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Curtain Up 2009: Celebrating 20 Years of Israeli Premieres

Posted on 22 November 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Curtain Up 2009 Poster

The Curtain Up 2009 poster.  Courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

The annual Curtain Up festival has figured prominently in my understanding and appreciation of Israeli contemporary dance.  Every autumn, this festival presents a fresh harvest of premieres by some of the field’s most promising choreographers.  I have now attended Curtain Up twice, and both seasons introduced me to some new faces and showcased the latest creations by choreographers whom I was already following.

As the buzz about this year’s 20th anniversary celebration grew, I wanted to find out more about the history of Curtain Up.  I talked with each of the six headlining presenters in this year’s festival, veteran choreographers who received support from the festival earlier in their careers.  They related their own personal pasts with Curtain Up, but wanting even more of an overview, I decided to go straight to the founder of the festival: Nilly Cohen, who directs the dance division of the Ministry of Culture.

Nilly’s retelling of Curtain Up’s history traces the rise of the Israeli contemporary dance scene.  “20 years ago, there were not so many choreographers in Israel,” she remembers.  “There were only three dance companies, and all the young choreographers, all the fringe simply didn’t exist.  And this was the main target for my initiative.  I [wanted] to build the next generation of choreographers in Israel.  That was the aim 20 years ago.  And now we can see that this aim succeeded.  Now we have many choreographers and many dance companies.”

Nilly continued, “I [initiated] Curtain Up 20 years ago because of the bad conditions for the choreographers.  They didn’t have the money to make their creations, to do the performances, to do the public relations, the marketing, and so on.  It takes [a lot of] money to do this, and they were very young; they were beginners in this profession.  And it was very difficult.  So I initiated this stage to give the young choreographers all the conditions to make their art.”

Then as now, Nilly explained, the government stepped in to help independent choreographers.  “We give them the money for the creation: for the costumes, for the dancers, for the lighting, for the design,” she elaborated.  “Besides this, we give them free the [concert] halls, Suzanne Dellal in Tel Aviv and the Jerusalem Theatre in Jerusalem . . . We do the public relations for them.  And we also give them the income.”

This generous public support spurred the flowering of Israeli dance, fostering its growth from a small pool of struggling choreographers to a vibrant scene featuring both an array of full-fledged companies and a seemingly multiplying set of individual artists.  Nilly recounted with pride, “I began [Curtain Up] 20 years ago, and then many creators were born on this stage and developed.  They developed to be dance companies like Vertigo Dance Company, like Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s company, like Noa Dar’s dance company, like Yasmeen Godder and many others.”

As this significant anniversary of Curtain Up approached, Nilly said, “I thought that the best thing to celebrate 20 [years] is to show what is the fruit of this stage.  And the fruits are all of these dance companies, so I invited them to perform on this stage this year.”  She added that she also was pleased to offer these now mature choreographers the chance to curate the festival by selecting emerging choreographers to join them on their respective programs.

Below is my preview of Curtain Up 2009, which was originally published in the Jerusalem Post as “Celebrating Creative Choreography.” My next few articles on Dance In Israel will zoom in on each individual program, with excerpts from my interviews with the choreographers and photographs of the new works.

* * *

Celebrating Creative Choreography

Participating in the annual Curtain Up festival, the country’s major platform for new works, is a rite of passage for Israeli choreographers.  Reflecting on her history with the festival, choreographer Noa Dar explains, “It really was my school and my initiation program for my choreography.”  Now Dar and other veteran choreographers are returning to Curtain Up for a special 20th anniversary season and they are initiating a new generation of dancemakers into the circle of Curtain Up participants.

As in past years, Curtain Up 2009 boasts several programs of hot-off-the press choreography.  Yet this year, there is a twist.  Each of the six concerts is headlined by an established choreographer who in turn selected one or two emerging choreographers to join the bill.  The result is a sumptuous spread of Israeli contemporary dance featuring both the field’s most acclaimed artists and some of its freshest rising stars.


Nimrod Freed’s Subtext.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Nimrod Freed of the Tami Dance Company chose both Anat Grigorio and Dafi Altebab to join him in Curtain 1 because they are “authentic, passionate and creative in an unusual way.”  Freed’s Subtext, Grigorio’s Daydream, and Altbeb’s Under the Rug all imaginatively uncover and probe the hidden sides of life.


Noa Wertheim’s Mana.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Curtain 2 is enlivened by the electrifying energy of Vertigo Dance Company and its younger division, the Vertigo Ensemble.  Performed against a strikingly geometric black-and-white set, Noa Wertheim’s new Mana explores the essential differences between men and women. Danced with verve by the Ensemble, Elad Shechter’s Roni casts a broader gaze at the dynamics of control in contemporary life.

Yasmeen Godder's "Love Fire"

Yasmeen Godder’s Love Fire. Photo by Tamar Lamm.

Yasmeen Godder was a frequent presenter in Curtain Up during the early 2000s, but her premiere in Curtain 3 marks a dramatic departure from her previous works.  LOVE FIRE, a duet danced to classical waltzes, reconsiders romanticism and includes a “performative installation-based response” by visual artist Yochai Matos.  Iris Erez, who regularly collaborated with Godder as a dancer, unleashes her own choreographic power in the trio Numbia.


Ya’ara Dolev’s BLOSSOM.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The clean lines, precise angles and graceful curves of the body take center stage as the Tel Aviv Dance Company performs two works in Curtain 4.  Waves of movement wash over the dancers in BLOSSOM, a premiere by the company’s co-artistic director Ya’ara Dolev.  Guest choreographer Michael Miler also displays what Dolev describes as a predilection for “pure, clean movement in space” in his Number 6.


Noa Dar’s Us.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

When Noa Dar selected Maya Brinner and Irad Mazliah for Curtain 5, the three choreographers talked about uniting their program with a common theme. Dar says that Brinner’s Red Ladies, Mazliah’s Unter den linden, and her own Us deploy unique perspectives on “difference versus conformity and stillness or stuck positions versus mobility and change.”

Big Mouth

For Curtain 6, the team of Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor joined forces with dancer/choreographer Keren Levy to produce Big Mouth.  Using their personal relationships to Israeli society as a jumping off point, the trio investigates the conflicting desires of belonging to a group while maintaining one’s self-expression.  The program is rounded out by Noa Shadur’s Into the Night, which compares the reality of death with its melodramatic theatrical representation.

Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak's "Trout"

Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s Trout. Photo by Asaf Ashkenazi.

Traditionally, Curtain Up hosts an additional program by a well-known group, and this year’s guest concert is guaranteed to make a big splash.  Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s Trout, which premiered in 2008 in Norway, floods a black-box stage with water to create an otherworldly setting where dancers mix with musicians from the experimental Kitchen Orchestra.  It’s a magical way to cap off Curtain Up’s celebration of creativity.

More Information

Curtain Up runs from November 24 to December 7 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv and from December 8-14 at the Rebecca Crown Auditorium in Jerusalem. Tickets (100 NIS for most shows) are available at 03-5105656 (Suzanne Dellal Center) and 02-5605755 (Rebecca Crown Auditorium).

For listings of Curtain Up performances, please visit the Dance In Israel Calendars page.

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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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