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Invitation to a Lecture at Emory University on American and Israeli Dance

Posted on 20 February 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performing Ohad Naharin’s Decadance

If you’re in Atlanta, Georgia – or if you know someone in Atlanta – here’s a heads up:

I’m happy to announce that I am speaking in the Emory Friends of Dance Lecture Series on Wednesday, February 24 at 7:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).  My talk, Foreign Exchange: American and Israeli Dance from Martha Graham to Ohad Naharin, will precede a performance by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet of Ohad Naharin’s Decadance.  I won’t be in Atlanta in person, but I will be speaking via Skype and have an exciting presentation prepared!

Cedar Lake performing Ohad Naharin’s Decadance.  Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Here’s the official blurb about my lecture:

Forty years ago, Israel’s premiere dance company imported works by top American choreographers.  Now cutting-edge American troupes like Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet are drawing crowds with choreography by Israeli artists.  In this lecture, dance scholar Deborah Friedes Galili explores the dynamic relationship between American and Israeli dance and traces the meteoric rise of Israeli contemporary dance.  This lecture will be presented live from Israel via webcam prior to the performance by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.

Cedar Lake performing Ohad Naharin’s Decadance.  Photo by Paul B. Goode.

My lecture is free and open to the public, so if you’re in Atlanta, I hope you will come listen in the Chase Lobby at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, 1700 N. Decatur Road.  I will speak for one half hour, and then there will be a question and answer session.  Please let others know about this event as well!

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Celebration in Pictures: Anna Sokolow Centennial at the Dance Library of Israel

Posted on 11 February 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

The flyer for the Anna Sokolow centennial exhibition in Tel Aviv. Courtesy Henia Rottenberg.

Attention dance history fans: this year is the centennial of choreographer Anna Sokolow’s birth, and her artistic achievements are being commemorated around the world, including in Israel.  In this guest article, Hannah Kosstrin, who recently visited Tel Aviv to research Sokolow’s work here, reflects on Sokolow’s influence on dance in Israel and highlights upcoming centennial celebrations.

Celebration in Pictures: Anna Sokolow Centennial at the Dance Library of Israel

By Hannah Kosstrin

A new exhibit at the Dance Library of Israel celebrates the life and work of Anna Sokolow (1910-2000), whose centennial is celebrated this month.  Sokolow, an American-born Jewish choreographer who worked internationally and considered Israel her second home, carved out a space for herself in the Israeli dance landscape.  She first came to Tel Aviv in 1953 on the recommendation of Jerome Robbins and with the support of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, where she worked with Sara Levi-Tanai and Inbal Yemenite Dance Group (Inbal Dance Theatre).  In the early 1960s, she established her Lyric Theatre.  This company was active for months out of each year, and toured cities and kibbutzim throughout Israel.  Later, she choreographed for Israeli companies including Batsheva Dance Company, Bat-Dor Dance Company, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, Chamber Theatre, Springboard Dance Company, and Habima.  Her work touched many dancers and teachers who remain prominent in dance in Israel, including Paul Bloom, Galia Gat, Rena Gluck, Yaron Margolin, Moshe Romano, and Rena Schenfeld, and Ze’eva Cohen and Margalit Oved, who work in the United States.

With the Lyric Theatre (1962-1964), Sokolow continued to develop her performance form that she termed lyric theater, a combination of dancing and acting that blurred the lines between disciplines and created works wherein performers drew from both movement and acting bodies of knowledge.  Such works include Rooms and Dreams, originally created in the U.S. and then performed by the Lyric Theatre, and Forms and Poem, for which Sokolow worked closely with Israeli dancers to mount.  Sokolow was concerned foremost with truth in movement and with honesty in dancers’ performance. Using elements of the Stanislavsky Method that she garnered through a trip to Russia in 1934 and work with Elia Kazan and the Actors Studio in New York through the 1950s, Sokolow drew from performers’ own experiences to craft their characters within the context of each work.  Sokolow trained in Martha Graham’s technique through her work with that company during the 1930s.  Many of Sokolow’s dances from the 1930s-1940s show a strong Graham influence in her own movement via initiations by torso contractions and spirals through the back.  Sokolow’s dances from the 1950s onward, however, feature pieces crafted from movement and gestures found in daily life, from running to grasping hands to slamming against a wall.  Her work also presents quieter, vulnerable moments with arched backs and reaching arms, all while retaining the immediacy of movement coming from the “gut.”

Sokolow is known for making dances of social comment, and for reflecting humanity in the most inhumane of situations.  Dreams (1961), an evening-length group work, contains vignettes of harrowing concentration camp scenes leading to a dignified and wrongful death, while In Memory Of…543246 (1973), a solo for Rena Schenfeld, is a portrait of a Holocaust victim.  And the Disciples Departed (1967), a collaborative work with director Thomas J. Knott for American television, comments on the Vietnam war, racism in the U.S., and the rape of Kitty Genovese.  Rooms (1955), Sokolow’s landmark piece that cemented her place as a canonical concert dance choreographer, exposes loneliness, urban alienation, and unrequited desire.  The work is set against Kenyon Hopkins’ jazz score that alternates between driving adrenaline and stark atonal punctuations.  Earlier, in the 1940s, Sokolow made dances with Jewish themes and about Biblical heroines to stand in solidarity with Jews worldwide during the Holocaust.  The most well-known of these dances is Kaddish (1945), a memorial for Holocaust victims in which Sokolow defied contemporary gender conventions by laying tefillin around her arm.  Sokolow kept her Jewish identity at the core of all of her work, and her time in Israel fed and reinforced this connection.

