently?”

Beijing Modern Dance Company

Beijing Modern Dance Company.  Photo by Wang Zhe.

This last question echoed in my mind, growing louder and louder, as I watched the Beijing Modern Dance Company’s program at the Suzanne Dellal Center.  More so than in the other performances I saw, I felt that this program’s two works were rife with cultural references specific to the country in which they were created.  In the fourth section of Hu Lei’s Unfettered Journey, dancers clothed in elegantly draped fabric flowed across the stage with fans in their hands.  Throughout Gao Yanjinzi’s Oath, a figure wearing what appeared to be traditional Chinese dress beckoned dancers representing parts of the natural world onstage to music that at times sounded distinctively Chinese.  Had an Israeli choreographer’s name been attached to either of these works, these elements would not have been allusions to his or her own culture but instead marks of appropriation (and here I do not intend to attach a negative value to that often loaded word; this simply denotes a different process and point of connection to the elements incorporated)

While these overt references to Chinese culture set my mind in motion, it was the physicality of the dancers in the Beijing Modern Dance Company which triggered even more complex thoughts about what characterizes much of Israeli contemporary dance.  Throughout my conversations with Israeli choreographers, many of them asserted that there was something distinctive about the physicality of Israeli dancers; there was a certain emphasis on weight, force, and power, along with a liveliness and rawness to their energy which several people connected to the pace and nature of Israeli life.

Sometimes, immersed in this scene, it’s possible to forget that another way of moving exists.  So there’s nothing like watching companies from abroad to sharpen my understanding of the physicality used in Israeli dance.  Whereas Israeli dancers are often unleashed and explosive, the Chinese dancers were refined and measured.  Whereas Israeli dancers often project a sense of solid strength and weighted groundedness in deep, low positions, the Chinese dancers assumed these postures with the poised agility of a martial artist.  Whereas Israeli dancers may display and even revel in effort, the Chinese dancers exuded ease.  “Yes,” I thought to myself as I sat in the darkened theater.  “Maybe a particular physicality does characterize much of Israeli dance and distinguish it from dance from other countries.”

While these musings re-entered my mind as I watched foreign companies in Tel Aviv Dance, they’ll likely remain ever-present as I attend a very different festival later this month: Curtain Up.  Every year, Curtain Up sheds light on Israeli dance by showcasing several programs worth of premieres by independent choreographers.  Throughout the twenty years of its existence, the festival has not only provided a platform for numerous artists to explore new choreographic ideas but also offered them a boost to prominence, thus shaping the landscape of the larger field.

Curtain Up Poster

Publicity for Curtain Up 2009.  Courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

In honor of the festival’s twentieth season, Curtain Up 2009 will offer an extraordinary opportunity to survey the scene through a special project spanning the generations of Israeli choreographers.  Six well-established artists who were previously supported by the festival – Nimrod Freed, Noa Wertheim of Vertigo Dance Company, Yasmeen Godder, Yaara Dolev of Tel Aviv Dance Company, Noa Dar, and Niv Sheinfeld & Oren Laor  – were chosen to create new works for this special Curtain Up.  They also became curators of the festival, in turn selecting one or two emerging choreographers to premiere work.

After refreshing my eyes and my mind with Tel Aviv Dance’s international medley, I’m looking forward to re-immersing myself in the world of Israeli dance during Curtain Up.  Who knows what insights will surface in the theater this time around . . .

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Tel Aviv Dance 2009 Mixes Global and Local Dance

Posted on 17 October 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Rite of Spring Compagnie Heddy Maalem in Rite of Spring.  Photo by Patrick Fabre.

Tel Aviv used to host a popular festival called Dance Europa, attracting cutting-edge companies from across Europe.  Three years ago, the festival expanded to include offerings from around the globe, and now the annual Tel Aviv Dance festival is a highlight of the city’s cultural season.  Tel Aviv Dance 2009 runs from October 16 until November 13, with shows at the Suzanne Dellal Center and the Tel Aviv Opera House.  To find out more details about performances, please visit the Dance In Israel Calendars.

A version of this article, titled “Hot Dance for Cold Evenings,” was published in the Jerusalem Post.

Hot Dance for Cold Evenings

“Everyone wants to come to Tel Aviv. Everyone wants to perform here,” says Yair Vardi, director of the Suzanne Dellal Center.  Judging by the roster of world-renowned dance productions about to descend on the city, Vardi’s boast is not an exaggeration.  In the last few years, the annual Tel Aviv Dance festival has become a destination for both rising stars and well-established names on the international circuit.  Now, Tel Aviv Dance 2009 will mount fourteen programs at the Suzanne Dellal Center and the Tel Aviv Opera House. A special initiative will bring three of these concerts to Haifa as well.

