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International Exposure 2010: Video Preview

Posted on 05 December 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Nir Ben-Gal and Liat Dror’s Terminal B. Photo by Naama Nada.

Even though December has started and the shelves of Tel Aviv’s bakeries are lined with sufganiot, the jelly donuts traditionally eaten during Hanukkah, many of Tel Aviv’s residents are still walking around in tank tops and sandals. Unusually hot days and sunny skies have made it easy for the masses to pretend that summer never ended. But for those of us who follow the dance field, there is no denying that the calendar year is coming to a close. The tip-off is in the posters and fliers on display at Suzanne Dellal as well as the press releases and invitations received via e-mail, all announcing the arrival of the annual showcase of Israeli dance: International Exposure.

Nimrod Freed’s Flash.  Photo by Itamar Freed.

The exact shape and scope of International Exposure have shifted since its first incarnation sixteen years ago. For many years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it operated in conjunction with Curtain Up, the country’s premiere platform for new works by independent choreographers. The festival has stretched over a varying number of days and welcomed crowds both intimate and large. But throughout, the goal has remained the same: to display the wealth of works premiered over the past year to foreign arts presenters, dignitaries, and journalists in the hopes of sending Israeli dance around the world.

Orly Portal’s Gnawia

International Exposure 2010 will run from Wednesday, December 8 through Sunday, December 12, and the schedule features an enticing array of established companies and independent choreographers. Most of the programs will take place at the Suzanne Dellal Centre, but a number of concerts and informal showings will take place at other performance venues and studios. And while some of the events are offered only to the festival’s guests, many of the shows are open to the public.  Below is a guide to the events that are accessible to local dance lovers (and a sneak peek at International Exposure for those of you who are not in town).  All shows are at Suzanne Dellal unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, December 8

Video: Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Zina

International Exposure starts out with the Batsheva Ensemble, the Batsheva Dance Company’s junior division, performing Ohad Naharin’s Kyr/Zina at 20:00.

Thursday, December 9

Rami Be’er’s Transform. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

International Exposure’s first full day kicks off at 11:00 with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Rami Be’er’s new Transform, which premiered during the international Tel Aviv Dance festival this past fall.

Curtain Up 2010 will be represented by three separate bills shown at 16:00, 19:00, and 22:30.

Video: Tamar Borer and Tamara Erde’s Ana

Thursday’s offerings also include a performance of Tamar Borer and Tamara Erde’s latest collaboration, Ana, at 20:30.

Friday, December 10

Friday’s programming includes a fair amount of moving about to different theaters in the area.

Video: The Project in Jacopo Godani’s Light Years.

At 14:00, The Project – a joint initiative by the Suzanne Dellal Centre and the Israeli Opera – will present a mixed bill at the Opera House in the heart of Tel Aviv.   The program includes Emanuel Gat’s Through the Center, Jacopo Godani’s Light Years, and Marco Goeke’s Supernova.

Video: Vertigo in Mana

Vertigo Dance Company presents a hit from last year, Mana, at the Givatayim Theater at 17:00.  Choreographed by Noa Wertheim, Mana premiered during the twentieth anniversary of the Curtain Up festival.

Video: Maria Kong in Miss Brazil

Maria Kong reprises its program from the Tel Aviv Dance festival, Miss Brazil, at 21:00 at Suzanne Dellal. The company’s four founders – Anderson Braz, Talia Landa, Leo Lerus, and Ya’ara Moses – collaborated on the first half of the bill, Miss, while guest choreographer Idan Cohen contributed the second half, Brazil.

Saturday, December 11

Saturday is primarily a day of mixed bills, titled Exposures, that feature both shorter dances in their entirety alongside excerpts from full-evening works.

Video: Yoram Karmi’s Particle Accelerator

Exposure 1, at 11:00, features Fresco Dance Group in an excerpt from the evening-length Particle Accelerator.  The bill is rounded out by Rachel Erdos’s OU’.

Video: Rachel Erdos’s OU’

Odelya Kuperberg’s Tzitzushka.

At 13:00, Exposure 2 will include Odelya Kuperberg’s Tzitzushka and a new work from Idan Sharabi.

Video: Liat Dror’s Terminal B

Nir Ben-Gal and Liat Dror bring their company from Mizpe Ramon to show Dror’s Terminal B at 14:00. 

