Blind dates can be stressful.
They can be exciting, promising and
optimistic, yes, but nerve-wracking as well. Most blind dates amount to a polite
drink, a light meal and some small talk.
However, for choreographers
Yossi Berg and Oded Graf, the notion of a blind date took on a whole new meaning
Their set-up lasted for five weeks, was arranged by a major
artistic venue and was meant to conclude in a pair of performances.
began last year when Mary- Louise Alpert, artistic director of the Chutzpah!
Festival in Vancouver, Canada, saw the duo’s hit piece Four Men, Alice, Bach and
the Deer during the International Exposure Festival at the Suzanne Dellal Center
in Tel Aviv. She approached Berg and Graf shortly after with an invitation to
create a new work in Canada. The artistic board of the festival would arrange
for a cast of dancers, rehearsal space and a stage on which they would unveil
the fruits of their labor. Berg and Graf don’t usually go for that kind of deal,
they explained in a recent interview in Tel Aviv, but the offer seemed too good
to turn down.
This invitation was far from the first of its kind to come
Last year, they were invited to Denmark to produce a
full-length piece at the Dansescenen Theater in Copenhagen. Upon arriving, they
selected five dancers who, along with them, would make up the cast for Animal
Lost. “Our work is very much influenced by the people in the process,” said
“For that reason, we usually choose our own dancers.”
and Graf arrived in Vancouver in January. They were given a place to stay at
Simon Fraser University, where they taught workshops to local dancers. Shortly
after their installment in Vancouver, they were introduced to their cast.
Luckily for them, the Chutzpah! crew proved to be savvy matchmakers.
two dancers set up on this artistic blind date were Noam Gagnon and Justine
Over the five weeks they spent together, the four became a
When Berg and Graf create a new work, they take to the
studio, researching material – both movement and text – before adding in the
dancers. Using the equation of two heads are better than one, Berg and Graf
collaborate on all stages of each creative process. “Before we met the dancers,
we had made a lot of plans,” said Graf. “Of course, those plans changed the
moment we met them.”
Berg was quick to point out that both dancers were
over 30, a fact that delighted him. “We worked with Noam and Justine. Noam is 47
and Justine is 35,” he said. “In Israel, 30 is considered old for a
Berg and Graf, both in their 30s, explained that they feel their
skills on stage and in the studio are only becoming sharper with time. “I feel
that I’m only now really understanding myself as a performer,” said Graf. “I
have so much left to discover, and I don’t feel as if I’ve exhausted my search
in any way. To see a man in his late 40s who is still dancing was really
inspirational for me.”
Gagnon is something of a legend in the Pacific
Northwest. In 1993, together with dancer/choreographer Dana Gingras, Gagnon
founded The Holy Body Tattoo, a contemporary dance company in Vancouver. After
16 years at the helm of his troupe, Gagnon broke off to create a new ensemble,
Chambers has spent the last 15 years
performing with a number of Canada’s major dance companies.
She is an
avid blogger and a dance instructor for Arts Umbrella, an association dedicated
to bringing arts to children regardless of their socioeconomic
Once in the studio, Berg and Graf used the sentence “We all
feel the pain” as a jumping-off point. “We wanted to look at what that pain is,”
said Berg. The results were very different from Berg and Graf’s previous pieces,
which were largely narrative. In addition, unlike many of their pieces, this
work was purely physical, with no text.
“This piece is much more
abstract,” explained Graf. “We looked at the physical bonds between bodies. It
turned into something very emotional,” he said.
Gagnon and Chambers were
vital to this process. “The dancers were very open during the research,” said
Berg. “We could ask them to do anything, whether physical or theatrical. We were
all very much on the same page.”
In Vancouver, after two successful
performances of the piece, which remained untitled, Berg and Graf said goodbye
to their new friends and returned to Tel Aviv.
Though they have spent the
better part of the past three years on tour, they still refer to Israel as their
In the coming month, they will present Four Men, Alice, Bach and
the Deer four times in Tel Aviv. “It’s very important to us to perform in
Israel,” said Graf. “As much as we travel, this is still our base.”
audience in Israel is very interesting,” said Berg. “People come to see our
shows four and fives times. And then there are a lot people who come that we
don’t know, which is very good.”
However, one of the tricky elements in
Berg and Graf’s jet-setting lifestyle is that their dancers are scattered around
the globe. Much like with Gagnon and Chamber, when the performances are over,
their cast members go home to or stay in their respective countries.
original casts of many of their works, such as Four Men, Alice, Bach and the
Deer. Animal Lost and Bear- Girl King are international. What this means, in
practical terms, is that they either have to replace cast members depending on
the location of the engagement or not perform at all. This summer, as part of
the Hot Dance Festival, Berg and Graf will unveil an all- Israeli cast of Animal
As for the future, the duo can hardly keep track of the invitations
they have already received to tour in Europe, the US, Latin America, Canada and
Asia. “We call it the ‘mountain factor.’ We want to go anywhere that has a new
mountain for us to climb, be it physical or professional,” said Graf with a
smile.Four Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer will run at the Inbal Theater
in Tel Aviv on March 18, 19 and April 29,30. For tickets, visit
www.suzannedellal.org.il or call (03) 510-5656. For all other information about
upcoming shows, visit Berg and Graf’s website: www.yossioded.com.