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Sharon Eyal’s “Bill” is Back at Batsheva Dance Company

Posted on 11 June 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Sharon Eyal’s Bill

I have a confession to make: I saw Sharon Eyal’s Bill three nights in a row.  Besides the obvious draw of seeing Batsheva Dance Company’s latest production in its first performances, I was compelled to watch the dance again and again by the kaleidoscopic complexity of Eyal’s choreography for this twenty-one member group.  On each repeat viewing, I got to know Bill better, uncovering even more layers in the ensemble work and noticing the nuances in the movement.  The already formidable power of the dance only grew stronger with time.

For other dance enthusiasts who might want to catch Bill again – and for new audience members who have yet to be acquainted with Bill – now is your chance!  Batsheva is bringing the work to the Suzanne Dellal Center for a second run from June 13-16.

This article was originally published in the Jerusalem Post as “Meet Bill.”

* * *

Meet Bill

Sharon Eyal’s Bill. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

With a strong character, a quirky sense of humor, and a big heart, Bill makes a memorable first impression.  But Bill is not a man. Bill is the Batsheva Dance Company’s latest production by house choreographer Sharon Eyal, and it had its first run in May with performances at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv and the Herzliya Performing Arts Center.

When Eyal first transfixed audiences 20 years ago, it was with her own magnetic stage presence as a dancer with Batsheva.  But in recent years, she has also generated buzz with her choreography.  From her initial compositions presented under the framework of Batsheva Dancers Create to the evening-length, large-scale Bertolina and Makarova Kabisa, Eyal developed her distinctive artistic voice.  Last season, local audiences were treated to the Batsheva Ensemble’s revamped version of Eyal’s earlier Love, while foreign crowds flocked to the Norwegian troupe Carte Blanche’s performances of the choreographer’s Killer Pig.

Sharon Eyal’s Bill. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Now with Bill, an hour-long work for Batsheva’s 21 dancers, Eyal picks up where she left off.  “I feel I am in an endless process, and the creation Bill continues my latest works, Makarova Kabisa and Killer Pig,” she explains.

The throughline in her creative process is no doubt strengthened by her ongoing collaboration with several artists: co-creator Guy Bachar, musician and soundtrack designer Ori Lichtik, and lighting designer Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi).

Together, this team has fashioned a thoroughly contemporary aesthetic that permeates Eyal’s choreography.  Like her other works, Bill is set to a virtually unceasing, throbbing blend of beats and melodies masterfully retooled by Lichtik on a sophisticated DJ system.  Styled by Eyal and Bachar, the flesh-toned bodysuits that sheath the dancers like a second skin provide a ready canvas for the rich hues and striking geometry of Bambi’s lighting.

Sharon Eyal’s Bill. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

In Bill, the dancers’ singular look is further enhanced through piercing ice-blue contact lenses and slicked-back hair colored to match the shade of their costumes.  Eyal notes, “The idea was to wear a sense of nakedness,” but adds, “Nudity is not interesting enough . . . Nudity is also obvious.  On the other hand, it is important to me that they will see the body, that there will be another layer that will present the mechanical side.  When everyone is dressed and appears almost the same, I feel more that the individual in each one of them breaks out.”

Though seemingly paradoxical, this is a fitting attitude for a choreographer who has frequently displayed a talent for marshaling large numbers of dancers across the stage, playing on the tensions between the individual and the group. A  similar dynamic pervades Bill.  Sometimes working as single unit and at other times clustered in small packs juxtaposed with one another, the dancers travel in a dizzying kaleidoscope of constantly changing formations.  Occasionally soloists break through the mass’s movement, but ultimately it is a united group pulse that drives the work forward.

Sharon Eyal’s Bill. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Eyal remarks, “I love the dancers, especially when I see them in the duplication of the entire group as one,” and her skillful arrangement of the dancers along with the identical costumes successfully produce this desired effect.

Yet part of Bill’s impact lies in the nuanced workings of each individual body.  Even the most basic stepping patterns are layered with subtle isolations, while more intricate phrases display the performers’ virtuosity, capitalizing on their extreme flexibility and gravity-defying leaps.  Batsheva’s dancers are just as comfortable in slinky, undulating slow motion as they are in hard-hitting, superhuman movements executed at warp speed, and they can morph from one dynamic to the next in the blink of an eye. Equipping every dancer with an intense physicality and multiplying them together, Eyal finds a winning formula for Bill.