Video: Mami Shimazaki’s Loop People

At 15:00, Mami Shimizaki’s Loop People shares the bill with Orly Portal’s Gnawia in Exposure 3.

Video: Kamea Dance Company in Tamir Ginz’s Srul

The day finishes at 22:30 with Exposure 4, featuring Kamea Dance Company in an excerpt from Tamir Ginz’s Srul along with Nimrod Freed’s Flash.

Sunday, December 12

Video: Sharon Eyal’s Bill

After a whirlwind of performances, International Exposure 2010 closes with Batsheva Dance Company in Sharon Eyal’s Bill.

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Tel Aviv Dance 2010

Posted on 19 September 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Preview of Tel Aviv Dance 2010

Four years after its founding, the Tel Aviv Dance festival – an outgrowth and expansion of the earlier Dance Europa festival – is now an eagerly anticipated annual staple of Israel’s jam-packed dance calendar.  From October 4-30, dance lovers can take a whirlwind world tour of exciting, exceptionally diverse dance from the comfort of two local dance hubs, the Suzanne Dellal Centre and the Israeli Opera – Tel Aviv Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC).

Yair Vardi (director of Suzanne Dellal) and Hannah Munitz (director of the Opera House) declared in a press release, “As each year in the festival, we try to keep the Israeli audience up to date and present contemporary dance from all over the world, including intriguing, far-away places. This year the festival will host premieres from dance companies from South Africa, South Korea, and China alongside those from the U.S., Canada, France, and Israel.”

The numbers are indeed impressive: by the end of the festival, 12 companies from 9 countries will present 34 performances.  And the breadth of genres and aesthetics on display is breathtaking.  Tel Aviv Dance 2010’s programming runs the gamut from hip-hop to ballet and offers lavish large-scale works alongside more intimate and modest approaches.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Sutra. Photo by Hugo Glendinning. Photo courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

Tel Aviv Dance 2010’s lineup includes some of the biggest names, old and new, in modern and contemporary dance.  From Belgium hails Eastman, a young company headed by the acclaimed Flemish-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.  Eastman will offer Aleko, Faun, and a new work at Suzanne Dellal.   Cherkaoui’s striking Sutra, a collaboration with sculptor Antony Gormley, composer Szymon Braska, and monks from the Shaolin Temple in China, will also be performed at the Opera.

The U.S. modern dance powerhouse Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will also visit the Opera, bringing not only Ailey’s masterpiece Revelations but also George Faison’s Suite Otis, Ronald K. Brown’s Dancing Spirit, and Robert Battle’s Unfold.

Kader Attou’s Petites Histoires.com.  Photo courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

Hip-hop also makes a few appearances on this year’s program.  The French troupe Accrorap brings Algerian choreographer Kader Attou’s PetitesHistoires.com, while ten male dancers from South Korea will offer Shin Chang Ho’s No Comment. On the same bill with No Comment is Kim Jin-Mi’s A Body Conflicting with Emotion, a work for four women.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Carmina Burana. Photo courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

Some ballet influence is visible as well in Tel Aviv Dance 2010’s lineup.  From Canada hails the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Mauricio Wainrot’s Carmina Burana and Peter Quanz’s In Tandem.  10 principal dancers from the acclaimed New York City Ballet present a program called To Dance, with excerpts of works by George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, and Tom Gold.

Dada Masilo’s Carmen.  Photo courtesy of Ora Lapidot PR.

Rising star Dada Masilo, a 24-year-old dancer and choreographer from South Africa, has also revealed a predilection towards ballet influences in her work.  For Tel Aviv Dance, Masilo brings her dance theater work Carmen to Suzanne Dellal.

Also among this year’s offerings is the Spanish dancer and choreographer Miguel Angel Berna’s sweeping Goya, inspired by painter Francisco Goya.

Maria Kong in Miss Brazil.  Photo by Ascaf.

Dance from Israel forms a strong presence in this year’s programming.  Barak Marshall’s Rooster, which was a success at the Opera House during Tel Aviv Dance 2009, will make an appearance in 2010 at Suzanne Dellal.  Batsheva Dance Company will present house choreographer Sharon Eyal’s Bill, which debuted last May, while the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company will unveil Rami Be’er’s newest work, Transform. Maria Kong Dancers Company, a collective of dancer-choreographers Anderson Braz, Talia Landa, Leo Lerus, and Ya’ara Moses, will offer their own creation Miss as well as Brazil by Idan Cohen.

