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As artistic director of Dance Europa, Yair Vardi brings cutting-edge dance to our shores year after year with up-and-coming choreographers and dance companies from the European Union.
"There is no theme or purpose," says Vardi of this year's crop, "just good dancing. I choose from what is around and what is on the verge of becoming leading choreography in Europe today."
Dance with dancing? This seems obvious, but surprisingly is not always on the menu.
During the past 20 years, modern dance has opened its doors to every form of art, from vocals, text, actors and video art to acrobatics, circus acts and martial arts. It's not unusual to attend a dance performance and see very little actual dancing. The choreographer has a message and uses whatever media he needs to put his ideas across. Pure dance, without props or special effects, is becoming a rarity.
No wonder, since it is a challenge: First, because the choreography must synchronize music, space, time and dancers. Second, it needs well-trained dancers who understand their choreographer, "speak" his language and are able to take the work further, to reach the audience.
How often does that happen? Whenever you feel you are getting goose bumps.
This year's dance Dance Europa encompasses five companies with seven works by eight choreographers - 35 dancers in a total of 16 performances - from Britain, Slovenia, Greece, Austria and Spain.
After having seen short clips of the works, I can recommend the Maribur Ballet Ensemble from Slovenia, which is bringing "Radio Juliet," choreographed by Eduard Clug. It has a modern Juliet who is brittle, delicate and assertive all at the same time. Her movements are perfect as she dances to techno beats and to sounds of the Radio Head rock group. This Juliet has six Romeos, her past lovers. The movement is frenetic, going at a constant beat, showing the unison and quicksilver technique of dancers at their best. The six men wear black suits with no shirts. Juliet is clad in just a corset, showing off her beautiful long legs and arms, which create poetry with grace and power. Two contrasting elements are juxtaposed on stage: the modern mechanical world, all black, white and grey, and the romantic memory of a famous story, bringing up moments of passion and sadness. The stage is bare except for a steel wall, which the dance fills and refills with movement, cutting the space like a surgeon's scalpel.
Austria, celebrating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Israel, opens Dance Europa with "Blame It on Gavrilo" by Karl Schreiner, with a prologue by his friend and colleague Nicklaus Adler. Schreiner is an Austrian with a personal message: "Woven into my story is a love affair, whose high point is flowery and glorious, then declines toward the end, where it dies," he says over the phone from Germany. "Love affairs, like empires, rise and fall: Something dies inside, and the wounded remain to tell the story, with hope that history won't repeat itself. Gavrilo [of the title] fired the first shot of WW I, but the Austro-Hungarian Empire was already in decline, and this lone act destroyed an empire. The ruins that we stand on must be remembered. The tomb of the unknown soldier, the concentration camps are marks that won't and shouldn't heal. When you see and feel a mark, it reminds you of your past."
There are seven dancers on stage - three women and four men, all Israeli. Suzy Steindling, who initiated the project, says, "It is the most mature work I have seen in a long time. It is multi-layered, never boring. I can watch it again and again. This cultural exchange is working well. They all seem happy to work together, and there is a harmonious atmosphere which we all enjoy."
Greece is represented by Apostolia Papadamaki's rather provocative piece "Hermaphrodite," performed by Constaninos Rigos. It is a solo work, danced in the nude on a wide pedestal, giving the impression of an enlivened sculpture trapped in his own space.
The Nafas Dance Company comes from Spain, with "Good Night... Amadeus," by Patrick de Bana. This work, performed by powerful young dancers, moves well. It is modern dance with flamenco elements, complete with traditional musicians on stage.
The Bare Bones project from England has five dancers, showing three works: "And Then Gone" by Arthur Pita; "With the Company We Keep" by David Massingham; and "Crazy Gary" by Liam Steel, three modern British choreographers who have achieved international fame.
Dance Europa runs from October 16 until 31 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in southern Tel Aviv, the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, and the Haifa Auditorium.