‘Jalo’ from the other side

Dege Feder presents her solo dance piece as part of the Hullegeb Israeli-Ethiopian Arts Festival in Jerusalem

December 3, 2017 22:25
3 minute read.
CHOREOGRAPHER/DANCER Dege Feder performs in her latest piece, ‘Jalo.’

CHOREOGRAPHER/DANCER Dege Feder performs in her latest piece, ‘Jalo.’. (photo credit: YAAKOV SABAN)


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When I last checked in with Dege Feder about her choreography and performance career, she spoke of a deep desire to find a place in the mainstream Israeli dance community.

As an Ethiopian artist, Feder has risen through the ranks within her own milieu, starting as a young dancer in the Beta Dance Troupe, becoming a choreographer for the company and eventually taking up reins as the artistic director. However, finding a place for her creations in mainstream platforms such as the annual Curtain Up Festival remained out of her grasp. And so Feder focused her energies on honing her skills and presenting the work she believed in via community-based platforms such as the annual, Jerusalem-based Hullegeb Israeli-Ethiopian Arts Festival.

A year has passed since then and Feder is about to reveal a new creation, Jalo, as part of this year’s Hullegeb program. Hullegeb, which means “open to everyone,” is perhaps a more vital platform today than ever before. Established by the Confederation House in 2010, the festival aims to bridge the cultural gap between East and West.

While there is no question about the relevance of Ethiopian art in contemporary Israeli society, many of the artists who present in Hullegeb, such as Feder, rely on the festival for wide-scale exposure.

“I don’t feel that there has been a change in regard to the place of Ethiopian artists in the mainstream,” says Feder. “We are in the same place as we always were but we continue to create unique work. I don’t expect that the change will come from the outside. We will sow our art slowly, slowly and its branches will make their way all over to the point that there will be no way to avoid them and everyone will open their eyes.”

Turning an inward eye has brought Feder closer to the kind of art she would like to be making, art that is multidisciplinary, connected to her roots and unabashedly personal. From group pieces, Feder scaled back to a solo. Whereas many female dancers part with the stage at Feder’s age (she will turn 40 in the coming year), Feder seems more confident and at home under the limelight than ever.

“In the current year, I decided to focus on myself as a performer. As time passes, I feel that my abilities as a dancer are getting stronger and stronger, that maturity is good for me in a physical and spiritual way.

As such, I decided to take this opportunity to create the solo Jalo.”

In this work, Feder invokes the traditional male practice of incantation or rhythmic speaking. She sings, moves and delivers text in an attempt to understand how her past, present and future can be in harmony with one another.

“The creation is based on speaking in rhythm, movement and song. The part that includes speaking in rhythm plays is parallel to contemporary, Western spoken word. This technique was used by Ethiopian warrior men on their way to battle, conquest or war against an enemy in order to maintain their territory. In their confident, bold calls, the men state their masculinity and expected victory. I use this technique to tell the story of my immigration from Ethiopia at a young age, my fight for equality and identity and try to build a bridge between my past and present through creation.”

The play on gender is an intrinsic part to this work. Feder is not hindered by what is traditionally male or female, but rather takes the sounds, steps and gestures that resonate in her form.

Jalo will be presented with a group piece, a montage of highlights from Beta’s repertoire. Danced by seven, this performance includes excerpts from works such as You are Me and I am Not You and Armija. Themes such as personal identity, group dynamics and connection with one’s history are explored in these pieces.

The festival will also include performances by leading Israeli-Ethiopian artists such as hip-hop duo Strong Black Coffee (Café Shachor Chazak), musical trio Afro-Baghdad Express, the Ground Heights Band, Abbeba Dasa and Band and singer-songwriter Gatish Mamo.

The author will present Jalo on Tuesday, December 12 at 8 p.m. in the Leo Model Hall of the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem. For more information, visit https://gerard-behar.jerusalem.muni.il.

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