The exhibit at the Dance Library of Israel commemorates Sokolow’s career through photographs and other ephemera, and it runs through September 2010.  The Dance Library of Israel is located at Beit Ariela, 25 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard in Tel Aviv.  More information is on the Beit Ariela library’s blog.

For information about Sokolow Centennial celebrations outside of Israel, please visit:

Hannah Kosstrin is a Ph.D. Candidate in Dance Studies at The Ohio State University (OSU). Her dissertation project focuses on Anna Sokolow’s work from 1927-1961. It is supported by the OSU Melton Center for Jewish Studies, the P.E.O. International Sisterhood, and the OSU Department of Women’s Studies Coca-Cola Critical Difference for Women Graduate Studies Grant for Research on Women, Gender, and Gender Equity. She has performed, choreographed, and taught in Boston, MA and Columbus, OH, U.S.A.

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Batsheva Dance Company: From Graham to Gaga

Posted on 21 September 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Ohad Naharin's "Hora"
Rachael Osborne and Iyar Elezra in Ohad Naharin’s Hora. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

I first wrote the article below for the Forward last winter, when the Batsheva Dance Company toured North America in three large-scale productions.  Now, right before New York audiences catch Ohad Naharin’s duet B/olero in City Center’s popular Fall for Dance festival, I decided it was time to revisit this piece.

Fall for Dance features an array of internationally-renowned companies, and while Batsheva has boasted a world-class reputation since its inception, its style and structure have changed dramatically over the last few decades.  This article, originally titled “Going Gaga for Batsheva in America,” traces Batsheva’s transition from a strongly American-influenced company to the more distinctive troupe which has captivated contemporary audiences.

Going Gaga for Batsheva in America

Since its first tour of the United States in 1970, Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company has won over American crowds and critics alike with its energetic approach to dance.  At the time, it was, perhaps, a novelty: an Israeli group performing primarily American repertory with unbridled verve and vigor.  But in the past 18 years, the company has become a phenomenon of a different sort.  The Batsheva Dance Company, which is currently crisscrossing North America, is widely recognized as one of the world’s top dance ensembles, featuring audacious choreography with inventive movement.

Founded in 1964 with the financial backing of Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, Batsheva began as a repertory company in the American mold.  Martha Graham, a founding mother of American modern dance and a beneficiary of de Rothschild’s patronage, served as artistic adviser.  The Israeli dancers trained intensively in Graham’s technique and channeled both their physical power and their emotional passion into some of the choreographer’s most acclaimed works. With many of Graham’s disciples contributing to Batsheva’s repertory, the Tel Aviv-based company was part of American modern dance’s family; New York Times critic Clive Barnes even called Batsheva’s members “the Israeli children of American dance” upon seeing the company’s American debut.

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Americans in Israel: Cedar Lake in Tel Aviv Dance 2008

Posted on 23 October 2008 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in Ohad Naharin’s Decadance. Photo by Paul B. Goode

It used to be that Israeli companies like Batsheva Dance Company and the now defunct Bat-Dor toured to the U.S. with American repertory (( Batsheva Dance Company was founded in 1964 by the Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, a patroness of Martha Graham.  Graham was the company’s artistic adviser, and the group performed not only several of her works but also dances by numerous Americans and Europeans – some of who became artistic directors during the group’s early decades. )).  But Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s appearance at the Tel Aviv Dance 2008 festival marks a turning point in dance history: this American company is bringing Israeli repertory to Israel.  Cedar Lake’s programs will include excerpts from Decadance by Ohad Naharin, Batsheva’s artistic director.

Last year I peeked into Cedar Lake’s rehearsal process with Naharin by watching Tomer Heymann’s documentary, Out of Focus.  Whereas the Batsheva dancers take class daily in Gaga, a movement practice developed by Naharin, Cedar Lake’s dancers had to move away from their ballet background and immerse themselves in a dramatically different method of training and working.  This shift required the dancers to trade a traditional emphasis on external appearances for an intense process of personal and physical exploration – a major challenge for dancers reared and rooted in the ballet studio, with its ever-present mirror.

But Cedar Lake is explicitly billed as a contemporary ballet company.  Its repertory is not drawn from 19th century ballet classics but from a range of modern-day works, some of which blur the borders between genres of dance.  Thus the dancers that tackled this challenge did so with within the company’s framework of versatility and physical facility, which is beautifully captured in this video below:

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Researching Dance in Israel: The Jumping-Off Point

Posted on 19 October 2008 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Deborah Friedes stretching on a beach in Tel Aviv

Deborah Friedes stretching on the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel.

My very first post on my very first blog was titled, “Some context, or why I am traveling halfway around the world for a year.”  I was about to leave the U.S. for Israel, where I would be researching Israeli contemporary dance on a Fulbright grant.  Little did I know that I would travel halfway around the world and stay there.  After seeing the vibrancy of dance in Israel, I realized I could research the subject for years to come, and so in the fall of 2008, I undertook a major move to pursue my passion: I made aliyah and moved to Israel.

Every week, on DanceInIsrael.com, I will publish written posts, photo journals, and audio podcasts. My content will reflect the range and vitality of the concert dance scene in Israel.  Beside publishing fresh content, I will also re-publish material from my Fulbright year; some of this was initially posted on The Winger, Israel Seen, and my own blog.  For those of you who have followed my writing on other websites during the past year, you’ll be happy to know that I will preface my older posts with brief musings and my current perspective on the subject.

I invite you to subscribe for free e-mail updates from DanceInIsrael.com when new content goes online by clicking here and typing your e-mail address (please make sure to follow the link in the first e-mail you will receive to complete the subscription process!).

And now, on to the blog! Before we plunge into the heart of the subject, let us start together at a jumping-off point: the seeds of my research.  Below is my first post from my original blog, published on my professional website on September 18, 2007.

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