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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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Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s “Trout”

Posted on 01 December 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s Trout

A trail of miniature puddles leads a curious crowd of writers to Studio A at the Suzanne Dellal Center for a sneak preview.  In the center of the room, a large protective tarp has been laid strategically over the marley floor.  Overhead, the ceiling is awash in rippling shadows from a two centimeter-deep layer of water that, for now, calmly covers the tarp.  But this water won’t lie still forever.  Part of the set for Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s Trout, it is meant to be danced upon.

Newton said that to every action there is a reaction, and in Trout, the reactions to many actions are made visible.  Even the most careful steps trigger a cascade of gentle, circular waves across the surface of the water, while the dancers’ more vigorous jumps and falls shoot a spray of droplets into the air.  The larger the action of the dancer, the larger the reaction of the water.

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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.

Subtext

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.

Mana

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.

Blossom

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.

Us

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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