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Israeli Dance at Summer Festivals Abroad

Posted on 05 August 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Ohad Naharin’s Hora.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

While SummerDance 2010 has presented an array of Israeli dance at home, a number of Israeli choreographers and companies have also performed at prestigious festivals abroad. For those of you who missed seeing them live – or want to relive the experience of being in the audience – here are excerpts of some of the works that toured the world.

In July, Batsheva Dance Company brought Ohad Naharin’s Hora (2009) to France’s Montpellier Danse, which co-produced the work.

In June, the Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company toured their signature work Oyster (1999) to Durham, North Carolina, for the American Dance Festival (ADF).

At ADF, Avshalom Pollak talked about the nature of his work with Inbal Pinto and the unique mix of elements which shape each dance.


Barak Marshall’s Monger (2008) made its American debut at Jacob’s Pillow in Beckett, Massachusetts.  Monger is scheduled to tour the U.S. in April-May 2011, with appearances at the Joyce Theater in New York; White Bird in Portland, Oregon; UCLA’s Royce Hall; and additional performances in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and West Palm Beach.

At Jacob’s Pillow, Barak Marshall talked about confronting anti-Israeli sentiment on tour and presenting a different side of Israeli culture to foreign audiences.


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International Exposure 2009: A Perspective from Abroad

Posted on 30 December 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Maya Brinner’s Red Ladies was one of several works exploring the individual within the group at International Exposure

A few weeks after International Exposure 2009, not only am I continuing to mull over some intriguing works that I saw, but I am still thinking about the many attendees I met and contemplating the conversations I had with them.

It was truly remarkable to see how many presenters were scoping out Israeli dance with the hopes of bringing Israeli choreographers or companies to their venues.  The audience at International Exposure was well-informed, sophisticated, and worldly; its members were knowledgeable about the contemporary dance scene in their own home countries and had seen some of the latest productions from around the globe.

This diverse array of cultured visitors – and their well-informed observations – reinforced my own perception that there is indeed something especially appealing about Israeli contemporary dance.  It was illuminating to talk to repeat attendees and learn that they found this year’s festival stronger than in previous years; it was also encouraging to speak with first-time visitors and discover that they found several works of interest.

I had several stimulating conversations about the festival with Brian Schaefer, a dance writer and administrator based in San Diego, California.  He has generously written a thorough, thoughtful reflection on the festival for Dance In Israel, offering an invaluable perspective from outside the scene.  Enjoy!

* * *

Seeing Israel through the Lens of Dance

By Brian Schaefer

Oil and water may be the most contentious of the commodities in the Middle East.  But who says art can’t be a country’s natural resource as well?

Such is the purpose of International Exposure – a type of cultural trade fair to encourage the export of one of Israel’s most valuable products: its creativity.  Each year for the past fifteen years, a flock of foreign presenters, managers, choreographers, and journalists has descended upon the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv to get a crash course in contemporary dance in Israel in the hopes that we fall in love with an artist or company and take them home with us to introduce them to our families, or rather, audiences.  It’s souvenir shopping on an entirely different scale.

The Israeli Ministry of Culture brings us here to demonstrate the wealth of dance in Israel, show us Tel Aviv as an exciting, cosmopolitan city, and let us discover just how far Israel has come from the pioneering, agricultural days of the kibbutzim and sabras when Israeli dance meant communal folk gatherings, which is still how most Americans consider it.  So the point of International Exposure is to destroy that myth and show us an Israel that is innovative and cutting-edge, both in its technology and in its art.

The process of actually bringing a company to the States is a complicated pas de deux that relies on a lot of other factors that come later on.  But for now, for this week, it’s about seeing work.  A lot of work.  An exhausting amount of work.

Still, the experience is extraordinary.  And the impact is powerful.  Five days later, we leave with a semblance of an idea of what makes contemporary dance in Israel so vibrant.  Without trying to lump everything together – after all, one of the strengths of the program is its diversity – there are a few noticeable characteristics, trends, and themes that emerge.

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

It’s difficult as an outsider not to read too much about the regional conflicts into the work we see.  Few artists, save perhaps for Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor who explicitly reference Israel’s military history in the engaging trio Big Mouth, admit to addressing politics in any way.

Yet as foreign critics and presenters who for the most part view Israel from the lens of international media, we inevitably look for ways that artists respond to their social surroundings.  Maybe we look too much.  But perhaps also the fact that such intentional reactions to the political environment are conspicuously lacking in so much of the work we saw is equally telling.

