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Jasmin Vardimon Returns to Israel with “Yesterday”

Posted on 02 March 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Video: Jasmin Vardimon’s Yesterday

Jasmin Vardimon started her promising dance career right here in Israel, performing with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company while venturing into choreography.  In 1995, she won the “On the Way to London” competition for young choreographers, which was sponsored by the Suzanne Dellal Center and the British Council – and shortly afterwards, she found herself headed to Europe and, indeed, on the way to London.  There, in 1997, she burst onto the British dance scene with her company, originally titled Zbang and now known as the Jasmin Vardimon Company (JVC).

By all accounts, Vardimon has achieved an extraordinary level of success.  She was an Associate Artist at The Place in 1998 and a Yorkshire Dance Partner from 1999-2005, and she is currently an Artistic Associate at Sadler’s Wells.  Over the course of her career, she has received awards for her artistry in both Israel and England, and she has also created works for a variety of dance companies internationally.

While Vardimon’s company hasn’t toured to Israel until now, the buzz about her choreography was loud enough to reach my ears from England.  And after talking to her partner, dramaturge, and set designer Guy Bar-Amotz a few weeks ago, I’m even more excited than ever to finally see Vardimon’s Yesterday when it opens at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center tonight.  Yesterday runs through Friday in Herzliya and will then travel to Haifa and Jerusalem so that audiences around the country can catch a glimpse of Vardimon’s greatness.

For more on what makes Vardimon’s work so uniquely striking, read my preview below, which was first published in the Jerusalem Post as “Mixing art, dance and life.” You can also check out my full interview with Guy Bar-Amotz here on Dance In Israel.

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Mixing Art, Dance, and Life

“I think the real art is the one that mixes all [the disciplines],” declares Guy Bar-Amotz.  This belief – and a singular talent for fusing art forms – has made the England-based Bar-Amotz a prominent figure in Israeli and international art circles.  Bar-Amotz is best known for innovative sound installations, and he has also experimented with dance performances in museums. His current project, which is scheduled for a solo show in Tel Aviv at Rothschild 69 next year, centers on three talking robots who follow a theatrical script written by Bar-Amotz.

But on this trip to Israel, Bar-Amotz is not exhibiting his own work.  Instead, he’s here as the associate director and dramaturge for the Jasmin Vardimon Company, which is bringing the dance production Yesterday to Herzliya, Jerusalem, and Haifa.

Jasmin Vardimon’s Yesterday.  Photo by Alastair Muir.

Bar-Amotz and Vardimon have been collaborating for well over a decade, since he was a student at Bezalel and she was an emerging choreographer here in Israel.  Moving abroad in the mid-1990s, Bar-Amotz studied for his Masters of Fine Art and Vardimon established her company in England in 1997.  As Vardimon honed her highly physical and deeply psychological style, she became one of the leading choreographers in England, and with Bar-Amotz by her side, she has developed one of the most visually striking, cutting-edge aesthetics in the world.

Asked about the nature of their collaboration, Bar-Amotz laughs, “Basically, we live together, so it’s naturally a mixture of everything, life mixed with art!”  Sometimes, he notes, “Jasmin is working with me, advising me or doing some movement sequences or choreography for performances that I’m doing inside my own installation.”  But when it comes to their work for the company, Bar-Amotz says it is Vardimon who comes with the vision.  “My role is basically to do the artistic advising and to do the sets and to think about things that I don’t know how to do,” he remarks.

As a dramaturge, Bar-Amotz brings his background in the fine arts to his discussions with Vardimon and other designers involved in each project. His finely trained critical eye comes in handy for observing rehearsals and offering constructive feedback that pushes the work to the next level.  “I see myself as the first audience,” Bar-Amotz explains.  “We think when you’re making art – and this is also with my own practice – I don’t want to see the viewer as less than me. I treat them as if they are me and above . . . So I’m the viewer, basically, for Jasmin. And we’re doing the work for someone like me and better than me.”

While Bar-Amotz’s constant dialogue with Vardimon may help shape her choreography, it is his extraordinary set designs that are most clearly visible in her productions.  “With the set,” he clarifies, “I’m trying to build a system, a technological and conceptual systematic arrangement, that’s not like making a decoration for the stage.  It’s more like a tool; it’s more like a machine that the choreographer can use.”

Jasmin Vardimon’s Yesterday. Photo by Alastair Muir.

In Yesterday, Vardimon uses Bar-Amotz’s inventive machine to stunning effect.  A backdrop shredded into vertical strips allows dancers to enter and exit the space and also doubles as a screen for real-time projections of the dancers, captured by cameras placed strategically onstage.