For a more in depth look at what is in store during Tel Aviv Dance, check out the longer video below.  The clips are, in order, Accrorap, Shin Chang Ho, Kim Jin-Mi, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, Dada Masilo, Barak Marshall, New York City Ballet, Batsheva Dance Company, Eastman, Miguel Angel Berra, Winnipeg Royal Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Maria Kong, and Eastman.

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Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Rami Be’er’s “InfraRed”

Posted on 10 January 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: KCDC in Rami Be’er’s Infrared

Another guest at International Exposure 2009, Talia Baruch, covers the San Francisco-area dance scene for her blog GoSee– Dance. She wrote some reviews of dances she saw here in Israel in December for her website and is generously sharing them here on Dance In Israel.

Talia’s first guest article is about Rami Be’er’s InfraRed, which was mentioned in my last post about the festival.  Read on to learn more about this work, Be’er, and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company.

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International Exposure 2009—Suzanne Dellal Dance Center | KCDC

By Talia Baruch

INFRARED

Choreography, Stage Design, Lighting Design: Rami Be’er | Costume Design: Maor Tzabar | Sound Design: Alex Claude | Still photography: Gadi Dagon | Review & Copywriting: Talia Baruch

A black garden is revealed.
An invisible world is unveiled through infrared light spectrum.
Black bodies expose colors.

IN THE BLACK GARDEN

Lyrics and music: Rami Be’er
Translated from Hebrew: Talia Baruch

In the black garden
Red soldier—watch
Blue soldier—warn
Yellow soldier—shoot all
(Back to. The wall.)

In the black garden
Red soldier—respond
Blue soldier—drop
Yellow soldier—yell
(Get used to hell)

In the black garden
Red soldier—reply
Blue soldier—hush
Yellow soldier—weep
(In the shit. Deep)

In the black garden
Red soldier—gape
Blue soldier—loll
Yellow soldier—hallucinate
(Feel the pain, mate?)

In the black garden…
A soldier stares
A soldier strays
A soldier errs

Rami Be’er’s InfraRed. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

A deep voice delivers the weight of “In the Black Garden” to the taps of a black platoon.  They open the show and they’ll also close it, but not just yet.   We’re still in for a journey, exploring the tumbles of our human condition, sinking deep into its weaknesses, aspiring to new heights through time and space.

Music is at the forefront of Be’er’s dance compositions.  He writes the lyrics & tunes, mixes the electronic sound effects and plays the cello pieces. The opening scene carries you over to another planet, both locally familiar and exotically estranged.  A wind storm echoes. Soft oasis waves flutter, lulling you into the Sahara mood, a blazing desert sweeping in like a yellow sea.

The drama sets off with bodies, humans and creatures, pacing through.  I quake in my seat, feeling a sudden urge to stretch right out of my spine, when the four-legged creature enters.  You know she’s coming out when you hear the slow somber score greeting her cue, like in Peter & the Wolf.  Her long black hair glides down to the floor, heavy, with every stretch of muscle elongating her back and limbs, like a preying tiger, graceful and ready to pounce.  Her movement is from another dimension, arching, curving, hands turned backward, magnetized to the floor.  She shifts back and forth, stretching like sticky gum out of its glued grip.

Rami Be’er’s InfraRed. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Another twitching image is the cocoon, tightly swaddled: legs breaking out of colored paper wrap, muffling.
Soundtrack creaks:
-..I can’t dance it anymore
’cause my feet don’t touch the floor…-

The framework image for this dance is a board game.  And on it players make their moves.  They represent the three core colors: red, blue and yellow. Then there’s black, absorbing all colors, and white, their void.

Be’er was inspired by Sergeant Pepper’s album cover and commissioned the costume to reflect that 19th-century-European-soldier-uniform look, with the long flap buttoned apparel, set in the three foundation colors.  Like players on a check board, the dancers move through space in forward/backward horizontal/vertical taps, at times restrained within the confinements of red, blue and yellow squares laid out on the platform.