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The Paul Taylor Dance Company Comes to Israel

Posted on 26 April 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Paul Taylor Dance Company

I have to admit I have a soft spot for Paul Taylor.  After spending twelve years immersed in ballet, I made the switch to modern dance in college, where the classes I took from Julie Strandberg were strongly influenced by Taylor’s technique. During both my undergraduate and graduate years, I had the good fortune to study with former Taylor dancers including Carolyn Adams and Victoria Uris. And through videos and concerts, I became acquainted with some of Taylor’s remarkable repertory. Now that the Paul Taylor Dance Company is touring to Israel, I’m looking forward to feasting my eyes on what promises to be a memorable mixed bill.

My preview of the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s Israeli tour was originally published in the Jerusalem Post as “A Poet of the Body.”

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A Poet of the Body

Paul Taylor’s Promethean Fire.  Photo by Lois Greenfield.

Paul Taylor has come a long way since being dubbed as the “naughty boy” of dance by legendary modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. Over fifty years after shocking the American concert dance establishment with his avant-garde choreography, Taylor is regularly met with monikers of a different sort. Vanity Fair anointed him in 2004 as “the greatest choreographer in the world,” praise which has frequently been echoed by dance critics across the globe. Now Israeli audiences have a chance to see the famed dancemaker’s wares when the Paul Taylor Dance Company tours to Petach Tikva, Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv.

Taylor made his first forays into choreography while still performing for Graham, and since his company’s debut in 1954, he has created an astonishing 131 dances. Yet far more impressive than the sheer number of his works is the high caliber of his artistic output. After Taylor’s initial experiments – which included one infamous four-minute piece composed purely of stillness – he developed a rich signature movement language and trained his company to dance with a special quality that might be described as weighted ease. His works are infused with this physical imprint as well as a keen sense of composition and a marvelously nuanced musicality. And whether abstract in nature or more specifically outfitted with settings and characters, Taylor’s dances wield a rare communicative power, speaking of and to the human spirit.

Taylor’s extensive body of work traverses an exceptionally wide thematic range, covers a full spectrum of moods, and boasts a broad array of musical accompaniment. This multifaceted diversity will be on display in the PTDC’s performances in Israel with a stellar line-up of three distinctive dances: Changes, Piazzolla Caldera, and Promethean Fire.

Paul Taylor’s Changes. Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Created in 2008, Changes hearkens back to an earlier era as evoked by the songs of the popular 1960s vocal group The Mamas and the Papas. Clad in bell-bottoms and hippie-style tops covered in psychedelic prints, the dancers start in a colorfully lit club atmosphere. Social dance crazes like the pony and the monkey blend seamlessly into Taylor’s own vocabulary as the cast moves through the highs – drug-induced and otherwise – and the lows of the time. Teetering and tilting, the group is swept across the stage by the winds of change.

Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera.  Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Piazzolla Caldera (1997) transports the dancers to another atmosphere entirely, one inspired by a tango salon. Set to the music of renowned Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshsky, a Polish composer best known for his tangos, Piazzolla Caldera is laced with passion. Drawing from the traditional steps of the tango as well as his personal style, Taylor pairs off his dancers and sends the couples into deep dips and swirling turns. Feisty flicks of the foot and sharper accents are juxtaposed with smooth, legato stretches. This sultry mix has proved to be a winning formula, enlivening a documentary that was made during the work’s creation and subsequently capturing the hearts of audiences and critics alike.

Paul Taylor’s Promethean Fire.  Photo by Lois Greenfield.

Yet it is Promethean Fire (2002) that is this triple bill’s crowning glory. Hailed by the New York Times’s Anna Kisselgoff as “one of the best works choreographed by Paul Taylor,” Promethean Fire does indeed feature some of Taylor’s finest craftsmanship. The choreographer artfully maneuvers his sixteen-member ensemble across the stage, alternately carving sweeping curves and striking lines through the space before assembling the dancers in stunning sculptural group formations. Taylor’s formal composition suits the grand orchestral score by J.S. Bach, and although the work is abstract, the dance is exceptionally moving, leaving the viewer with a sense of renewal.