Live media and previously filmed footage abound in Yesterday, which was premiered for the company’s tenth anniversary and contains excerpts from several works in Vardimon’s rich repertory.  Both the existing movement and video art have been creatively remixed, and the result, Bar-Amotz asserts, is that Yesterday “is really becoming a new piece.”

Since this is the company’s first tour to Israel, all of the recombined material in Yesterday will be brand-new to Israeli audiences.  And while Bar-Amotz notes that Vardimon’s work is quite different from most Israeli dance, he thinks local crowds will love it.  “[When] we tour in Germany and France, we can’t leave the stage,” he marvels.  “I’m sure it will be the same with Israel.”

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Batsheva Dance Company: Ohad Naharin’s “Shalosh” (“Three”)

Posted on 15 February 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Three

Five years after its premiere, Ohad Naharin’s Shalosh (Three) still lures audiences to the Suzanne Dellal Center – and judging by the enthusiastic curtain calls last Saturday night, the work continues to captivate crowds.  My preview of this run of Three was originally published in the Jerusalem Post as “Lucky Number ‘Three.'”

* * *

Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Addressing a small crowd in the Batsheva Dance Company’s studios during an open rehearsal of Three, artistic director and choreographer Ohad Naharin mused that we frequently revisit books, movies, and music. So why not revisit a dance?

Naharin proposes that Tel Aviv audiences do just that when Three, an evening-length work which premiered in February 2005, returns to the Suzanne Dellal Center this weekend.

Guy Shomroni and Sharon Eyal in Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

“The showing of Three in Tel Aviv offers the viewer a renewed meeting with the work, which exists inside a constant process of development since its creation,” Naharin explained in a press release. “This process, in which the work is growing and being refined all the time, is just as meaningful in the company’s work as the process of creation before a premiere.”

At the rehearsal, Naharin elaborated why both of these processes are so vital.  “Since the premiere, the creation went through a lot of changes.  I like to think of the premiere as a birth, since it’s clear to everyone that birth is just one moment, and that afterwards many other things happen,” he reflected.  “There is no doubt that the work changed, improved, among other things because of the meeting with the dancers, who are very creative and musical themselves.  This is one of the reasons that I recommend for people to see the creation twice, at the beginning and after a year or two once it has gone through this process of ripening.”

Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

In the case of Three, the work has enjoyed five years of ripening while remaining in Batsheva’s active repertory.  Consequently, original cast members who have stayed with the company as well as newer additions to the troupe have had ample opportunity to develop their interpretation of the dance, calibrating their embodiment of the choreography with previously elusive nuances and subtleties.

Nowhere is this maturation more important and beneficial than in a work such as Three, which in the absence of complex stagecraft and elaborate visual design reveals the movement and the dancers’ performance of it as the main subject.  Lit plainly but effectively by Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi) and clothed in Rakefet Levy’s basic, solid-colored tops and closely fitting cropped pants, the dancers approach Three’s sophisticated, multi-layered movement with a confident straightforwardness.

Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

As the title suggests, Three contains three discrete sections, and Naharin’s compositional and musical choices provide each part with a distinctive feel.  In “Bellus,” set to Glenn Gould’s celebrated recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a simple purity reflective of the music pervades both the dancers’ finely wrought solos and the more pared down, precise group work.  Brian Eno’s spare, evocative Neroli provides the soundscape for “Humus,” which features a flock of the company’s women methodically repositioning their bodies and shifting their spatial formation in an entrancing unison.

“Secus,” the final section, boasts a musical collage that stretches from the offbeat electronic stylings of AGF to the alluring Indian melodies of Kaho Naa Pyar Hai to the resonant harmonies of the Beach Boys.  This adventurously eclectic mix serves as a fitting backdrop for the audaciously quirky choreography.  From total stillness, the dancers burst into flurries of activity, creating a sense of organized chaos both in the space and within their bodies.  Their novel movement often defies description, but it constantly commands attention and inspires awe.

Three by Ohad Naharin.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Three’s extraordinarily rich physical texture can be attributed at least partly to the evolution of Naharin’s movement language, Gaga, in the early 2000s.  Naharin noted that just a few years prior to Three’s premiere, “Gaga became the heart of the daily practice of the company,” and he added, “this common language [Gaga] held the keys to the process” of making Three.  Indeed, the marvelous movement invention and robust embodiment which characterize Three are closely linked to the practice of Gaga, which expands the dancers’ ability to research movement possibilities and awakens their sensitivity to physical sensations.  Five years later, Batsheva’s dancers bring a deepened understanding of Gaga to their performance of this work.  And that’s reason enough to revisit Three for a second or even a third time.