About KCDC–Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company

KCDC was founded in 1970 by Yehudit Arnon, who directed it through 1996, as an extension of the Ga’aton Repertoire Dance group.  Today the company’s work is identified by the compositions of its Artistic Director—Rami Be’er, who also runs KCDC 2, the young company.

KCDC simultaneously holds 5-6 different dance productions and tours globally.

About Rami Be’er

Rami Be’er was born and raised on Kibbutz Ga’aton in the Western Galilee, northern Israel.  Music and art were his bread and butter growing up. His father played violin, his sisters played viola and violin and Rami picked up cello.  After completing his mandatory military service, he found himself at a junction: Should he follow a promising music career or pursue a newly explored path in dance?

Motivated by his life-long mentor and teacher, Yehudit Arnon, Be’er voted for the latter, reasoning that composing dance integrated most other stage art forms: music, design and lighting.  Rami’s drawing and sculpting background is manifested in the stage and costume design, his passion for music is unleashed in the way he pieces together the soundtrack, and his aesthetic vision is carefully crafted into the lighting design.

“I concoct a total experience of music, text, visual and movement,” says Rami, “taking in my impressions of the bounty all around.” “Dance is a way of life for me. I believe that any art form touches on our human condition and arouses existential explorations. I invite the audience to a journey. I provide the tip of the rope, and leave a wide range for individual interpretation and connotation.”

When asked what are his sources of inspiration, Rami replies that it can be a song he hears, a curious object, the angle in which a sun ray falls on a leaf, pregnant with rain due.

Be’er’s parents, Holocaust survivals, were members, along with Yehudit Arnon, in the commune that founded Kibbutz Ga’aton. Rami joined KCDC in 1980 as a dancer and house choreographer and rapidly made his mark.  He has since created over 40 full-piece productions for the company, leaving his signature footprint along the way.  Be’er produces at a pace of 1-2 full soirée shows a year, turning the corner for KCDC, now a globally renowned dance company.

About International Dance Village

Far away, on the other side of the rainbow, there is a little village, an International Dance Village, where dance students from around the world congregate to create.  When I came to visit, there were people dancing on dirt foot paths, behind glass doors, across lawns.  This is a unique program, initiated by Rami Be’er in 2008 on Kibbutz Ga’aton, where KCDC breaths and works.

“The extensive Ga’aton and neighboring community are engaged in this initiative, funded by Raaya Strauss.  The kibbutz communal dining hall, named “Beit Raaya,” was converted into 2 spacious dance studios, flushed with morning sun light, where KCDC rehearses daily.  There are 6 additional studios on site, with a little “home made” café where dancers and community members hang out and chill.  Once a month, on a Saturday, a collaboration between KCDC, Keshet Eylong and Teva Yechiam hostel offers a unique weekend get-away package of dance, music and pampering in the pea-green Kibbutz setting.

“There is a pyramid at the heart of kibbutz Ga’aton,” says Rami Be’er. At the top there lies the performing KCDC, then there’s KCDC 2 and Masa (“Journey” in Hebrew). The surrounding community consists of the supporting foundation of this structure. Masa is a dance immersion program that brings dance students from across the globe for a period of 5 months on the kibbutz. There is no other program like it in the world.

The literal meaning of kibbutz is a collective gathering, but there is also a double meaning in the term Kibbutz galuyot, which means an international collective gathering.  And that is what the International Dance Village is all about: a little colony of people nurturing one another, living, expressing and creating ensemble.

Talia Baruch is a writer and translator covering the dance/theater scene in San Francisco, where she has been living for the past 11 years. She is the founder of Copyous, providing creative copywriting and Localization Strategies. The ingredients that shaped her life are the explosive dance scene in urban Tel Aviv, where she grew up, the pea-green English country side, where she inhaled a handsome amount of fresh-manure & horseback-countered through endless woods, and the 24/7 Localization/Internationalization business bustle, that put perspective to it all. www.copyous.com

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Exploring Israeli Society through Dance at International Exposure 2009

Posted on 02 January 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Video: Promo for Arkadi Zaides’s new Quiet

As guest writer Brian Schaefer wrote in his article, for most visitors from abroad, International Exposure is a veritable “crash course” in Israeli contemporary dance.  For me, however, International Exposure serves another purpose.  Since I’m now intimately familiar with both the scene as a whole and with the artists themselves, this festival provides an unparalleled opportunity to consider developments in the field over the last year.

