OnDanSe 88 224.
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His face alight and his words tumbling, Yair Vardi talks about dance as if his joy in it was newly minted.
"People think that Spain is just about flamenco, but Miguel Berna represents Spanish folk-dancing, and of very high quality. He's huge in Spain."
Berna and his company are performing Rasmia at the currently running Tel Aviv Dance 2007 as one of 10 visiting international contemporary dance companies, some of which are making their Israeli debut.
Vardi has been head and guiding spirit of the Suzanne Dallal Dance Center (SD) since its doors first opened in 1989 at what is unarguably one of Tel Aviv's loveliest urban spaces. Over the years he has become a little greyer around the temples - he is not the lithe dancer he once was - but his love for the art is as real as the years he danced with Batsheva and afterwards the Ballet Rambert in England.
Making a dance festival, whether local or imported, is not easy. The 10 companies coming, as well as the participating local ones, represent 18 months of hard work, seeing the companies, ascertaining availability, juggling budgets, and sweet-talking sponsors. "For instance," says Vardi, "I saw Montalvo Hervieu two years ago, also Aterballeto, but Zeynep from Turkey I saw only six months ago, and they were available, which was lucky because another company had to cancel."
Montalvo is making its second visit with a piece called On DanSe, Aterballeto comes with Cantata and Wam, and Zeynep has 4 Legs.
The criteria for choosing the companies from abroad, whether for this festival or for others, are basically "will this piece be new and interesting for the Israeli public?" says Vardi, "like Berna or the Turks. And let's not forget the modern dance classics, like Requiem and Seven Birds Dream from the Portuguese Company of Contemporary Dance that are based on Graham movement (the dance technique pioneered by the great Martha Graham (1894-1991) that hugely influenced generations of choreographers and was the early backbone of Batsheva Dance)."
Vardi, 59, joined the Batsheva company in 1967, the year before he went into the IDF. He went back in 1971 and stayed until '77, taking a year off to dance with Bat Dor. Then it was off to the UK and the Rambert for six "wonderful years" as he recalls them. He got his start as a dance administrator in the UK, rebuilding the English Dance Theater in Newcastle-on-Tyne into Dance City, a vibrant performing and teaching entity to this day.
When Vardi came to Suzanne Dallal, he was buzzing with ideas and the intention of putting both SD and local dance firmly on the international map. The first big breakthrough was International Exposure in 1995, "only two days after Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, but everybody who'd been invited came. We observed a minute of silence at every performance, but everybody came." For a moment his face is bleak.
International Exposure invited European and other festival or company managers to see Israeli Dance, and over the years the event has been the Yellow Brick Road for local dance and dancers. Israeli dance now has enviable international prestige "but it goes both ways. The first big boost was DancEuropa in '99 when European companies came here. Now foreign companies clamor to come, more than we can handle, because Suzanne Dallal is a small stage."
Enter Israel Opera head Hannah Munitz and the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center whose big stage has hosted some of the DancEuropa events for some years now, as well as its own dance series. Enter Avigdor Levin, head of the Arts and Culture department at the Tel Aviv municipality, just when Vardi and Munitz were itching to expand.
"Let's open it out," Vardi had said, and "Tel Aviv Dance 2007 is the result."
"I still love what I do; the sheer fact that I'm free to initiate ideas. Once I decide on a project I go ahead. I find the people, the resources, the artists. Every creation is exciting, and for me, when it actually happens, that's the reward, that's the moment you work so hard for."