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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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