While Brian rightly noted that the vast majority of works in International Exposure did not overtly address the Israeli context, a few works did tackle issues in Israeli life – and as someone who has seen the vast majority of contemporary dance created in Israel since 2007, I can vouch that this is a notable shift.  Out of all the dances I watched during my first two years in the country – a number which easily surpasses 100 and probably nears 200 – I can probably count the number of works which explicitly examine Israeli culture and society on less than two hands.  Most of them, such as Renana Raz’s We Have Been Called to Go, were works that had premiered in previous seasons; while I saw this dance on stage, I had to seek out other works such as Yasmeen Godder’s Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder on DVD.  Indeed, when I saw Hillel Kogan’s Everything at Exposure in January 2008, its focus on Israeli machismo was such a revelation because it was the only new work I had seen which openly examined an aspect of Israeli identity.

So it was absolutely astonishing for me to watch as not just one but a handful of the offerings at International Exposure unmistakably explored Israeli society. Two of these dances had premiered just weeks earlier in the Curtain Up festival, and while they both took the relationship of the individual to the surrounding Israeli society as their main theme, they approached the subject from different personal perspectives and aesthetics.

Noa Dar’s Anu.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

In Noa Dar’s trio Anu (Us), one dancer – perhaps dressed to look younger in pigtails and a skirt – is initiated into the group, first observing her two fellow performers and then modeling herself after them until she becomes a participating member.  Though at times the context is universal, there are several scenes which bear the recognizable imprint of Israeli culture.  Gathered center stage in a tight circle, the trio performs a speeded-up mishmash of Israeli folk dance steps; occasionally, one dancer breaks out of the group, causing the others to pause, but then the three immediately resume their folk dance at an even more frenetic pace.  Another powerful section references the army service which is compulsory in Israel.   Juxtaposing stylized miming of military actions (loading, aiming, and shooting guns; throwing grenades; scoping out a building and breaking in; strip searching a suspect) with sweetly tranquil classical music, the scene is chilling.

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s Big Mouth.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Whereas Anu follows the process of indoctrination into society, Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s Big Mouth considers the reverse process of an individual critically considering this group mentality.  The strains of an Israeli folk song set the stage even before the curtain rises, and the tone is further established as the three dancers (Sheinfeld, Laor, and Keren Levi) begin by turning their backs on the audience and striding in unison around the perimeter of the space.  Gradually, the trio’s regimented marching is punctuated by Israeli folk dance steps – a mayim here, a three-step turn there – and eventually, Levi tries to break out of this seemingly never-ending pattern with her own idiosyncratic movement.  Later, to the swelling melody of an Israeli military hymn, Levi stands downstage and slowly opens her mouth wide until her face is distorted in the shape of a silent, terrible scream; this simple yet virtuosic act leaves a haunting imprint even after the booming music dies down and Levi’s face returns to its normal state.  Despite the tenderness with which Sheinfeld and Laor cradle Levi during their final trio, keeping her perpetually aloft while passing her back and forth, the emotion which prompted such an agonized cry clearly lingers, prompting her to leave the group at the close of the work.

Besides Anu and Big Mouth, two other brand-new works showcased in International Exposure 2009 also seemed to be colored by the political and social dynamics within the Israeli context.  Rami Be’er’s choreography has often explored Israeli life, and his Infrared, which the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company premiered in November, seems to follow in this pattern.  Though much of the choreography itself is more abstract, the work opens with a man’s voice solemnly intoning a poem (written by Be’er) about soldiers in a garden and with one dancer slowly emerging from what appears to be a body bag.  Meanwhile, Arkadi Zaides’s Quiet, which was presented in a studio showing as a work-in-progress, features a mixed cast of Jewish and Arab performers and effectively plays off the tensions between these two groups.

After two years of barely seeing any choreography explicitly grappling with the Israeli context, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many dances were now openly invoking this subject and its intense undercurrents.  Could it perhaps be that, after the war in Gaza last year, some choreographers felt compelled to reexamine their surroundings?  What other political and personal factors were at work?

Noa Dar’s Anu.  Photo by Tamar Lamm.

