Raising the curtain for dance

Curtain Up festival celebrates 21st anniversary; new initiative gives up-and-coming choreographers chance to present work to large audiences.

November 30, 2010 23:06
4 minute read.
Israeli dancer Renana Raz.

renana raz dance_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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What is an artistic director? What are the responsibilities that go along with a title as elegant sounding as this one? How is the job different from that of a curator? These questions have been circulating in the dance community for the past few months, ever since the plans for the 2010 Curtain Up festival were announced in July. This past weekend, the 21st annual Curtain Up festival premiered at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv. The festival, considered to be the most important forum for emerging choreographers, presented four evenings, boasting a total of 11 new pieces.

The festival did not always function this way. In fact, for the first 19 years there was only one artistic director in charge of bestowing this opportunity upon eager artists. That person was generally not a member of the dance community but someone who hailed from the thespian society. The who’s who list of who applied and who was accepted was always a source of tension and controversy in the small community of independent choreographers. And despite personal feelings about the lineup, the crowd each year at Curtain Up is always a who’s who of the dance world.

Then last year, as part of the center’s 20th anniversary celebrations, a change was made. Nili Cohen, director of the department of dance for the Ministry of Culture and Sport, chose to allocate the responsibilities among several successful veterans of the festival. Six evenings were put together, each by an established choreographer or pair. The results were different from previous years in that the range of work was perhaps more expansive, having drawn on the creativity of many as opposed to one.

In the following year, many wondered if the format would go back to the “one cook in the kitchen” model or not. Now we have our answer. It did not.

This year, Sahar Azimi, Ronit Ziv, Renana Raz and Tamar Borer were chosen to try their hand at what has become a somewhat enigmatic position. They were given a simple task: Put together an evening. Other than that, the options were open. Each director could choose however many artists he or she wanted.

Raz explained in a recent interview, “We received no direction from Nili. We had a completely free hand.”

The hand they were given was so free, in fact, that even after promotional materials were printed, artistic directors were allowed to eliminate people from their program. The night before the press conference, in which journalists were treated to three-minute segments from each piece, one work was dropped from Ronit Ziv’s evening. Although Ziv made no mention of the event in her speech that morning, many noted the absence of Inbal Oshman’s duet Dressing Room.

THAT KIND of last-minute change is not new for the festival. For years, Curtain Up was known for its long audition process, which involved many presentations over an extended period of time. There are countless sob stories of works that were chucked just two weeks before the premiere date. However, many had hoped that the more personal, intimate nature of this process would stop such situations from occurring.

As a result, a letter has been drafted and circulated around the dance community. The document calls for Nili Cohen to produce a rule book defining what the exact duties of the artistic directors are and what rights participating artists have.

Each director approached his or her role differently, which resulted in varying levels of involvement with the work itself over the past several months.

“I wanted to be a mirror to the artists, to show them what would come out of the process. And if there was any lack of clarity, I felt my job was to clear it up,” said Raz of her influence on choreographers Maya Briner, Dana Ruttenberg and Gili Navot.

Tamar Borer, on the flip side, explained at the press conference that she remained on the outside of the artistic processes embarked upon by Iris Erez and Michael Getmen.

“I chose artists who I believe strongly in, people who have great potential,” said Borer.

After four jam-packed performances at Suzanne Dellal, each “curtain,” or evening, had a chance to be seen and reviewed. It is not clear whether the different approaches of each artistic director were visible on stage. As always, the first response of the crowd was mixed. Many believe the festival needs to return to its original format. However, Raz feels strongly that there is great potential in developing artistic directors from within the coterie of choreographers.

“Every format has its advantages. I think it’s good that the artistic directors are from the dance community, that it is an independent process. We need to give this format more time. To really try it out,” said Raz.

Curtain Up will run at The Jerusalem Theater until December 2 and at the Suzanne Dellal Center from December 2 to December 4. For tickets, visit

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