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The View from Here

Posted on 11 March 2012 by Deborah Friedes Galili

George Staib on the banks of the Jordan River.

This is a guest post by George Staib.

It was late in the spring of 2011 when I found myself on the banks of the Jordan River, discussing dance with an Israeli friend of mine, with whom I had shared a stage in Atlanta, GA. The new environment, the reconnection, and the gentle vigor of the words flowed as effortlessly as the river itself. Marked with a bit of sadness, that moment encapsulated my Tel Aviv dance experience, which was coming to a close. It was my intention to be submerged in a dance community that shouted boldly and succinctly from across an ocean, which I did. I did this for five weeks, met open arms, and have been changed forever.

My fascination with Israeli modern dance crept up on me. It was a performance of Deca Dance by the New York based company, Cedar Lake, which drew my attention to Israel, namely to Ohad Naharin. Prior, my wife had seen Naharin’s Mamootot, and though I had no first-hand experience of the work, her words were vivid, and I sat transfixed listening to the account she had given of Batsheva’s performance in Brooklyn. With the wonders of YouTube, I found that the images that presented themselves on my screen were varied, distinct, chilling, and captivating. I fell into an abyss of curiosity, admiration, and overwhelming addiction to what I was seeing. Modern dance, to me, had been reinvented. Rather it returned to what I believe its original intention was: communication.

The people I encountered on a daily basis, either through Iris Erez’s classes, Gaga classes, or contact workshops seemed to be fundamentally driven by the need/desire/want to communicate.; to share an experience in all its open-ended glory, in all its universality. The artists’ experience became my experience, and within each class I found myself being asked to show what I was feeling, reveal what I was sensing, and to not be shy. If ever a phrase resonated with profound impact, it would be that one. Don’t be shy. It was my mantra in Tel Aviv and was affirmed with each new acquaintance and friend asking me to do the same. There was a liberation of the dancer I had tucked away, and a re-introduction to the self. All through movement; all through communication.

Countless articles have been written on the power of Gaga and while I found my sentiments echoed those of other enthusiasts, what was not as easy to discover was what Israelis thought of their own adaptations of modern dance. Many friends I made in Tel Aviv seemed genuinely shocked that I would choose Israel to focus my attention on dance. Many were awestruck that Israel was creating a frenzy in the United States, and all smiled politely with a sense of humility that is rare. I witnessed that there was no shyness on stage, no apologetic movement, no need to move away from movement. Movement was the vehicle, and while many dance-makers in the U.S. seem to use movement as a decoration for text, Israelis use movement to take the place of words that could never be as powerful as an honest gesture, a sincere dance.

Within the countless performances I took in while in Tel Aviv, from Batsheva, to Yasmeen Godder, to Yossi Berg and Oded Graf, to KCDC, to Iris Erez, and many, many others, I saw no need to qualify, no need to have all the answers and certainly no shyness. I marveled at the thoughtfulness of the work, the remarkable skill of the dancers (be they released, Gaga-ed, or other;) and the undeniable connection to the audience. The communications, the exchanges, were worth more than gold. I felt like part of the experience and at the same time, was a spectator. I loved not having all the answers and being invited to make my own answers to the mysterious questions being asked on stage. The open-ended communication and dancer-to-audience dialogue continued long after the curtain closed.

The landscape of dance in Israel is broad and rich and lives in a culture that must continuously endure threats and instability. Thankfully, beauty hasn’t suffered. The warmth of those offering their homes, the generosity of the teachers, the inclination towards communication, and the pretention-free, forward-thinking artists I encountered, never allowed complacency to enter their studios, their dances, their lives. I recognized that what some might perceive as forward momentum is actually a by-product of the way life is led in Israel. There is continuous celebration; there is reverence for the past. Tel Aviv moves forward by stating its presence, by boldly commanding an art form through the form. Dances in Israel really dance. They speak louder than words and rely upon movement to tell a story. Actors act, painters paint, and in Israel, choreographers choreograph, and dancers dance. They move with the impetus of sublime images, they create with an awareness of those who will watch, and they unknowingly made me feel like a citizen of a community that communicates.

George Staib’s Name Day. Photograph by Dustin Chambers.

George Staib, through the generosity of Emory University, spent five weeks in Tel Aviv studying Gaga and being an enthusiastic audience member at Suzanne Dellal. He is the artistic director of Staibdance and is a dance teacher at Emory University, in Atlanta, GA. He looks forward to a return visit to Tel Aviv in June, 2012.

You can see George’s blog, maintained while in Tel Aviv, at the following address: movingtowardshome.wordpress.com

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