In a conversation with Noa Dar prior to the premiere of Anu, she said that her latest work stemmed from her experiences as “a mother and also as a citizen” of Israel.  While Dar talked about how her young children’s education was already “printing on them their future and the future as soldiers,” she also recounted her experience at a protest against the incursion into Gaza in 2008, during which not only right-wing counter-protesters but also passersby cursed the demonstrators as traitors.  The choreographer further discussed the media’s one-sided account of both Gaza and the 2006 Lebanon war and brought up recent legislation curtailing the rights of Arab Israelis.  “This work came out of these experiences, out of this fear that this country is getting more and more closed,” Dar acknowledged.  She continued, “It’s about the uniformity that Israeli culture brings and trying to explore how to survive it, to go against it but still be inside, to be able to comment on it, to try to change it.”

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s Big Mouth.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

While these recent developments spurred the creation of Anu, Big Mouth emerged from somewhat different roots.  Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor choreographed the dance during a period when they were frequently away from Israel; sometimes they were on tour with previous works, and at other times they were in the Netherlands where they collaborated on the new trio with Amsterdam-based Israeli dancer Keren Levi.  Sheinfeld remarked, “Somehow I think it affected this work; it made the piece somehow with reference to the Israeli culture.”  Laor chimed in the conversation, noting not only the physical distance of the three collaborators from Israel during the creative process but also other events which caused the artists to consider issues of nationalism and group identity.  While Big Mouth does include specific allusions to the Israeli context, Sheinfeld reflected that ultimately, “the way that we treat the subject is the personal level, is the individual, and how an individual acts in a group.”

Arkadi Zaides’s Quiet.  Photo courtesy of Arkadi Zaides.

Meanwhile, in the publicity for Quiet, which premieres this weekend at Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv, Zaides explains the backdrop for his latest work.  He writes:

Quiet arose from a real sense of emergency; in light of the growing violence and mistrust between communities in Israel, constantly subjected to states of shock which never allow the space needed for reflection, and thus never allow for change. In such an environment it felt acute to create a platform which allows for an open and honest communication; a place where it is safe to let one’s demons out and set them free; where the irrationality of response is examined and emotions are bravely explored; where a broad perspective is sought and where trust is continuously built.”

With these works’ diverse reference points and perspectives, they are welcome, thought-provoking additions to the Israeli contemporary dance scene.

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The works mentioned in this article are currently performed throughout Israel.  To find out about upcoming concerts and to learn more about the artists, visit the websites below:

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International Exposure 2009: A Perspective from Abroad

Posted on 30 December 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Maya Brinner’s Red Ladies was one of several works exploring the individual within the group at International Exposure

A few weeks after International Exposure 2009, not only am I continuing to mull over some intriguing works that I saw, but I am still thinking about the many attendees I met and contemplating the conversations I had with them.

It was truly remarkable to see how many presenters were scoping out Israeli dance with the hopes of bringing Israeli choreographers or companies to their venues.  The audience at International Exposure was well-informed, sophisticated, and worldly; its members were knowledgeable about the contemporary dance scene in their own home countries and had seen some of the latest productions from around the globe.

This diverse array of cultured visitors – and their well-informed observations – reinforced my own perception that there is indeed something especially appealing about Israeli contemporary dance.  It was illuminating to talk to repeat attendees and learn that they found this year’s festival stronger than in previous years; it was also encouraging to speak with first-time visitors and discover that they found several works of interest.

I had several stimulating conversations about the festival with Brian Schaefer, a dance writer and administrator based in San Diego, California.  He has generously written a thorough, thoughtful reflection on the festival for Dance In Israel, offering an invaluable perspective from outside the scene.  Enjoy!

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Seeing Israel through the Lens of Dance

By Brian Schaefer

Oil and water may be the most contentious of the commodities in the Middle East.  But who says art can’t be a country’s natural resource as well?

Such is the purpose of International Exposure – a type of cultural trade fair to encourage the export of one of Israel’s most valuable products: its creativity.  Each year for the past fifteen years, a flock of foreign presenters, managers, choreographers, and journalists has descended upon the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv to get a crash course in contemporary dance in Israel in the hopes that we fall in love with an artist or company and take them home with us to introduce them to our families, or rather, audiences.  It’s souvenir shopping on an entirely different scale.

