Dance: Puppet masters

Niv Shenfeld and Oren Laor present the incisive ‘You Happy Puppet.’

By ORI J. LENKINSKI
November 10, 2016 18:24
3 minute read.
‘You Happy Puppet’

Niv Shenfeld and Oren Laor's ‘You Happy Puppet’. (photo credit: GADI DAGON)

 
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The best place to run into choreographic duo Niv Shenfeld and Oren Laor these days is probably Ben- Gurion International Airport. Be it on the way out or returning from a tour abroad of one of the five productions they are currently running, the two spend a considerable amount of time nibbling croissants and sipping coffee in the airport’s atrium. This week, Shenfeld and Laor returned from the US, where they presented the quartet Cowboy at Atlanta’s 7 Stages Theater. This tour was one of many in 2016, the busiest year yet for Shenfeld and Laor.

“We are currently running Cowboy, Ship of Fools, Big Mouth, Two Room Apartment and You Happy Puppet,” explains Shenfeld.

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What this means, often, is that jet lag recovery is done during technical rehearsals, laundry is put off for later and flights are booked on breaks during rehearsal, all while invitations to tour pile up for 2017 and 2018.

Keeping it all straight requires a great deal of focus and business savvy, skills that complement Shenfeld’s and Laor’s artistic abilities.

“It’s great in terms of our exposure as dance makers and the option of audiences to see our reflections and views in different works as they developed with the years,” says Shenfeld. “It is complicated logistically because every production that we make is with a different cast, and the coordination itself between dancers in each production is complicated. However, we create our works for people, and as long as there is an audience that wants to see our work, we will continue running them.”

Next weekend, they will bring their newest work, You Happy Puppet, back to the stage of south Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theater. The piece premiered in September as part of the annual Tmuna Festival.

You Happy Puppet is an unusual work for Shenfeld and Laor. The most outstanding element is the average age of the performers, which is the early 20s.



“In the past few years, we have been teaching a lot of dance students around the world,” says Shenfeld. “So our interest in a younger cast has been growing.

We usually tend to work with older performers in our productions, but this time we were intrigued by the freshness and power of a younger cast.”

The dance trio is comprised of Yael Sofer, Tomer Giat and Hillel Perlman, who willingly give over their agency to the choreographers. Their malleability, hunger and enthusiasm to perform create the raw material and content of the performance. They are, as the title would imply, happy puppets.

In the piece, Shenfeld and Laor comment not only on the dynamics of the dance world but also of society as a whole.

“The general inspiration for this piece comes from the feeling that freedom of speech is more fragile than we thought. We feel that the general atmosphere in the Israeli public, as well as among politicians, is one of delegitimizing criticism, freedom of speech and protest. Instead of direct and sincere communication, we are aware of more and more empty slogans that are meant to distract us from a serious discourse about our burning issues,” explains Shenfeld.

The process, like every process before it, was filled with triumphs, ruts and uncertainty.

“We wish that choreographing got easier as we went along! It’s true that as we gain more experience we acquire more choreographic tools and sharpen our skills in devising dance and performance. However, we feel with every new process as if we are diving into new water and discovering new territories. We don’t want to bore ourselves or repeat ourselves. Staying relevant as artists in a world that is changing constantly and rapidly is our biggest challenge. We want to be surprised, and so many times we feel lost. There is always the feeling of ‘Where the hell is this going?’ But eventually, the work reveals itself,” says Shenfeld.

‘You Happy Puppet’ will run on November 17 and 28 at the Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv. For more information, visit www.tmuna.org.il.

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