Watching a more classically tailored masterpiece like Promethean Fire, it’s hard to imagine that Paul Taylor ever caused such scandal with his choreography. But while he has reinvented himself from the mischievous rebel to the celebrated master of modern dance, one characteristic has remained constant in Taylor’s evolving artistry: his uncommon ability to stir the audience’s emotions.

More Information

The Paul Taylor Dance Company performs at Heichal HaTarbut in Petach Tikva on April 27th, the Haifa Auditorium on April 28th, the Jerusalem Theater on April 29th, and at the Opera House in Tel Aviv from May 1-4. Tickets (149-299 NIS) are available at 03-9125222 (Petach Tikva), 04-8418411 (Haifa), 02-6237000 (Jerusalem), and 03-6927777 (Tel Aviv).

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Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s “Kamuyot”

Posted on 21 April 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot

My first glimpse of the Batsheva Ensemble when I arrived in Israel was in Kamuyot, and I was able to revisit the work for a preview of the company’s most recent staging at Studio Varda in Suzanne Dellal last weekend.

A version of my article on Kamuyot was first published in the Jerusalem Post as “Stepping In.”

* * *

Stepping In

Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot isn’t your average family-friendly dance.  It’s not built on fanciful fairy tales or familiar children’s stories, like the ballet classic The Nutcracker or modern dance renderings of Peter and the Wolf.  In fact, it’s not based on any narrative at all.  But the Batsheva Ensemble’s production is a uniquely engaging work that lives up to its billing as “a piece for children aged 6 to 90.”

Based on material from Naharin’s Mamootot and Moshe, both of which were created for more typical adult audiences, Kamuyot premiered in 2003 and has since entertained crowds across the country and around the world.  Indeed, for the past few years, an international cast has toured Sweden in a popular joint production with the Riksteatern, while last season the Batsheva Ensemble brought Kamuyot to children in Rwanda.

This widespread success lies in large part in the special bond between performers and viewers that the work establishes from the outset.  For starters, Kamuyot trades the traditional theater setting for the more informal, intimate studio space.  Like the children and adults who have arrived to watch the show, the dancers gradually filter into the studio and find their seats on long benches that line all four sides of the room.  Some even interact with people sitting around them, smiling broadly and chatting amiably.  These performers are approachable rather than untouchable; in fact, in their prep-school inspired white shirts, plaid pants, and pleated skirts, Kamuyot’s young cast members could be the friendly teenagers next door.

Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The dynamic connection between the performers and the audience is maintained once the dance itself begins.  Kamuyot’s eclectic score – ranging from quirky electronica to nostalgic Americana and from Japanese rock to mellow reggae – kicks off with a rousing rendition of Lou Reed’s “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together,” setting the tone for a performance that’s more interactive than most.  Besides moving back and forth between their spots on the sidelines and the open space in the center, the dancers invite viewers to join them in a series of inventive postures and later walk around the perimeter, gazing softly into audience members’ eyes and occasionally taking a viewer’s hand.

Even when there’s not direct physical interaction between Kamuyot’s performers and spectators, a spirit of lively interplay among everyone present prevails.  At one point, the dancers gamely address the challenge of being surrounded by the audience and pointedly cater to each row of viewers.  To a rocking version of Bobby Freeman’s song “Do You Wanna Dance,” the cast jumps through a fast-paced phrase, strikes a pose, and then sprints to the next side of the studio to start all over again.  In such a small area, every twinkle in their eyes and dimple in their cheeks is visible, revealing the dancers’ pleasure in captivating the crowd.

Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The Batsheva Ensemble’s ebullient energy is infectious, and in this square space, the audience’s enthusiastic responses are equally contagious.  Seen up close, the performers’ soaring, unbridled leaps and a few daring acrobatic feats elicit gasps from viewers of all ages.  Other gestures – two men waving their tongues in the air, or one man smacking his face, thumping his thighs, and drumming on his chest – prompt giggles from children which soon spread to their parents.   Moments of contact with the dancers frequently spur happy grins and a stream of excited whispers.  And don’t be surprised if the end of the show induces ardent applause and even a dance party, with kids spilling from the bleachers to try out their own moves in the center of the room.

That’s the magic of Kamuyot.  Naharin’s work eschews the storybook characters and wondrous stagecraft of so many productions geared towards families, but the one-of-a-kind experience it fosters possesses its own attraction – and this spell works its charms on children and adults alike.

