Putting the ‘GO’ in golden age

Galit Lis presents a piece in praise of and performed by older women

Galit Lis presents a piece in praise of and performed by older women (photo credit: ELI PESSY)
Galit Lis presents a piece in praise of and performed by older women
(photo credit: ELI PESSY)
 ‘When I dance, I like it when my body surprises me,” says Talma Dim to the audience.
Standing at the front of the stage with the 17 cast members of Galit Lis’s new work GO behind her, the 82-year-old flashes a warm smile before embarking on a pianoaccompanied dance solo. Her white curls sway as she rolls on the floor, allowing the gentle musical notes to lift her up and propel her around the stage.
Dim is one of Lis’s core cast members in a practice that has reshaped the veteran choreographer’s work. About to premiere her third work in a line that has revolved around the older female body, Lis talks about how she shifted from young, virtuosic dancers to first-timers in their 60s, 70s and 80s.
“I started from a very personal place, somewhere else entirely,” says Lis. “My brother contracted cancer. He spent eight years struggling with it. It was fascinating to see his dialogue with the disease, which went from something very external, to the cancer not being part of him, to its being completely his. At some point, he decided to live as happily as he could, and he did that until the very last minute. One week before he lost consciousness, he told me, ‘Everyone around me is very worried, but this is one of the happiest periods of my life.’ And he meant it. It really made me think about the meaning of living.
It brought back this childhood memory of my grandmother in Argentina. One time when we went to visit her, she was in an old age home. She was a very elegant woman. When we arrived, we found her sitting in her wheelchair, sunken into herself. I remember thinking, ‘What’s the point of living like that?’” Having said goodbye to her brother, Lis felt a certainty about her next steps.
“I knew I would create, and I knew it would touch on old age, but I didn’t know exactly how,” she says.
She called on three women to join her in the studio – two young dancers and one older nondancer.
“I realized that the dancers, while incredibly generous and talented, were less interesting to me than the third woman. She brought the humanity, the beauty and the depth that I was looking for,” the choreographer recounts.
Understanding her new direction, Lis put out a call for female, non-dancers above the age of 70 for a new project. Her request was met with great interest. Many of her prospective performers had danced as young girls but were discouraged from continuing because of the stereotypes that a life on stage carried.
In 2008, Lis presented Gila as part of the Women’s Festival in Holon. Her research for the piece led to the establishment of workshops for older women, which she continues to develop and run today.
“It grew and grew. I began to research this body. I learned about what motivates this body, what moves it, what forces govern it,” explains Lis.
Fear is a big element when working with older performers.
“So many times, women will come to me and say, ‘I don’t go down to the floor, I don’t run, I don’t move fast, I don’t want to perform.’ And I say, ‘Sure.’ Lo and behold, after a few months, they (Eli Pessy) are doing all those things. It raises the question of what voices we listen to – the external ones telling us what we can and can’t do or our own?” she says.
Six years after Gila, Lis presented 557 as part of the Curtain Up Festival.
“I was invited to take part by Itzik Giuli, and I believe it was the first time that non-dancers were presented as part of the festival,” she says.
The piece was very abstract and consisted almost entirely of actions that one would not expect of older bodies, such as rolling and running.
Now Lis returns to the stage of the Suzanne Dellal Center, more established in her methods and with a clear message.
“This work is a manifesto. I am bringing it to Suzanne Dellal, as such, to say, ‘Yes, you can start dancing at the age of 70. And yes, you can perform. You can still dream and imagine and experience new things at an old age.’ To me, that is a huge thing,” she asserts.
In GO, Lis brings together two worlds – her movement research with older women and the military career of her husband.
“He is in the air force. I attend a lot of events with him, have been to countless over the years. I always say that it’s the best show in town,” she smiles.
The juxtaposition of those two worlds, which seldom meet, point at the bodies we enforce and oppress in our society.
“Here we have the strong, male, fighter and the weak, older woman. One is held up, the other held down,” says Lis.
The production has been supported by the National Lottery Association. Funding from the Ministry of Culture and Sport has eluded Lis, as her performers do not meet the criteria of “professional dancer.”
“It’s unfortunate that this is what keeps me from being funded because it is my agenda. I could work with dancers, but that is not the work I want to make. The opposite is true, in fact. I always tell my performers, ‘Don’t try to be dancers. Be who you are.’ They are the most interesting and beautiful that way,” she says.
In Lis’s eyes, these women are heroes.
“Going on stage, at that age, with that training, takes so much courage. It isn’t about looking perfect, it’s about taking what there is and doing something wonderful with it,” she stresses.
Galit Lis will present ‘GO’ at the Suzanne Dellal Center on December 28 & 29 and January 15. For more information, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.