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Batsheva Dance Company: Ohad Naharin’s “Project 5”

Posted on 19 January 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Video: Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Project 5

Given the chance, I usually prefer to see a dance twice.  I can anticipate the choreography and more strategically direct my gaze, and I detetct nuances that I missed the first time around.

I first saw Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Project 5 when it premiered in 2008, and by the time I had my second viewing last week, there had been a significant change: the gender of the dancers.  Originally created for five female dancers, Project 5 is now being performed not only by women but also by men.

I had wondered if I would sense differences between the male version and the female version of Project 5.  Without watching the versions back-to-back, it was challenging to make a fair comparison.  Instead, as I watched the men, I found myself thoroughly absorbed in noticing the subtle idiosyncrasies among individuals both within this particular quintet and across the two casts I had seen. Project 5‘s assortment of small groupings and repeated compositional motifs provide ample opportunity to observe each dancer in all his (or her) glory and discover each performer’s winning quirks.

Those of you in Israel can catch both female and male casts in Project 5 at the Suzanne Dellal Center from January 28-30.  For those of you who aren’t in the country, you can get your Batsheva fix online by browsing their fantastic new website (link below; English version to come shortly!).

My preview of Project 5 was originally published as “Changing Places” in the Jerusalem Post.

* * *

Changing Places

Two dancers rhythmically swing their forearms side to side as Isao Tomita’s synthesizer transforms the stirring melody of Ravel’s Bolero.  Positioned squarely behind microphones, three dancers intersperse their stern monotone chanting with more dynamically accented gestures.  Five dancers add movement after movement to a gradually accumulating phrase, striking their abdomens with a resounding slap each time a woman’s voice matter-of-factly intones one particular line from Charles Bukowski’s “Making It.”  And finally, costumed in flowing white fabric, five dancers shoot through the space in soaring jumps and ritualistically smear mud across their faces and chests.

Are these dancers men or women?  The answer depends on which performance of Ohad Naharin’s Project 5 you attend.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Naharin first presented Project 5 in 2008 to showcase five female dancers who had recently been promoted to the Batsheva Dance Company from the junior Batsheva Ensemble.  Besides displaying the formidable talents of these up-and-coming dancers, Project 5 unearthed several gems from the rich landscape of Naharin’s repertory.  The engrossing trio “Park” hails from Moshe (1999), the finely crafted quintet set to Bukowski’s instructive text and Arvo Pärt’s “Für Alina” is from George and Zalman (2006), and Black Milk, the supremely athletic closing section for five dancers, was first performed in 1985.  “B/olero,” the duet with its hypnotizing loops of movement, was the only section created in 2008 for members of the original Project 5 cast.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

In its early performances, the chance to see five of Batsheva’s freshest female dancers featured in this intimate chamber setting was reason enough to go to the theater.  But now Naharin is upping the ante, offering a rare opportunity to see the exact same choreography in both a female version and a male version.  During the production’s latest run at the Suzanne Dellal Center, two all-male and two all-female casts are performing Project 5.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

While reversing the casting of men and women in a classical ballet would be unthinkable because of the genre’s gender norms, switching the genders in Naharin’s choreography is an intriguing novelty that fits comfortably into the realm of possibility.  Indeed, regarding the materials with which his dancers work during the creative process, Naharin explains, “it is possible to talk, among other things, about musicality, accuracy, groove, passion, the ability to sublimate personal madness as an aid for creation, connection to sexuality and more, and all these things are not connected to gender and are not the property of men or of women.”

“The difference,” Naharin notes, “lies in the different point of reference of the viewer – in social conventions, our habits, and the awareness that a man does a woman’s role.”

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Naharin’s assertion is supported by veteran Batsheva dancer Guy Shomroni’s experience in working on Project 5.  Asked if it felt significantly different to step into roles originated by women, Shomroni replied, “Frankly, not really, because the starting point for us as dancers in this company is usually coming from a more physical way.”  Rather than taking on specifically gender-coded movement or characters, Shomroni and his fellow male dancers were charged with the same basic physical tasks that their female predecessors faced.

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Yet there was a high level of excitement for the new male cast when it came to learning Project 5.  Shomroni reflects that besides Black Milk, which has frequently been performed by a male quintet, “None of the material was ever offered for men to do . . . to touch this product after it’s already been through a process and a maturing on stage, it’s a nice experience.”