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Yael Flexer’s “The Living Room” at Tmuna Theater

Posted on 09 April 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Yael Flexer’s The Living Room.  Photo by Chris Nash.

My preview of Yael Flexer’s The Living Room was initially published in the Jerusalem Post as “Make Yourself at Home.”

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Make Yourself at Home

Like well-made furniture, Yael Flexer’s movement is functional.  So perhaps it’s fitting that in Flexer’s The Living Room, coming soon to Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theater, the dancers jokingly furnish the bare space themselves, pretending to be sofas, bookshelves, and reading lamps.

It’s this kind of lively imagination that launched Israeli-born choreographer Yael Flexer to the top of England’s contemporary dance scene.  As a newcomer to the field, Flexer became choreographer in residence at The Place Theatre in London, and shortly thereafter, she founded Bedlam Dance Company.  Over the years, her smart sense of humor, playful investigation of the nature of performance, and dynamic partnerships with artists in other disciplines made her a favorite in British dance circles.

Among Flexer’s constellation of collaborators is Nic Sandiland, an engineer-turned-artist whose adventurous work spans installations, video, and performance.  The pair’s creative cooperation deepened during the last several years, and ultimately, the partners decided to coin their joint endeavor Yael Flexer, Nic Sandiland/Dance and Digital Works.

While the umbrella organization’s name might conjure up images of dances layered with digital media, Flexer notes, “We like to make very separate things.”  She elaborates, “It’s almost like two sides of the coin, working in two different mediums.  I think sometimes when people hear ‘Dance and Digital Work,’ they think of work that’s very hi-tech, and actually, the live work is very low-tech, no tech at all.  And even though the installation work is hi-tech, it doesn’t have that hi-tech aesthetic.  It’s really about intimacy with the viewer.”

Flexer’s live work similarly fosters this intimacy between performers and viewers.  The choreographer explains that she is interested in exploring “the idea that we witness one another so it’s not just about the audience watching us [the performers] but it’s also about us in a sense watching them, and there’s a kind of equality of gaze and an equality of power between us.  It’s always breaking the fourth wall.”

This fourth wall is decidedly demolished in The Living Room, which the company is touring to Israel.  Reflecting on the setting of the dance, Flexer clarifies, “it’s not really a living room.  I think it’s more a rehearsal space, and in some ways we’re inviting the audience into our space. . . . there’s something about allowing people into our space and having a very light or inviting essence of us all being together in one room.”

Yael Flexer’s The Living Room.  Photo by Chris Nash.

In The Living Room, the choreographer and her fellow performers – an international cast of five dancers and the cellist Karni Postel, who hails from Israel – welcome the viewers into their world with witty banter.  The dancers do not assume dramatic characters but instead perform as themselves, and as the work references the real situations and domestic lives of those onstage, the audience develops a special familiarity with the performers.

The dancers’ often comical attempts to imagine and become furniture in their performance space further engage and entertain the viewer.  Yet while these efforts may be couched in levity, they also provide an opportunity for deeper contemplation on the concept of home.  Though Flexer asserts that there are many possible interpretations of The Living Room, she acknowledges that the work’s inquisitive treatment of home – and what she calls the “unhome” – is at least partially connected to her vantage point as an Israeli living abroad.  “This particular work definitely refers a lot to cultural baggage, or what is culture and how it is a part of you,” she says.  At times, the transplanted choreographer refers to English culture with its polite pleasantries, and at other points she slips into Hebrew and alludes to other aspects of Israeli culture.  Having premiered the work in England just a few weeks ago, Flexer is excited to bring The Living Room to Tel Aviv and gain a different perspective from Israeli viewers.  “It will be great to see how an Israeli audience reads it,” she anticipates.

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Batsheva Ensemble in Ohad Naharin’s “Kyr/Z/na”

Posted on 15 March 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Trailer for Kyr/Z/na

It’s been a particularly fascinating season at Batsheva.  As the company marks the 20th anniversary of Ohad Naharin’s arrival as artistic director, it has placed a wealth of choreographic treasures onstage for review at the Suzanne Dellal Center: Hora (2009), Project 5 (2008), Three (2005), Mamootot (2003), and Kamuyot (2003).

