International Exposure 2014, Tel-Aviv

Posted: December 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on International Exposure 2014, Tel-Aviv

International Exposure 2014

I am very grateful to Hillel Kogan who initially suggested I attend this festival and to Rachel Grodjinowsky of the Suzanne Dellal Centre for making it possible.

Anyone among London dance audiences who may feel (like me) they know Israeli dance through the works of Israeli choreographers presented in the UK may well have been astonished by the wealth of imagination and beauty on display at International Exposure 2014 in Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theater* at the beginning of December. Open to the world, International Exposure is a showcase of new choreographic work by Israeli choreographers living in Israel.

Culture defines the way we imagine a country and the view of Israel culled from the works I have seen by Hofesh Shechter, Itzik Galili and Uri Ivgi is one of tension and oppression, an image corroborated by news reports of violence and political intransigence. I was expecting to see more of this kind of choreography in Tel Aviv but the first evening of works by Ohad Naharin, Project Secus, for the Batsheva Ensemble shows Israeli dance has moved on. Yes, there is an intensity in the work but one that comes from the dancers, and the tension is in the dynamics of the choreography. Each of the four works demonstrates the fluidity of the dancers’ bodies and the poetic imagination of Naharin, although the final work, Secus, caps them all with its sensuality and complexity. With Tel Aviv enjoying a late summer I felt I had landed in paradise.

There is an irony here: a predominantly oppressive choreographic output from Israeli choreographers living outside the country while choreographers inside it are creating works in which the freshness comes from the very desire to find a way through the darkness to a place of light. Apart from Naharin’s Project Secus, there are Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company’s Wallflower (created for Tel Aviv Art Museum’s sculpture gallery), Vertigo Dance Company’s Reshima, Dafi Dance Group’s In-Dependent and the lovely duet by Iris Erez, I’ll be right back. In other works this sense of light is enhanced by a keen sense of humour. Idan Sharabi presents a duet, Ours, that is choreographed to four of Joni Mitchell’s songs and to a witty stream of consciousness that relishes the absurd. Yossi Berg and Odad Graf’s 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer seems to graft gaga with Monty Python; Hillel Kogan’s ability to carry the text to its illogical conclusion is brilliant (Kogan’s own satirical We Love Arabs was shown at the festival last year). Shani Gravot and Nevo Romano’s wry An Hour with All-Eaters includes fragments of a Bach partita in a simulation of a ‘one-hour visit to an archaeological site’ exploring the intimate landscape of their two naked bodies while Maria Kong overlays a talk-show format on a Buster Keaton soundtrack to produce perhaps the most surreal experience of the festival.

Interestingly, where choreographers choose to express violence and darkness the work is not entirely successful even if the experience of the dancers gives their performance a certain authority. The young woman who lectures the audience on sniper training in Kolben Dance Company’s Charlie Mandelbaum was indeed a sniper instructor during her military service, but the work as a whole wallows in its sense of angst. Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Killer Pig has an odd balance between its dark, menacing poetry and the sensual beauty of the movement; its subject is ambivalent but it is mesmerizing, especially in the nightclub atmosphere of Reading 3 in Tel Aviv Port where the dancers commanded total silence from the packed crowd. One work that approaches violence from a different angle is Noa Dar’s Skin. Dar takes skin as a metaphor for protective boundaries that can be subjected to endless aggression; the analogy is clear but in placing the audience around the performance ring in which the four dancers spar in brutal, unrelenting combat Dar creates a clear division between performance and reality that abstracts the violence without compromising its visceral charge.

A recent work by Ohad Naharin, The Hole, for the Batsheva company is performed in their studio in which an octagonal platform has been built that leaves space for a few rows of chairs around it and a raised corridor behind the audience on which the men begin the dramatic opening of the dance. Much of Israeli dance is built on the circle, and here the audience is also in the round, setting up an intense spatial dynamic with the dancers. The women emerge from under the platform and return at intervals while the men descend and return to the grid above the performance space. Rich in symbolism, spectacular in effect, The Hole is like a vortex that draws in the audience to its mystery.

