An island of listening May Zarhy says ‘Yes’ to being open and aware

A choreographer and performer, Zarhy will premiere a new work this weekend at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art as part of the annual Diver Festival.

September 9, 2015 16:10
3 minute read.
The annual Diver Festival

The annual Diver Festival at the Tel Aviv Museum. (photo credit: TAMMY PORAT)


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Most museum-goers relate to the vast hallways connecting the different galleries as a means to an end, a transitional space that bridges the gap between exhibitions. But instead of casually sauntering through these areas, May Zarhy wants to stay in them.

“We are living in such a goal-oriented society, that the path doesn’t have any value,” she says. “The idea was to linger in a space between spaces. I want to suggest and realize the concept of making an island. It is not this or that but something in between.”

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A choreographer and performer, Zarhy will premiere a new work this weekend at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art as part of the annual Diver Festival.

The creation, entitled Yes, is the result of a collaboration with musician and vocalist Michal Oppenheim.

Zarhy, 31, recently returned to Israel after more than a decade abroad and is slowly getting her Tel Aviv sea legs.

“I really love Tel Aviv, it’s an amazing city,” she says.

She began her professional life in Israel, presenting a work in the 2001 Shades of Dance Choreography Competition before enrolling in the Rotterdam Dance Academy. Upon graduating, Zarhy moved to Frankfurt, where she was a choreographic assistant to prolific artist William Forsythe. In 2009, she co-founded MAMAZA, a choreographic collective with which she made a number of pieces that toured extensively throughout Europe and farther afield.

Over the last few years, Zarhy has found herself drawn back to Israel and has created works on students in the Maslool Professional Dance Program and others. Yes marks her first creative process in Israel. “I haven’t performed in Israel since I was 17,” she laughs. “I moved when I was 18, not knowing what it would be like. Being back, I am noticing the differences between Europe and Israel a lot, and I am really enjoying them. Whereas in Europe I would spend months working on a piece from morning to night, here we work for three or four hours and then run off to our other jobs and engagements. There is a real richness to all of this juggling. Here in Israel, I can make the work that I want to make with people who inspire me.

This is my first time using Hebrew in the studio, which is so different somehow. It’s all a learning experience for me.”

She met Oppenheim by chance at a performance in March. “She was presenting a work for three women at the Kelim Choreographic Center in Bat Yam. I was very moved by it and could see that we were interested in similar topics. So I asked her out. We decided to try out working together in the studio and found that we had a great and natural connection,” says Zarhy.

After several studio meetings, the duo began to work in the museum hallway. “So often when you work in theaters, you have the least amount of time possible to copy and paste your creation to fit the stage. A major criterion of choosing a venue was that we would be able to rehearse in the space,” she says.

Through each other’s eyes, the two women came to see importance in performative elements that were second nature to them. “Each of our points of view revealed the potentiality of the other’s material. Even the simplest elements were suddenly significant,” she recounts.

As they went along, Zarhy and Oppenheim found their fields blending together to create a new language. Zarhy experimented with vocalization, while Oppenheim danced around the space.

“We want to create an island of listening with this work. The idea of Yes is first to listen, not to come from a predetermined point of view. We don’t want to say, ‘No, I would never do that’ or to first negate rather than be open and willing. It is a very challenging process in regard to ego. It was a very liberating experience for both of us. We worked a lot with the notion of play. The material that we created surprised us, which was wonderful,” she says.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, September 4 - 5.

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