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Celebrating Dr. Ruth Eshel and Ethiopian Shoulder Dancing in Israel

Posted on 24 January 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Beta Dance Troupe. Photo by Irene Fertik.

She is a pioneer of Israel’s fringe dance, presenting avant-garde solos in the late 1970s when performing in large, established repertory companies was the norm.  She is a leading commentator on Israeli concert dance, contributing scholarly articles and books as well as lively criticism in major newspapers and journals.  And in the last fifteen years, Dr. Ruth Eshel has also filled another key role: that of a visionary, arranging the traditional shoulder dance brought by Ethiopian immigrants into entrancing contemporary compositions for the stage.

It is no wonder that Dr. Eshel was captivated by the Ethiopian immigrants’ movement when she set out to document their dance for the Dance Library of Israel.  There is something particularly mesmerizing about the minute isolations of the shoulders that these dancers perform; each articulation itself is clearly cut, but when strung together at high speed, the effect can be likened to that of a hummingbird swiftly beating its wings.  The dancers’ shoulders jump, skip, hop, roll, punch forward and back, and shift side to side.  With this vocabulary, their shoulders talk, sing, cry, and laugh.

Her interest piqued, Dr. Eshel formed a student company called Eskesta (“shoulder dancing” in Amharic) at the University of Haifa in 1995 and directed the troupe for ten years, leading it on tours to great acclaim.  In 2005, she founded Beta Dance Troupe in the Neve Yosef community center in Haifa, again building a distinctive repertory blending traditional shoulder dancing with a contemporary choreographic framework.  This company has also won accolades at home and abroad for its spirited performances.

Now, on January 26, a celebration of Dr. Eshel’s work with both the Eskesta and Beta troupes will be held in Tel Aviv at the Inbal Ethnic Arts Center.  After gathering at 8:00 p.m., a panel will convene at 8:30 to share memories.  Beta Dance Troupe will take the stage at 9:00 for a short performance, followed by a screening of the film Shoulder Dancing, which includes footage of the companies’ rehearsals and performances.  The evening will close with an invitation for everyone to dance.

Poster for the film Shoulder Dancing. Courtesy Ruth Eshel.

For those of you who cannot partake in the live celebration – or are curious about shoulder dancing – below is a clip of Beta Dance Troupe in Dr. Eshel’s aptly named Celebration (2007).

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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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