This year’s schedule of performers is particularly diverse, both in geographic origin and in aesthetic.  Here’s the lineup:


Video: Tania Liedtke’s Construct.

From far-off Australia comes Tania Liedtke’s Construct, which pairs power tools and physical prowess to comedic effect.

North America

Nacho Duato's "Gnawa"

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Nacho Duato’s Gnawa. Photo: public relations.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago offers a taste of American contemporary dance with repertory by Jim Vincent and Alejandro Cerruda.  This popular troupe adds a bit of foreign spice with Gnawa, a dance by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato set to intoxicating North African rhythms.


Other productions have a similar international mix, including two which involve European countries.

Video: Heddy Maalem’s Rite of Spring.

Although Compagnie Heddy Maalem hails from France, the fourteen dancers in its rousing Rite of Spring are from Mali, Benin, Nigeria, Senegal, and Guadeloupe.

Video: Andalucia Lejana is choreographed by Victoria Eugenia, Manolo Marin, Silvia Duran, and Yoko Komatsubara

Meanwhile, the flamenco flavored Andalucia Lejana is a collaboration by four choreographers with dancers from Spain, Japan, and Israel.

Ballet Nacional de Espana

Ballet Nacional de España.  Photo: public relations

Flamenco assumes center stage again in Ballet Nacional de España’s program, featuring fifty dancers and musicians.  The troupe is performing Jose Antonio’s La Leyenda and Aires de Villa y Corte.

Video: Yoshua Cienfuegos’s Cisnes Negros.

Also from Spain is Cienfuegos Danza, whose director Yoshua Cienfuegos takes a dark look at our animal instincts in his contemporary Cisnes Negros.

Last Touch First

Michael Schumacher and Jiri Kylian’s Last Touch First.  Photo by Robert Benschop.

Europe’s strong presence in this festival is rounded out by Last Touch First, a production from the Netherlands. On a stage strewn with sheets, six dancers move in slow motion through Michael Schumacher and Jiri Kylian’s spellbinding choreography.


Several choreographers and companies from Asia are also making an appearance at this year’s Tel Aviv Dance.

My Dream

Wang Honghai’s My Dream showcases the riches of Chinese dance and music, but with a twist: the work is performed by nearly 100 members of the China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe.


Beijing Modern Dance Company.  Photo by Wang Zhe.

The Beijing Modern Dance Company, China’s premiere modern dance company, displays a more adventurous style in Gao Yanjinzi’s Oath and Hu Lei’s Unfettered Journey.

Video: Shang Chi-Sun & Dancers

Taiwanese choreographer Shang Chi-Sun offers two more contemporary works, Nuwa and Dialogue II.

Video: A mixed bill by three Korean choreographers

Three Korean choreographers who won the 2008 Choreographic Festival at Seoul are sharing a mixed bill.  Ryu Seouk Hun presents Uncomfortable, Huh Kyung Mi offers Evolution, and Lee In Soo shows Modern Feeling.


Amidst this select global spread of top-notch choreography, it is a testament to Israeli dance that three programs in the festival are wholly devoted to work made locally. Batsheva Dance Company, which arguably has the greatest international reputation of any Israeli group, presents two contrasting concerts by artistic director Ohad Naharin.

Video: Ohad Naharin’s Hora.

Hora, Naharin’s most recent work, is danced to Isao Tomita’s synthesized versions of familiar melodies and performed against a vivid green set.  Naharin’s Mamootot offers an altogether different viewing experience as audience members surround the dancers in the studio.

Video: Barak Marshall’s Rooster.

Barak Marshall’s Monger was a hit in last year’s festival, and now he is returning with a new production, Rooster.  Twelve powerhouse dancers, one opera singer, and Margalit Oved – the legendary Inbal Dance Theater star and Marshall’s mother – trace a narrative inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Y.L. Peretz’s “Bontsha the Silent.”  This mix of talent, combined with Marshall’s masterful storytelling and marvelously multi-layered movement, sets Rooster on a pathway to success – and premiering in Tel Aviv Dance doesn’t hurt either.  Reflecting on his second Tel Aviv Dance experience, Marshall muses gratefully, “This is a twice in a lifetime opportunity I’ve been given!”

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