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Contemporary Israeli Dance Week: Gala in New York

Posted on 22 January 2011 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Quiet by Arkadi Zaides. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Heads up, New Yorkers!  In June, a wave of contemporary dance from Israel is coming your way as part of the annual La MaMa Moves Festival.  The city is already home to an astonishing number of Israeli-born choreographers, and La MaMa’s celebration will include five of these New York-based artists and groups: Deganit Shemy, LeeSaar The Company, Netta Yerushalmy, YelleB Dance Ensemble, and Neta Pulvermacher.  But the Contemporary Israeli Dance Week mini-festival is also scheduled to feature a stellar line-up straight from Israel.  Yasmeen Godder, Arkadi Zaides, Idan Cohen, Maya Brinner, and the team of Tamar Borer and Tamara Erde will offer a glimpse of the latest in Israeli-made productions, and master classes will give New York dancers a taste of what’s happening in local studios.

On Monday, January 31, a gala evening featuring Deganit Shemy, LeeSaar The Company, Netta Yerushalmy, and YelleB Dance Ensemble will be held at La MaMa E.T.C. (Experimental Club). The gala is a fundraiser for the Contemporary Israeli Dance Week, and more information about tickets can be found at the festival’s website.  For those of you who can’t make it to the gala, here’s a sneak peak at the festival with clips of works by Godder, Zaides, Cohen, Brinner,and Borer and Erde.

Video: Preview of Contemporary Israeli Dance Week

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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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Karmiel Festival 2009: Israeli Folk Dance and More

Posted on 02 August 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Karmiel Dance Festival

Karmiel Dance Festival.  Photo by Mati Elmaliach.

When many people hear the phrase “Israeli dance,” they think of Israeli folk dance.  And while the Karmiel Festival includes all sorts of dance done in Israel – including contemporary, jazz, and ballroom – it’s Israeli folk dance which forms the core of the country’s largest dance festival.

Shlomo Maman, who has been involved with the festival for ten years and took over the artistic directorship from Karmiel’s founder Yonatan Karmon, explained that the idea to have some mix of dance styles was present from the festival’s start in 1988.  “The main issue of the festival is the Israeli folk dances, but it’s very important for us to bring other groups,” he says.  “All meet together which makes this very big and very interesting . . . everyone will learn from the others.”

This year, the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, Ido Tadmor, Rina Schenfeld, Vertigo’s second company, and a group of dancers from the renowned Paris Opera Ballet will make appearances at Karmiel.  Yet the bulk of the festival – which boasts 5,000 dancers and 80 events over a mere 3 days – is composed of concerts, competitions, and even classes in folk dance.

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