There is only one person in the world capable of convincing any one of the following choreographers to perform alongside their dancers: Ohad Naharin, Yasmeen Godder, Rami Be’er, Nir Ben Gal, Liat Dror, Inbal Pinto or Renana Raz. On Tuesday night, Yair Vardi proved that he was that person. For the gala event that opened the annual Tel Aviv Dance festival and kicked off the Suzanne Dellal Center’s 25th anniversary celebrations, Vardi requested of Israel’s choreographic elite to step into the limelight.

“I asked them to perform because the audience doesn’t get to see them on stage anymore,” said Vardi over coffee in his office.

Though many met this request with trepidation and even panic, Vardi is not a man easily dissuaded. The performance was joyous, deeply nostalgic and a tough act to follow.

“I’m very happy that they agreed,” he laughed.

Tucked in a corner on the second floor of the sunny Suzanne Dellal Center, Vardi’s office has walls covered in posters of iconic performances, personal photos, including several with Vardi’s family and Michael Baryshnikov, and a large snapshot of the first wall of the center taken shortly after its construction. His desk is covered with DVDs sent by companies that want to perform at the Suzanne Dellal Center.

Suzanne Dellal’s silver jubilee is, among many other things, a celebration of Vardi’s reign as the godfather of Israeli dance.

“The first time I came here, that’s what I saw,” he said, pointing to the photo of the lone wall. “That was in 1988. I had just moved back from England and was newly married. I heard that they were going to build something incredible here, so I came to see.”

Twenty-six years later, Vardi can take pride in every nook and cranny of Suzanne Dellal, in every artist to have used the stages as a jumping-off point to the international dance community, and in every ticket sold.

Although curating has always been a major part of Vardi’s work as director of the center, Tel Aviv Dance, which will take over the center for the coming six weeks, is his most heartfelt project, he explained.

“Tel Aviv Dance is my personal project. I feel it gives a proper picture of what’s happening here and in Europe,” he said.

Since the festival’s inception (Tel Aviv Dance is an evolution of the Dance Europe Festival), Vardi has gradually adjusted the ratio of foreign to local artists to favor the latter.

“Dance Europe presented only European productions,” explained Vardi. “We opened a door to Israeli creations because I think it’s important that all these things are put into one pot with many flavors that cook well. This year, I went even further and brought only four foreign companies, all of which were guests of Suzanne Dellal in the past.”

The program of Tel Aviv Dance features premieres and renewed works by the Batsheva Dance Company, the Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack Dance Company, the Vertigo Dance Company, the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and Yasmeen Godder.

“I invited companies that have been with me throughout the years.

Batsheva is bringing back Naharin’s Virus. Inbal Pinto will present a special version of Oyster. Vertigo is doing a new evening, as well as Birth of the Phoenix, and so on. I went with the connective thread of things that are happening and have happened,” said Vardi.

In addition, 12 evenings featuring the works of independent choreographers will take place in the intimate Yerushalmi Theater. All these performances combine dance with live music.

The foreign guests include Company Maguy Marin from France, whose performance May B will take place tonight and tomorrow night; Granhoj Dans from Denmark; France’s Ballet Preljocaj; and Campania de Danza Miguel Angel Berna.

In the coming months, Vardi will begin another pet project, the construction of a new state-of-the-art studio and outdoor performance space. The Zehava and Jack Dellal Studio/Hall will span the third floor of the center’s back courtyard, with windows overlooking the Mediterranean. This project has been in the works for years and only recently received official approval from the Tel Aviv Municipality. The Dellal family, together with the Ministry of Culture and Sports, donated the funding for this ambition endeavor to the tune of NIS 25 million.

Tel Aviv Dance will take place through mid-June. For more information, visit ww.suzannedellal.org.il.

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