Ohad Naharin’s Project 5. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

As for the audience’s perspective, Shomroni muses that the differences among dancers of the same gender may be as fascinating as the contrasts between the male and female casts. In a company full of strikingly individual dancers, each of whom is uniquely compelling, this may well be the case. Yet returning to the issue of gender, Shomroni adds thoughtfully, “there is a difference in the body shape and the body curves in the way the body is built, so maybe there is going to be some type of change. Tell me if you find some.”

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Antonio Márquez Brings Fiery Flamenco to Israel

Posted on 13 January 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Antonio Márquez. Photo courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

This article was first published in the Jerusalem Post.

* * *

Although Israel is best known for contemporary dance, Israeli audiences seem to have an insatiable appetite for flamenco.  Besides boasting several thriving local flamenco companies and an annual flamenco festival and competition, the country has hosted some of the world’s most prominent flamenco troupes in performances that draw large, enthusiastic crowds. Now, after two previous successful visits to Israel, the legendary Antonio Márquez is returning with his company to satiate Israelis’ hunger for top-notch Spanish dance. “The Israeli audience embraced us on our previous visits and we would like to return a warm embrace,” explains Márquez.

Born in 1963 in Seville, Márquez studied flamenco with Antonio Ruiz Soler, a leading dancer of his day, and joined the renowned National Ballet of Spain in 1982. Márquez’s phenomenal technique and dramatic stage presence made him a star with the company and a popular guest artist in other preeminent companies and international galas.  As a performer, he received coveted awards including the Nureyev Prize, and in 1998, he was named Spain’s Most Esteemed Professional Dancer.

Compañia Antonio Márquez. Photo courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

In 1995, the virtuoso dancer founded Compañia Antonio Márquez. With Márquez and a roster of talented dancers enlivening captivating, colorful productions, the Madrid-based company has garnered critical acclaim and won a popular following in both national and international tours. For its third trip to Israel, Compañia Antonio Márquez will be the guest of honor of the international dance series at the Herzliya Center for the Performing Arts from January 13-16 before touring to Haifa, Rishon Lezion, and Jerusalem.

Compañia Antonio Márquez. Photo courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

Márquez has planned an enticing double-bill for his troupe’s Israeli performances.  Set to Maurice Ravel’s rousing score, Bolero highlights Márquez’s penchant for combining classical flamenco technique with strikingly contemporary choreography. Positioned center stage in a spotlight, every fiber of Márquez’s body exudes power and passion; bursts of lightning-fast footwork are juxtaposed with slow head rolls, subtly expressive isolations, and the gloriously smooth unfurling of his muscled arms. As the music builds, so too does the action with the ensemble. Márquez smartly moves the dancers around the stage in striking formations, sometimes punctuating a strong unison section with an eye-catching canon. All the while, the group entrances with their proud carriage, mesmerizing arm motions, and percussive, rhythmic steps.

Compañia Antonio Márquez. Photo courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

Besides Bolero, Márquez has prepared Flamenco Celebration especially for this tour.  Danced to stirring guitar and vocal music, this vibrant group work hews more closely to traditional notions of flamenco dance. Women in tiered ruffled dresses and swirling fringed scarves sweep elegantly through the space, while men in smart suits show off their impeccable high-speed footwork. Sometimes the group surrounds a soloist, clapping, stomping, and gesturing to accentuate the lead dancer’s dazzling movement and impassioned performance. Here too, Márquez electrifies with his brilliant technique and commanding, expressive presence. With such a superb flamenco dancer at the helm, and with an exciting cast of outstanding dancers in well-crafted, compelling choreography, Compañia Antonio Márquez’s concerts are themselves cause for celebration.

More Information

Compañia Antonio Márquez performs at the Herzliya Center for the Performing Arts from January 13-16 at 9:00 p.m. Tickets (269-299 NIS) are available at 1-700-70-29-29.  Additional performances are at the Haifa Auditorium (January 17, 8:30 p.m. 04-8418411), Rishon Lezion’s Heichal Hatarbut (January 18, 8:30 p.m., 03-9666141), and the Sherover Theater in Jerusalem (January 20, 8:30 p.m., 02-6237000).

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Machol Shalem 2009: A Cutting-Edge Dance Festival in Jerusalem

Posted on 27 December 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Video: Trailer for Less Mess, a collaboration between Ruby Edelman, Sascha Engel, and Christina Gehrig Binder

Just as the dance scene has quieted down a bit in Tel Aviv after a series of festivals, the growing Jerusalem scene is heating up with Machol Shalem’s SHALEM festival 2009.  Unlike most of the festivals which took place here in Tel Aviv, SHALEM features not only concerts but classes, such as Ronen Itzhaki’s workshop for men and Claudia Hauri’s workshop for dancers and actors, cleverly titled “Don’t try it at home.”  This year’s programming runs in Jerusalem from 29-31, and Tel Aviv audiences can see some of the festival’s offerings when they come to the Opera House’s rehearsal room on January 1-2.