The Israeli Ministry of Culture brings us here to demonstrate the wealth of dance in Israel, show us Tel Aviv as an exciting, cosmopolitan city, and let us discover just how far Israel has come from the pioneering, agricultural days of the kibbutzim and sabras when Israeli dance meant communal folk gatherings, which is still how most Americans consider it.  So the point of International Exposure is to destroy that myth and show us an Israel that is innovative and cutting-edge, both in its technology and in its art.

The process of actually bringing a company to the States is a complicated pas de deux that relies on a lot of other factors that come later on.  But for now, for this week, it’s about seeing work.  A lot of work.  An exhausting amount of work.

Still, the experience is extraordinary.  And the impact is powerful.  Five days later, we leave with a semblance of an idea of what makes contemporary dance in Israel so vibrant.  Without trying to lump everything together – after all, one of the strengths of the program is its diversity – there are a few noticeable characteristics, trends, and themes that emerge.

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s Big Mouth.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

It’s difficult as an outsider not to read too much about the regional conflicts into the work we see.  Few artists, save perhaps for Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor who explicitly reference Israel’s military history in the engaging trio Big Mouth, admit to addressing politics in any way.

Yet as foreign critics and presenters who for the most part view Israel from the lens of international media, we inevitably look for ways that artists respond to their social surroundings.  Maybe we look too much.  But perhaps also the fact that such intentional reactions to the political environment are conspicuously lacking in so much of the work we saw is equally telling.

What we actually got in many instances was a complete departure from the realities of this world, and surprisingly often, we were thrust in to the realm of the absurd where the unexpected can occur at any moment, where things are never quite as they seem or can in an instant morph into something unrecognizable.  The absurdity is also in the behavior, where over-the-top characters cavort about with exaggerated gestures, inhabiting fantasy worlds in extravagant costumes and bright make-up.

Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s Trout. Photo by Asaf Ashkenazi.

Perhaps no Israeli choreographers better encapsulate this aesthetic and sensibility than Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak.  At International Exposure, the duo showed excerpts from the company’s repertory, the charming Rushes, made a few years ago for the American company Pilobolus, and the new evening-length work Trout, created in 2008 in Norway.  In each, the zany characters and extravagant sets and props transport audiences into an imaginary place that may resemble reality at times but clearly isn’t.

Barak Marshall’s Rooster.  Photo by Kfir Bolotin.

In Barak Marshall’s Rooster, we took a colorful visit to the shtetls of the 19th century to witness a love triangle mixing stories from the Bible and Yemenite folklore with a period aesthetic and surreal scenes of, for example, a man “laying” eggs in his mouth.  It’s a work that, while perhaps a bit unfocused and difficult to follow for non-Hebrew speakers, exudes energy and charm and provides a strong showcase for the performers.

Across the board (for the most part), International Exposure guests walked away with a deep appreciation for Israeli dancers, whose focus and commitment is a noticeable strength of the performances.

Other works that dove into the absurd included Yasmeen Godder’s LOVE FIRE, complete with the gutting of a stuffed creature resembling some combination of goat and lion, an unexpected shower of blue glitter, and a dramatic illuminated heart made of diagonal fluorescent tubes. Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s study in masculinity, 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer, also made use of a life-sized dead animal, raising peculiar questions about the role of taxidermy in Israeli society.  Okay, not really, but seeing both works in one night gave something to think about.

Michal Herman Dance Group’s Fellowship, based on a short Kafka story, embodied absurdity in the extreme mannerisms of its characters and their exaggerated interactions, as did Irad Mazliah’s Unter den Linden.

While not necessarily “absurd,” Artour Astman & Ilana Bellahsen’s ArtLana presented the two artists as babies in a wide-eyed, charming duet.  The grotesque masks in Noa Dar Dance Group’s Anu suggested something of the absurd but dealt more explicitly with another theme that was largely prevalent throughout the festival – the struggle between the urge for individual expression and the pressure to conform.

The aforementioned Big Mouth tackled the topic effectively as did Maya Brinner’s Red Ladies, which followed a trio of women from synchronized harmony to individual awareness and then group conflict.

But perhaps no dance company in the world embodies this tension between group cohesion and individual identity than the Batsheva Dance Company, whose new work Hora closed the festival.