What we actually got in many instances was a complete departure from the realities of this world, and surprisingly often, we were thrust in to the realm of the absurd where the unexpected can occur at any moment, where things are never quite as they seem or can in an instant morph into something unrecognizable.  The absurdity is also in the behavior, where over-the-top characters cavort about with exaggerated gestures, inhabiting fantasy worlds in extravagant costumes and bright make-up.

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

Perhaps no Israeli choreographers better encapsulate this aesthetic and sensibility than Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak.  At International Exposure, the duo showed excerpts from the company’s repertory, the charming Rushes, made a few years ago for the American company Pilobolus, and the new evening-length work Trout, created in 2008 in Norway.  In each, the zany characters and extravagant sets and props transport audiences into an imaginary place that may resemble reality at times but clearly isn’t.

Barak Marshall’s Rooster.  Photo by Kfir Bolotin.

In Barak Marshall’s Rooster, we took a colorful visit to the shtetls of the 19th century to witness a love triangle mixing stories from the Bible and Yemenite folklore with a period aesthetic and surreal scenes of, for example, a man “laying” eggs in his mouth.  It’s a work that, while perhaps a bit unfocused and difficult to follow for non-Hebrew speakers, exudes energy and charm and provides a strong showcase for the performers.

Across the board (for the most part), International Exposure guests walked away with a deep appreciation for Israeli dancers, whose focus and commitment is a noticeable strength of the performances.

Other works that dove into the absurd included Yasmeen Godder’s LOVE FIRE, complete with the gutting of a stuffed creature resembling some combination of goat and lion, an unexpected shower of blue glitter, and a dramatic illuminated heart made of diagonal fluorescent tubes. Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s study in masculinity, 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer, also made use of a life-sized dead animal, raising peculiar questions about the role of taxidermy in Israeli society.  Okay, not really, but seeing both works in one night gave something to think about.

Michal Herman Dance Group’s Fellowship, based on a short Kafka story, embodied absurdity in the extreme mannerisms of its characters and their exaggerated interactions, as did Irad Mazliah’s Unter den Linden.

While not necessarily “absurd,” Artour Astman & Ilana Bellahsen’s ArtLana presented the two artists as babies in a wide-eyed, charming duet.  The grotesque masks in Noa Dar Dance Group’s Anu suggested something of the absurd but dealt more explicitly with another theme that was largely prevalent throughout the festival – the struggle between the urge for individual expression and the pressure to conform.

The aforementioned Big Mouth tackled the topic effectively as did Maya Brinner’s Red Ladies, which followed a trio of women from synchronized harmony to individual awareness and then group conflict.

But perhaps no dance company in the world embodies this tension between group cohesion and individual identity than the Batsheva Dance Company, whose new work Hora closed the festival.

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Hora.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin shifts quickly and effortlessly between complicated group sections, done in perfect unison (in a way that no other company can approach), to solos that marry abandon and control in surprising harmony.  It’s a tactic utilized in several of his recent works, and just because it’s a recognizable pattern doesn’t mean its predictable.  Yet here, the tool loses its impact.  While past works like Shalosh (Three) or Mamootot, though still abstract, feel like they follow some sort of arc, Hora in comparison feels circular.  At the end, we’re back at the beginning and as a result, it’s a bit harder to appreciate the journey, but then again, maybe that’s the point.

Naharin has always had eclectic music taste, easily moving from a traditional Passover song to the Beach Boys to soundscapes that he himself creates.  In Hora, the score consists of some of the most recognizable and clichéd pieces of music by Strauss, Wagner, and John Williams borrowed from the archives or classic science-fiction films.  Like the title of the work, Naharin challenges the audience to rearrange its reference points for the associations we have created throughout our lives.

As a result, he creates extremes of possibilities and the space in between where anything can happen and meaning is left ambiguous.  Throwing viewers from one end of the spectrum to the other (from familiar to unfamiliar) with unrelated and nonsensical movements forces us to fill in the gaps of how they relate and what it all amounts to.  And while you may not walk away with an answer, Batsheva ultimately leaves an impression that, indeed, there is something human within this controlled chaos after all.

