Love lives here for Israeli choreographers

Yossi Berg and Oded Graf turn their attentions to ‘amour’ for latest work at Tmuma Theater.

By ORI J. LENKINSKI
April 7, 2019 22:57
4 minute read.
‘WHEN LOVE WALKED IN’ by Yossi Berg & Oded Graf

‘WHEN LOVE WALKED IN’ by Yossi Berg & Oded Graf. (photo credit: NIR SEGAL)

In their previous works, Israeli choreographers Yossi Berg and Oded Graf dealt with politics, violence, masculinity, nationality, societal conceptions and cultural stereotypes, but they have never before researched love.

A life and work couple of many years, Berg and Graf recently found themselves in the throes of a creative process in which sappy love songs and stories of lost relationships filled the studio, and it thrilled them.

“Visual artist Nir Segal approached us to participate in his exhibition in a gallery called Raw Art,” explains Graf over the phone.

Just a week away from the Tel Aviv premiere of When Love Walked In, Graf is in New York City while Berg is on an extended hiking trip. They will reconvene in their home city in a few days to make final adjustments on the piece before revealing it at Tmuna Theater. “We went through many evolutions in how we would participate and how we would use the gallery, and what meanings it could give our work to present in the gallery. It really excited us to look at dance from a different perspective, perhaps through the lens of visual art. It was a very intriguing beginning for us. Aside from the conditions – which already put in a lot of information into the process – the space, the unified lighting that everyone is in, and Nir’s exhibition, really fed into what we did. It gave a very specific situation to begin working with.”

The word intimacy came up over and again as Berg and Graf wrapped their heads around the gallery environment in which they would perform.

“We were very interested in composing a different kind of relationship between the performers and the audience. It interested us to think how dance can be present in the bodies of the viewers in a much deeper way than it had been in our previous works. We were very curious about the embodiment of dance in the audience. Those questions guided us through the process.”

Though they hadn’t planned on creating a “love dance,” Berg and Graf felt pulled in to the subject. “If in previous works we dealt with militarism, here we felt we couldn’t. Perhaps because of the political situation, what moves us most is working on love. The work with intimacy brought up a lot of questions. We talked about physical and textual representations of love in our culture. We went to see pictures and sculptures that are meant to depict love. We listened to a lot of songs that speak of love. And slowly it became a type of material.”

As they delved into the new territory inhabited by love, Berg and Graf came upon a chasm between the representation of love and how it is experienced. They took this gap to their cast, which is comprised of Berg, as well as Tal Adler Arieli and Ofri Mantel. Together, the four discussed their life stories, their experiences with loves of different kinds, and their perspectives on intimacy.

“In the experience of love, there is something very complex, three-dimensional and rough in spite of its representation which is very flat, frustrating and plastic,” adds Graf. “We tried to ask a lot of questions about the real and the fake, and how they both can express the truth. A lot of times the plastic can express a big truth that the realistic can’t. Sometimes the fantasy can encapsulate a big truth that we can’t see in real life.”

The love they were dealing with came from many sources. On one hand, there is the love between Berg and Graf, which was the starting canvas for this creation. Then, there was the blossoming love between the two and their team, which included the dancers, fellow choreographer Rachel Erdos as an outside eye, Nadav Barnea, who composed the soundtrack, and director Nava Zuckerman, who brought her keen eye to the work.

Finally, there was the love of dance.

“Our love of dance came up a lot. We felt in a few works, like Rite of Spring and some works we made for students, our love for dance was getting stronger in a surprising way. We had a crisis about what dance’s place is and what it can do. I feel that our passion for dance is getting larger. I’m very interested in what dance can do and be.”

With this love-fest in hand, Berg, Graf and team dove into the gallery environs. Not surprisingly, the audience’s response, specifically from the duo’s devout followers, was enthusiastic. “People could really relate somehow,” says Graf.

Now Berg and Graf will take what they learned in the gallery and apply it to their comfort zone – the theater. Next week’s performances will take place in Tmuna Theater’s parking lot, but Graf assures that the warmth and coziness will be preserved, even in that cavernous space.

When Love Walked In will be performed at Tmuna Theater on April 12 and 13. For more information, visit tmu-na.org.il.


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