Body speak

Three dancer-choreographers set out to move the modern dance scene in Jerusalem.

December 1, 2005 21:53
Body speak

modern dance 88. (photo credit: )


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The four female dancers in gray tunics twitch and collapse. In a shabby studio with salmon walls on Bezalel Street, they flail their arms and legs wildly and then pause in tableaus of total exhaustion, resting on the gray floor. The dancers are rehearsing a piece for "Machol Shalem 3," an eclectic program of dance works by choreographers from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The program will be presented at the Gerard Behar center this Wednesday and Thursday. This is the third year of "Machol Shalem," and, for the first time, the performances will take place over two evenings. When local choreographers Ofra Idel Lipshitz, Ruby Edelman and Tzaphira Stern-Assal organized their first "Machol Shalem," they hoped to spark a greater interest in contemporary dance in Jerusalem. But their vision extends well beyond the annual dance event. First, they hope to give choreographers (including themselves) a venue to present their work. And ultimately, they hope to help build a local community of dancers, choreographers, and audience - in other words, a thriving dance scene in Jerusalem. Contemporary dance is a broad label that covers many approaches to moving the body. It does not indicate a rigid technique like ballet or Graham, but is instead a complex synthesis of many movement styles. Contemporary choreographers often combine dance with theater, film, or other arts. Today,Tel Aviv is still the undisputed center of dance in Israel, with numerous dance companies and many summer choreographic festivals. The Jerusalem dance scene consists primarily of the Kombina and Vertigo dance companies. Students of dance, Edelman says, are frustrated by the lack of venues and opportunities here in the capital. "You see a lot of hungry professional dancers. But where can they go?" he asks rhetorically. It is not only Jerusalem artists who are eager to perform in this city. "A lot of famous busy artists find it very hard to get an audience here, to organize a performance, so it's an opportunity for everyone, for the audience, for the artists, for us, it all just comes together," says Lipshitz, who dances in two pieces in the program, one by Edelman and one by Stern-Assal. Although modern dance festivals often strive to focus on the latest thing, none of the works in the program are premiers. The program is designed to expose people to contemporary dance, not to take them to the fringes of possibility. "It's more of a 'best hits' collection," explains Edelman. The three have differing artistic tastes, so agreeing upon pieces for the program was not simple. The pieces that met all of their standards have a certain ephemeral completeness, a wholeness, says Stern-Assal. "We live in Jerusalem, a place of soul and content, so it must be meaningful. We look for substance over style," she says. The idea to create an evening of dance first came from Lipshitz's frustration with having to go elsewhere to find variety in dance. "As a student... I got fed up with going to Tel Aviv [to see performances]. I had to cancel dance classes and spend lots of money. I thought of all the people [for whom] I could prevent this misery," she recalls. She first approached Stern-Assal, whom she knew previously from the Jerusalem dance community, and later Edelman, with whom she had danced in the Kombina dance company. All three were highly motivated to expand the dance scene in Jerusalem, and the partnership flourished. Some might consider Jerusalem an unusual environment for dance because of its more conservative nature and large religious population. Contemporary dance, in particular, might be considered inappropriate by the ultra-religious or religious because of costumes that expose the body and because men and women frequently touch each other in duets. But in fact, Lipshitz says, interest in modern dance is on the rise among religious groups, and she notes that she herself teaches modern dance in a religious girls' school in Jerusalem. Edelman, too, is convinced that Jerusalem's conservative nature will not inhibit the growth of a contemporary dance scene. "There just aren't that many dance performances here, so the knowledge [about dance] is very limited," he explains. "But we are going to educate the audience in Jerusalem," adds Lipshitz. They are pleased with their success so far. "The fact that Machol Shalem is happening for a third time, and this time with two evenings - it's like a club when there is a long line the second night. You know it was a success," says Edelman. The group hopes to expand the success to a three-night event next year. Eventually, they hope to turn Gerard Behar into a dance center modeled after the Suzanne Dallal Center for Dance in Tel Aviv, where dancers and choreographers meet and collaborate. They also want Machol Shalem to become an organization that sponsors and supports the work of young Jerusalem choreographers. Their dreams may not come together easily. Lipshitz, Edelman and Stern-Assal were passionate enough about dance to start down the endless path of envelope licking and paper pushing that a goal of this magnitude requires, but the struggle is, as so often in dance, about funding. For the first Machol Shalem festival, which was only one evening, all of the dancers worked for free. By the second, they had enough funding to pay the dancers a symbolic sum at the end of the performances. This time around, all the dancers are fully paid. They themselves continue to organize and promote for free. "What it's about is not money. We love being here [in Jerusalem] and working here," Stern-Assal says, noting that all three of them teach and moonlight in order to support themselves. Machol Shalem is funded by the Jerusalem Municipality and also the Jerusalem Foundation. The total cost is approximately NIS 50,000. Machol Shalem can be seen at the Gerard Behar theater on December 7 and December 8, at 8:30 p.m. Most works are between 10-15 minutes, and most of them are excerpts from a larger work. Tickets are NIS 60 for an adult, with discounts available to students, soldiers, and groups.

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