What is Israeli dance? Three choreographers give three very different answers at this year's Lincoln Center Festival, which celebrates contemporary Israeli choreography with a spotlight on some of its most interesting artists. Batsheva Dance Company has long acted as one of Israel's best-known cultural ambassadors, but for the two other dance companies, Yasmeen Godder and the Bloody Bench Players and Emanuel Gat, the Lincoln Center Festival represents their first appearances in New York.
Gat will present a double bill consisting of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and a selection of songs from Schubert's Winterreise. The Rite of Spring has been a challenge and temptation for many choreographers, and Gat gives it his own stamp by retelling the story of the girl who must dance herself to death for spring to arrive in the language of salsa. In the piece, five dancers, two men and three women, engage in a frenetic social dance on a blood red carpet in the center of the stage. With every rapid change of partners, a different female dancer is left on her own to trace the intricate steps as if in obedience to an invisible but pitiless partner. The audience is left to guess until the very end which of the women will be the sacrificial victim, stripped to her waist and left to die alone. The combination of salsa and Stravinsky's menacing music creates a vision of social dance without joy, in which sex is reduced to its most violent and destructive form.
Gat studied music before turning to dance at the unusually late age of 23. He worked with the Liat Dror Nir Ben-Gal Company and has written the music to some of his own dance pieces. In Winter Voyage, the dancing begins before the music and continues after it ends, making the movements of the two male dancers an extension of the piano accompaniment. With their shaved heads and long silver coats, the two men look like monks practicing some archaic martial art. Sometimes chasing, sometimes mirroring each other, they never quite touch, yet seem bound to each other by something deeper than desire. As their movements usher in one song after another, it appears after a while that the music is about the dancing rather than the other way round.
Next week, the Batsheva Dance Company takes the stage at Lincoln Center with performances of Telophaza, an epic piece that simultaneously uses a large number of dancers and creates moments of intimacy with the use of close-ups projected onto giant video screens. The following week sees the New York premiere of Godder's dance company with a work called Strawberry, Cream and Gunpowder, which blurs the boundaries of modern dance, theater and mime. A critical reflection on the experience of war through media images, Godder's work is the one most likely to be subjected to political interpretation by American audiences - though a French critic writing about Gat's Rite of Spring two years ago felt compelled to see it as a warning to Israel about "dancing on a volcano."
Nigel Redding, the director of the Lincoln Center Festival, says of the three Israeli works, "The three choreographies together present a real picture of this country at this time, and I think they should all be seen together at this year's festival."
Emanuel Gat Dance appears at the LaGuardia Concert Hall tonight, Friday and Saturday. Batsheva Dance Company performs at the New York State Theater July 20, 21 and 22, while Yasmeen Godder and the Bloody Bench Players appear at the LaGuardia Drama Theater July 27 and 29. The Lincoln Center Festival, which also includes performances of instrumental music, opera and theater, began Monday and concludes July 30.