I always get a sense, watching Batsheva, that there is something dark and explosive just under the surface, and that’s another thread that seemed to weave its way through the festival of Israeli choreographers and companies.  Noa Dar’s Anu plunged suddenly into simulated rape, and Berg and Graf’s 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer similarly incorporated sexual violence into the narrative.

Rami Be’er’s poem Infrared, which is also the name of the work for his Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, follows multi-colored soldiers into a garden, which the over-produced performance suggested rather explicitly.  The company appears to have a wealth of resources at its disposal and produced a glossy show that, ultimately, was lacking in the substance and urgency that many of the smaller companies displayed.

Vertigo Dance Company in Noa Wertheim’s Mana.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Noa Wertheim’s Vertigo Dance Company similarly approached the theme of complicated group dynamics.  Yet their work Mana offered a depth and sense of intrigue that made it one of the most compelling pieces of the entire week, one that brings together many of the themes discussed here in a tight, luscious, and appealing package that foreign audiences are likely to respond well to.

If another theme might be added, it’s the embrace of classical music mashed with contemporary, fragmented movement.  It’s not a new idea in contemporary dance, but the idea was particularly noticeable at this festival.  In addition to the well-known scores in Batsheva’s work, Godder also used the waltz for inspiration, and Idan Cohen’s take on Swan Lake paired the Tchaikovsky score with sharp, defined, lightning-quick movement that actually made the idea feel current and relevant – no small feat for such an overused score and well-known ballet. But the sense that Israelis are resisting tradition, or at least looking to re-contextualize it to their new realities, came through loud and clear.

Maria Kong in fling.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Of course, one can’t possibly force all of the performances into only a few basic themes.  Defying all categorizations was the work by Maria Kong, a new company comprised of former Batsheva dancers.  fling opens with an aching violin solo, performed facing away from the audience, while projections on two columns conjure a world of dark hallways, mysterious rooms, and the constant shift of shadows, which gives the sense that time is passing us by.  Without a dancer on stage for the first nearly twenty minutes, a captivating world is created.  When they do appear, the dancers move with robotic precision.  The slight turn of a head sends waves that reverberate throughout another dancer’s body.  Similarly, fling is a subtle work that makes a big impression.

And while International Exposure aims to present contemporary dance, we were also brought to the Israel Ballet studios to view excerpts from the company’s repertoire. The dancers were proficient, the partnering well-executed.  But the formality of the ballet language doesn’t seem to fit this country.

Interacting with and observing Israelis on a daily basis during the week of the Exposure, the intimacy, suspicion, joy, tension, spirit, and vitality that seems to hover over society here is reflected in the works of contemporary artists that display the same such characteristics.

In comparison, the ballet, with its sterilized look, organized structure, clear gender roles, and polished edges seems to be just what everyone else is fighting against.  And that conflict is what makes the dance in Israel so fascinating.

Brian Schaefer is the dance writer for San Diego News Network and the Program & Audience Development Manager for ArtPower! at UC San Diego, the university’s multi-arts presenting organization.

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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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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:

Australia


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.

Europe

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.

Asia

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.

BMDC

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.

Israel

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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Batsheva Dance Company Premieres Ohad Naharin’s “Hora”

Posted on 31 May 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

horajumpsmall
The Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Hora. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

There’s a certain baseline of excitement when it comes to watching a preview of a world premiere, especially when it’s by a world renowned choreographer like Ohad Naharin.  As you might imagine, that baseline is pretty high.

So I was excited (dare I say thrilled?) to attend the press showing of Ohad Naharin’s Hora shortly before its debut in Jerusalem on May 18th.  And, I’m happy to report, my excitement only grew as I saw snippets of the latest work by Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director.   Besides being new, Hora feels remarkably fresh (and here I’ll note that my newspaper write-up of the preview was titled “Fresh and Exciting” – two truly fitting adjectives for the dance).

As a dance historian, I was delighted to find more treasures in this showing of Hora besides the basic pleasure of previewing a new, promising work.  Certain elements of Naharin’s dance conjure up prominent images from other choreographers’ masterworks.  The dancers repeatedly step into fifth position with one arm outstretched on a high diagonal and fingers pointing down to the floor – a slight variation on a familiar stance from George Balanchine’s celebrated Serenade. And during one section, as the sounds of Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune filled the theater – transformed by Isao Tomita’s synthesizer – I couldn’t help comparing the bent wrists of the Batsheva dancers to the angled wrists of the dancers in Vaslav Nijinsky’s Faune.

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