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Hora.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin shifts quickly and effortlessly between complicated group sections, done in perfect unison (in a way that no other company can approach), to solos that marry abandon and control in surprising harmony.  It’s a tactic utilized in several of his recent works, and just because it’s a recognizable pattern doesn’t mean its predictable.  Yet here, the tool loses its impact.  While past works like Shalosh (Three) or Mamootot, though still abstract, feel like they follow some sort of arc, Hora in comparison feels circular.  At the end, we’re back at the beginning and as a result, it’s a bit harder to appreciate the journey, but then again, maybe that’s the point.

Naharin has always had eclectic music taste, easily moving from a traditional Passover song to the Beach Boys to soundscapes that he himself creates.  In Hora, the score consists of some of the most recognizable and clichéd pieces of music by Strauss, Wagner, and John Williams borrowed from the archives or classic science-fiction films.  Like the title of the work, Naharin challenges the audience to rearrange its reference points for the associations we have created throughout our lives.

As a result, he creates extremes of possibilities and the space in between where anything can happen and meaning is left ambiguous.  Throwing viewers from one end of the spectrum to the other (from familiar to unfamiliar) with unrelated and nonsensical movements forces us to fill in the gaps of how they relate and what it all amounts to.  And while you may not walk away with an answer, Batsheva ultimately leaves an impression that, indeed, there is something human within this controlled chaos after all.

I always get a sense, watching Batsheva, that there is something dark and explosive just under the surface, and that’s another thread that seemed to weave its way through the festival of Israeli choreographers and companies.  Noa Dar’s Anu plunged suddenly into simulated rape, and Berg and Graf’s 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer similarly incorporated sexual violence into the narrative.

Rami Be’er’s poem Infrared, which is also the name of the work for his Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, follows multi-colored soldiers into a garden, which the over-produced performance suggested rather explicitly.  The company appears to have a wealth of resources at its disposal and produced a glossy show that, ultimately, was lacking in the substance and urgency that many of the smaller companies displayed.

Vertigo Dance Company in Noa Wertheim’s Mana.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Noa Wertheim’s Vertigo Dance Company similarly approached the theme of complicated group dynamics.  Yet their work Mana offered a depth and sense of intrigue that made it one of the most compelling pieces of the entire week, one that brings together many of the themes discussed here in a tight, luscious, and appealing package that foreign audiences are likely to respond well to.

If another theme might be added, it’s the embrace of classical music mashed with contemporary, fragmented movement.  It’s not a new idea in contemporary dance, but the idea was particularly noticeable at this festival.  In addition to the well-known scores in Batsheva’s work, Godder also used the waltz for inspiration, and Idan Cohen’s take on Swan Lake paired the Tchaikovsky score with sharp, defined, lightning-quick movement that actually made the idea feel current and relevant – no small feat for such an overused score and well-known ballet. But the sense that Israelis are resisting tradition, or at least looking to re-contextualize it to their new realities, came through loud and clear.

Maria Kong in fling.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Of course, one can’t possibly force all of the performances into only a few basic themes.  Defying all categorizations was the work by Maria Kong, a new company comprised of former Batsheva dancers.  fling opens with an aching violin solo, performed facing away from the audience, while projections on two columns conjure a world of dark hallways, mysterious rooms, and the constant shift of shadows, which gives the sense that time is passing us by.  Without a dancer on stage for the first nearly twenty minutes, a captivating world is created.  When they do appear, the dancers move with robotic precision.  The slight turn of a head sends waves that reverberate throughout another dancer’s body.  Similarly, fling is a subtle work that makes a big impression.

And while International Exposure aims to present contemporary dance, we were also brought to the Israel Ballet studios to view excerpts from the company’s repertoire. The dancers were proficient, the partnering well-executed.  But the formality of the ballet language doesn’t seem to fit this country.

Interacting with and observing Israelis on a daily basis during the week of the Exposure, the intimacy, suspicion, joy, tension, spirit, and vitality that seems to hover over society here is reflected in the works of contemporary artists that display the same such characteristics.

In comparison, the ballet, with its sterilized look, organized structure, clear gender roles, and polished edges seems to be just what everyone else is fighting against.  And that conflict is what makes the dance in Israel so fascinating.

Brian Schaefer is the dance writer for San Diego News Network and the Program & Audience Development Manager for ArtPower! at UC San Diego, the university’s multi-arts presenting organization.

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