Three works at the festival were created for museum spaces, though only one, Dana Ruttenberg’s delightful NABA 2 is performed in the setting for which it was designed. Choreographed for four performers dressed as gallery attendants (the real ones are also in attendance) it references with succinctness and wit both the art works on display in adjacent galleries and the imagined relationships they suggest. Wallflower is presented on a stage that resembles two white walls of a museum space, and Jasmeen Godder shows her choreographic research for CLIMAX in her studio in which we are as much participants as observers.

One choreographer stands out for his uncompromising stance: Arkadi Zaides interprets Julia Wolfe’s string quartet Dig Deep, but he chooses not to compete with the musicians or the music. Instead he sits ruminating on the side of the performance space while the quartet plays within its architecture of lamps, metal music stands and chairs. Once the quartet has finished, the members change places with Zaides who then begins his Response to ‘Dig Deep’. If Wolfe’s score is stormy, Zaides is the eye of the storm, his gaze searching in silence for the currents of the music and responding with undulations and circles within his body to what the musicians expressed with the dynamics of their bows on taut strings. It is this kind of visceral approach that imbues two other of Zaides’ works (not seen at the festival) that received a Critics Circle award the following evening: Archive and Capture Practice in which Zaides throws himself into the action of projected films (from the human rights organization B’Tselem) of Jewish soldiers and settlers attacking Palestinian residents in the Occupied Territories. They are works of choreographic outrage and indicate the presence within the cultural community of forces that are actively protesting the government’s hard line.

There are also shorter works, some complete and some in the process of development though it is not always easy to distinguish to which state they belong. Uri Shafir’s Fail Better is a cerebral view of the limitations imposed on the dancing body by ageing, but it reduces the dancing to a level of the absurd (the title comes from a quote by Beckett) that leaves little room for hope. Other works address in differing metaphors the issue of relationships and their consequences: boundaries, separation, independence and dependence. Sharon Vazanna’s Transparent Borders is particularly convincing and both Noa Shadur’s Shifters and Nadar Rosano’s Off-Line are rich choreographic ideas that feature compelling performances (Adi Boutrous in the former and Stav Stuz in the latter). Roy Assaf’s GIRLS (the full version) carries the least complicated program note (‘Five dancers in leotards dancing a dance’) that belies its sensual juxtaposition of innocence and experience.

At the heart of the festival are the dancers, who bring all the choreographic works alive with such remarkable passion and fluency (gaga, the training technique developed by Naharin, is a central influence). Those who stand out are the young man who dances a solo at the very end of Secus as the lights began to fade who has the dynamics of a Francis Bacon painting carved in space; Ofir Yudilevitch who dances in three contrasting works with unaffected eloquence; the intensity of Mor Nardimon in Skin, and the sultry calm of Olivia Court Mesa in Dafi Altabeb’s In-Dependent. If Barrack Marshall’s Wonderland relies as much on an eclectic list of musical tracks as choreographic invention to convey emotions, he has in Inbar Nemirovsky a dancer who turns everything he does into beauty. She is musical, intelligent and has that rich plastic quality of the Batsheva diaspora.

International Exposure has been an opportunity to begin to connect the dots in Israeli dance, from Rudolph Laban and German expressionist influence to Martha Graham to Ohad Naharin and gaga. If you read Hebrew or German, Gaby Aldor has gathered this research in a book that is waiting to be translated into English. Aldor is adviser to Talia Amar, curator of a remarkable exhibition, Out of the Circle: The Art of Dance in Israel, currently in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that features a wealth of archival material. Not only does it suggest that archival film has an enduring power to inspire but it celebrates the roots on which International Exposure is based.

Unfortunately there are no presenters from the UK at this year’s event, but hopefully the image of Israeli dance in London will not have to wait too long for its next update.


*The Suzanne Dellal centre, named after the daughter of a wealthy family in London who died too young, houses the two Batsheva companies as well as the Inbal Dance Theatre of which Barack Marshall is the new artistic director. The death of Suzanne Dellal has thus become a catalyst for a flourishing dance centre, directed for the past 25 years by a former dancer with Rambert and founder of Dance City, Yair Vardi.