This programming has promoted what Naharin has discussed in several press conferences: an opportunity for the choreographer, dancers, and audience members alike to revisit the choreography.  Project 5, itself a compilation of excerpts stretching from 1985’s Black Milk to 2008’s B/olero and originally danced by five women, was newly presented in 2010 with an all-male cast.  Three has stayed in Batsheva’s active repertory, but the recent performances were the first ones at Suzanne Dellal in a few seasons. And Mamootot and Kamuyot, which are performed in the studio with viewers on all four sides, always offer repeat audiences a new perspective simply through the choice of seating.

Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Z/na.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Now, together with the Batsheva Ensemble, the Batsheva Dance Company’s junior troupe, Naharin is revisiting two of his earlier works: Kyr (1990) and Z/na (1995).  The result – Kyr/Z/na 2010, which combines excerpts from both works in one powerful program – continues through March 17 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv.

My preview of Kyr/Z/na 2010 was first published in the Jerusalem Post as “Moving Legends.”

* * *

Moving Legends

Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Z/na.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Reflecting on his recent restaging of excerpts from Kyr (1990) and Z/na (1995) for the Batsheva Ensemble, Ohad Naharin remarks, “At first, when I returned to the material, I felt that I was waking a dinosaur.”

The two works have certainly loomed large in the history of the Batsheva Dance Company and in the memories of Israeli dance audiences.  Commissioned by the Israel Festival, Kyr was the first dance that Naharin created after assuming the artistic directorship of Batsheva in 1990, and it featured a musical collaboration between Naharin himself and the band Tractor’s Revenge.  Even after two decades worth of adventurous new works, a section of Kyr set to a relentlessly driving rock version of the Passover song “Echad Mi Yodea” has remained Naharin’s best-known choreography.  Meanwhile, Z/na, which opened the Israel Festival in 1995, also left a strong impact with striking images, memorable props, and an original score composed by popular music icon Ivri Lider.

Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Z/na.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Touching these two substantial, legendary works after so many years was, at first, daunting.  “In the early stages of the process, I lost confidence about the decision to work again,” Naharin recalls.  “But from the encounter with the dancers and the process in the studio, the interest returned.”  Ultimately, Naharin asserts, “The age of a work, or when it was created – this is not really meaningful.  It’s information like any other information, but the encounter with the material happens here and now and is connected to where we are today.”

Indeed, the upcoming performances of Kyr/Z/na 2010 at the Suzanne Dellal Center promise all the freshness and excitement of a hotly anticipated world premiere.  For one thing, Naharin has revamped some the selected excerpts from Kyr and Z/na, and he is now deploying an even more developed artistry to bring out the nuances in the choreography.  “There’s something zealous in this work.  It was created from a place of less restraint, from this raging pressure cooker.  The steam that comes out of this pot is measured,” explains Naharin about the shift in energy from the original and the current version.  “The image I have [now] is of a very strong motor that works at 30%.  Today this creation is in a different place. It is connected to insights from 20 years of work.”

While audiences can look forward to these more finely calibrated dynamics and to other changes, they can also expect that Kyr/Z/na 2010 will deliver what the original works offered: unforgettable visual images paired with particularly powerful sound scores.  From the astronaut who postures and lip-synchs to a recording of Naharin’s resonant voice to the man slowly crossing the stage as he gratingly grinds an oversize wooden noisemaker, the work is full of compelling moments that sear themselves on the viewer’s brain.

Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Z/na.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The vitality of this new staging is further enhanced by the creative chemistry between Naharin and Kyr/Z/na 2010’s talented young performers, who range in age from their late teens to their early twenties.  Noting that he typically works more with the main company and that the junior Batsheva Ensemble members are with the group for only a couple years, Naharin says that this meeting with the dancers was unique.  He elaborates, “I learn a lot from them.  This is a very special group, and I feel that they are upgrading me.”

The magic from the studio pours onto the stage as the Batsheva Ensemble enlivens Naharin’s choreography.  When individual dancers burst into fast-paced action amidst a sea of slow motion, each one masterfully commands attention.  And as a line of women tears upstage to a hard-hitting rap song, unleashing a torrent of full-bodied movement before staring down the audience, their commitment to the work and their passion for dance is palpable.  As performed by the Ensemble, Kyr and Z/na are no fossilized dinosaurs.  They’re living, breathtaking creations that pulse with new blood and a two-decade rich infusion of artistic insights.

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