As audience members, it’s easy to forget just how much we mean to the people on stage. Sitting in a darkened theater, one can quickly slip into a calming sense of anonymity. However, the audience possesses a great deal of power. For one, they choose whether or not to attend said show, often influencing the future success of the performance.
The audience decides how to respond to the show – with raucous applause or by leaving mid-performance.
For Ella Ben-Aharon, audience empowerment is a major goal. This week, Ben-Aharon will present two evenings, each of which invites the viewer to reconsider their position in the crowd.
On Tuesday night, Ben-Aharon will present All-Most, which premiered in October as part of the Between Heaven and Earth Festival in Jerusalem. Then, on Thursday night, Ben-Aharon will host the final event of the ongoing Diablogue series.
A petite woman with dark curly hair and a soft voice, Ben-Aharon speaks with almost no hint of an Israeli accent. Her perfect English is one memento from 11 years spent in California, earning a degree at the California Institute of the Arts, Florida, pursuing a masters in choreography and later producing her own work in New York City. Four years ago, she returned to Israel with her life and work partner, Edo Ceder. Since then, Ben-Aharon and Ceder have created work under the title Ella & Edo.
All-Most, which will share the stage with Sharona Florsheim’s Connectivity Practices, is the result of a collaboration between Ben-Aharon and neuroscientist Dr. Asaf Bachrach.
“I met Asaf two years ago at a contact improvisation workshop,” explained Ben-Aharon over chilled orange juice at Café Betsalel in Tel Aviv. “We began a conversation then that we are still in the middle of.”
With a background in dance, Bachrach has spent the past several years bringing his two passions, science and movement, together. His meeting with Ben- Aharon sparked a desire to further meld those two worlds, by creating a joint performance.
“We want to push dance into the forefront of interdisciplinary research,” said Ben-Aharon with great enthusiasm. The first challenge was geographic, as Bachrach lives in Paris.
“After meeting several times in Paris, Asaf and I decided that we wanted to collaborate in real time and to bring our experiments to the stage. The idea was to take questions from the science world and apply them in the studio. It’s not about allowing dance and neuroscience data to inform one another, rather about allowing them to influence one another. The interaction between dance and neuroscience is tremendous.”
Ben-Aharon and Bachrach began with the idea of the space created seconds before touch occurs.
“We looked at the neurology of the desire to touch.
We knew, almost intuitively, that the almost-ness evokes more response than the actual touch. From there, we wanted to investigate... how that space can define us,” Ben-Aharon explained.
Throughout the process, Ben-Aharon and Bachrach initiated meetings between dancers and scientists.
They started with a workshop for Ben-Aharon’s cast of five dancers, which was led by Bachrach. Months later, the two spent a week doing dance workshops with the scientists.
“Scientists aren’t usually body people, and by that I mean they don’t move around in the way that dancers do,” said Ben-Aharon.
During the performance, the dancers and certain audience members will be hooked up to devices that will monitor their physiological responses.
“It isn’t just about what the dancers are experiencing but also what the audience goes through as they observe. We are going to be looking at heart rate and breath mostly. Scientists on site will interpret the data throughout the show,” she said.
From handing out electrodes on Tuesday night, Ben- Aharon will move to paper and pencils on Thursday.
The sixth and final of this round of Diablogue, the evening will require a fair amount of audience participation by way of writing.
In each of the five preceding Diablogue events, artists were invited to show works in progress. Over the course of the series, 19 artists took the stage.
“Each of the 19 works we presented throughout the series was different. It’s a very courageous thing to present a work in process,” added Ben-Aharon.
Following the performances, audience members were given two minutes to write down their responses to the work. Finally, they selected the work in progress that most interested them to see in a fuller form. The five artists or teams chosen to present in the final round of Diablogue are Odelya Kuperberg, Omer Uziel, Anat Va’adia, Nitzan Lederman with Eyal Bromberg and Shira Eviatar.
To each of the five evenings, Ben-Aharon invited a guest artist from a different discipline, such as musician Didi Erez and visual artists Lior Grady. All of these guests will perform in the foyer during the opening hour of the final round of Diablogue.
“Diablogue stemmed from a collaboration with Neta Pulvermacher,” said Ben-Aharon. Pulvermacher is the current dean of dance at the Jerusalem Academy of Dance and Music and the initiator of the A.W.A.R.D. Show format, which currently runs in tens of American cities. Like Diablogue, the A.W.A.R.D. Show asks audiences to view dance works and to choose their favorite.
“I worked with Neta on Dance Conversations, which was the precursor to the A.W.A.R.D. Show in New York.
I love the format because I love to see the audience write their responses,” said Ben-Aharon.All-Most will be presented at December 24 and Diablogue will be presented on December 26. Both events will take place at Warehouse 2 (www.choreographers.org.il).