To get the scoop on SHALEM 2009 and its parent organization Machol Shalem, I talked to Ruby Edelman, who co-directs the festival along with his partner Idel.  The article below was first published in the Jerusalem Post as “Daring Dance in Jerusalem.”

* * *

Daring Dance in Jerusalem

“It’s a whole different playground,” Ruby Edelman says of Jerusalem’s dance scene.  Tel Aviv is typically recognized as the hot spot for concert dance in Israel but Edelman and his partner Ofra Idel are injecting new energy into Jerusalem’s fledgling scene with Machol Shalem.

Edelman recalls, “The initiation of Machol Shalem started in 2002, [with] me and some other independent dancemakers in Jerusalem who were looking for a place to continue [our] creation.”  Initially, the organizers invited young choreographers to present their work on a single evening and each year, the group’s activities expanded.  Eventually they founded a multi-day festival called SHALEM – The Jerusalem Dance Festival and established a home base with a studio in Jerusalem’s Musrara neighborhood.

Or Marin’s Origami.  Photo by Ascaf.

Now, with three days of inventive workshops and cutting-edge performances by both Israeli and foreign artists, SHALEM is easily one of Israel’s most adventurous dance festivals.  SHALEM’s progressive programming flies in the face of conservative stereotypes that characterize both Jerusalem itself and the city’s arts scene.  Indeed, Edelman affirms that the festival’s mission is “to present an alternative channel to what modern, contemporary, independent dance can be at this time . . . to search for things which are not obvious and which present variations of what dance can be about.”

Running from December 29-31, SHALEM 2009 advances this search for bold, experimental approaches to dance with what Edelman calls an emphasis on “unique, fresh collaborations of new dance and new media.”  Efrat Rubin joins forces with animation artist Osnat Wald to create her latest work, Yom (Day).  Meanwhile, Copenhagen-based Israeli choreographer Esther Wrobel performs while hanging on a rope against the backdrop of Marlene Nielson’s video projections in CRUST.  Even Splash, a work for young audiences by Australian-born, Jerusalem-based choreographer Joel Bray, includes an interactive video along with live dance.

Less Mess by Ruby Edelman, Sascha Engel, and Christina Gehrig Binder.  Photo by Christian Glaus.

Video and an exploratory spirit also play a prominent part in Edelman’s work, a co-production of Machol Shalem and Tanzhaus Zurich with Swiss dancemaker Christina Gehrig Binder and German filmmaker and choreographer Sascha Engel as creative collaborators.  The trio, graduates of the Rotterdam Dance Academy and frequent artistic partners, embarked on a road trip throughout Israel that was filmed by Seffy Hirsch.  Then the three choreographers built a series of duets based on their experiences during this journey.  The resulting work, called Less Mess, includes clips of the video as reference points.

Technology plays an even more active role during the performances of a few innovative works to be showcased in SHALEM 2009.  During Or Marin’s new Origami, a real-time recording of the work will be projected while the dancers perform.  Berlin-based choreographer Efrat Stempler is also working with real-time recording and projection in her evening-length Shu Shu.  In this trio, the dancers are outfitted with miniature surveillance cameras that monitor the other performers and expose them by screening images in all directions throughout the space.

SHALEM 2009 also features Entr’acte, a duet by Holland’s dance theater cabaret group Gato Bizar that was a previous success in the festival.  The shows are rounded out with excerpts from the Jerusalem-based Kolben Dance Company’s latest production, Amir Kolben’s Min-hara, and a new solo by former Kolben dancer Evelin Ifrach.

Entr’acte by Gato Bizar.  Photo by Maarten Eiland.

While SHALEM’s exciting programming should be enough to attract crowds from outside Jerusalem into the city, the festival is also catering to Tel Aviv’s committed dance audience by bringing both Less Mess and Shu Shu to the Opera House’s rehearsal room from January 1-2.  Machol Shalem’s purpose may be to strengthen dance in Jerusalem, but with its daring curatorial vision, it is enriching the entire country’s cultural scene.

More Information

SHALEM’s performances run from December 29-31 at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem and from January 1-2 at the Opera House in Tel Aviv.  Tickets are available at www.bimot.co.il or 02-6237999.

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