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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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Announcing the Gaga Intensive 2010

Posted on 01 April 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Gaga Intensive. Photo by Gadi Dagon

Many of you have inquired about the 2010 Gaga Intensive, a two-week summer course offered by Ohad Naharin along with dancers from Batsheva Dance Company.  So, as the registration coordinator for the workshop, I’m pleased to offer you the scoop: this year’s intensive will be held from July 11-23 in Tel Aviv at the Batsheva studios in the Suzanne Dellal Center.  The Gaga Intensive is geared towards dancers and dance students age 18+.  Classes in Gaga, Naharin’s repertory, and Gaga methodics will run Sundays through Thursdays from 10:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon, and there will also be classes on Friday mornings. The course will cost 2000 NIS, or roughly $500.

If you have questions, please do not contact me through Dance In Israel but instead e-mail me at: [email protected]

You can register at: www.gagapeople.com

Hope to see you in Tel Aviv this summer!

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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.”

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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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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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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.'”

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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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