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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.”

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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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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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Gaga for Dancers: From the Gaga Intensive to New Open Classes

Posted on 27 August 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Gaga Intensive

Dancers at the Gaga Intensive 2009.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

I’ve been studying Gaga for the better part of two years, but the vast majority of the classes I have taken fall under the rubric of “Gaga People,” Gaga classes which are open for participants regardless of any previous dance experience.  There’s something magical about these classes.  It’s not often that you walk into a dance studio full of people ranging in age from their early 20s to their 70s, some of whom have performed professionally and some of whom simply love to move but have never taken a dance class before.

Yet there was also something special about taking Gaga classes with 120 other dancers during the Gaga Intensive this summer.  “Gaga Dancers” classes challenged me to more thoroughly explore the underlying concepts of Ohad Naharin’s movement language and enabled me to research these ideas while connecting more consciously to my body’s knowledge of ballet and modern dance forms.  I wasn’t just working from my lena; I was working my arabesque from my lena.  I was floating while doing changements, exploring biba while doing developés, and sensing my luna while doing pliés and relevés.

I’m happy to announce that starting on September 8th, Gaga classes designed specifically for dancers will be opened to the public in Tel Aviv.  Like the “Gaga People” classes, these will take place at the Suzanne Dellal Center.  If you have previous dance training, you can get your groove on at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.  And I’m also happy to announce that starting soon, I’ll be the one working the door!  For more details, please see the Events calendar.

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Before open “Gaga Dancers” classes start, I wanted to share another glimpse of last month’s Gaga Intensive.  I first wrote the article below, “Learning to Speak Gaga,” for the Jerusalem Post. To read what other dancers thought about their Gaga experience, check out my previous post, “Reflections on the Gaga Intensive 2009.”

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Learning to Speak Gaga

Amidst the waves of tourists arriving in Israel this summer was one particularly diverse group, gathering, from around the globe, in Tel Aviv.  They came from the United States, Canada, Mexico, England, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Cameroon, Japan and Korea.  Like some other foreign visitors, they were eager to experience an unfamiliar culture and learn a new language. But these weren’t typical tourists and they weren’t planning to study Hebrew.  They are dancers.  And they came to immerse themselves in Gaga.

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“Mamootot” – Challenging the Performer-Spectator Divide

Posted on 09 January 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

(Video: Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Mamootot)

Last year, I viewed excerpts from Mamootot on DVD, but I suspected that nothing could compare to attending a live performance of the dance.

I finally got to see Batsheva Dance Company in Mamootot today – and I was correct in my assumption.

Created in 2003 by Ohad Naharin with the participation of Sharon Eyal and the company’s dancers, Mamootot trades the comfort zone of the proscenium for the four-sided square of the studio.  Like Naharin’s other choreography, the dance is filled with inventive movement, but here it is the exploration of this unusual space – and the interplay of the performers and spectators within it – which assumes center stage.  Indeed, as the dancers sit motionless among audience members to the song “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together,” it’s clear that what will follow is not the typical concert experience.

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Getting to Know the Batsheva Ensemble

Posted on 05 January 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

(Video: Dancers from the Batsheva Ensemble and from Sweden in Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot)

I had every intention of taking Gaga class on November 18, 2007.  My dance clothes were in my bag, my water bottle was filled, and I made it to Suzanne Dellal with time to spare.  But outside the studio, I ran into Eldad Mannheim, the manager of the Batsheva Ensemble.  As part of a collaboration with Sweden’s National Riksteatern, members of the Ensemble were about to perform Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot along with Swedish dancers – and Eldad invited me to join the audience of school children in Studio Varda for the show.

That was the first time I had the pleasure of seeing the Batsheva Ensemble, the second company of the Batsheva Dance Company.  Since then, I have accompanied the Ensemble as they have toured to Be’er Sheva, Kiryat Shmona, and Kfar Saba, and I have attended their performances at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv.  Many of the dancers who were in the Ensemble last year are now in the Batsheva Dance Company, and I’m happy to note that they will be touring throughout the U.S. from late January to early March.  I hope you too will have the pleasure of seeing them perform!

I first wrote about the Batsheva Ensemble after joining them for a trip to Be’er Sheva, in the Negev desert, and I published a version of the article below on my own blog on January 10, 2008.  Expect more accounts of my experiences with the group in the coming months.

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I am not a morning person.

These days, it takes multiple alarms to get me out of bed, and more often than not, the snooze button takes a beating.  But at 5 a.m. on Thursday morning, I successfully arose after a single ring of my alarm. It takes something special for me to get up before the sun rises – something like the chance to accompany the Batsheva Ensemble on their trip to perform for students in Be’er Sheva. Continue Reading

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