Less than a week before the premiere of their new work, choreographers and performers Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor show up for their morning coffee looking radiant. The rehearsal process, which has taken up most of their time for many months and is coming to a head this week, suits them. Or maybe it’s that they’ve given up sugar.
Out of a small canvas tote, a jar of unsweetened almond and rice milk is conjured. After emptying its content into steaming coffees, Sheinfeld, 46, and Laor, 47, dive into discussing The Third Dance, which they will unveil on Thursday night as part of the annual Israel Festival.
It has been six years since Sheinfeld and Laor premiered Two Room Apartment, a reimagining of Nir Ben-Gal and Liat Dror’s duet of the same name from 1987. The piece, which began in Israel and quickly took to stages throughout Europe and North America, is an updated, tumultuous and personal interpretation of Ben-Gal and Dror’s creation.
The original Two Room Apartment was the second in a trilogy of duets made over three years by Ben-Gal and Dror, then in their early 30s. Each duet had a distinct aesthetic and language and tracked the choreographers’ development, both individually and as a couple.
“Originally, when we first looked at Nir and Liat’s work, I suggested we do The Third Dance,” explains Laor.
“I objected,” says Sheinfeld. As a young dancer, Sheinfeld worked with Ben-Gal and Dror. “I asked them if I could learn The Third Dance from the video and they agreed but I never performed it. When Oren suggested it, I thought that Two Room Apartment would be a better fit for us. It’s a much more structured piece, it makes sense. The Third Dance is more poetic. I felt it was a ‘no.’”
Sheinfeld goes on to explain that putting himself and Laor into the romance of The Third Dance was daunting.
“It borders on pathetic and cliché, even if it’s intentional. Also, the dancing in Two Room Apartment is much simpler and I felt that since Oren comes from a theater background, it would be better for him.”
Six years later, Sheinfeld agreed to contend with his initial response to the piece.
“We interviewed Nir and Liat about the piece. They said something funny. They said, ‘this is the piece in which Nir decided to dance,’” says Sheinfeld.
Over the years, it has become difficult to discern who comes from which background. Though Laor’s history may include more line reading than Sheinfeld’s, the two are equally strong in both the dramatic and movement components of their works.
“Actually, a lot of people have asked me if I’m the one who was originally a dancer after seeing Two Room Apartment,” smiles Laor.
One obvious difference between the original and the new versions is the gender of the performers.
“For us, it’s not an issue here at all,” says Laor. “It was more an issue in Two Room Apartment, where the male and female roles are so different.”
“In Two Room Apartment, the man goes to the army and the woman does the laundry,” explains Sheinfeld. “Deciding which one of us would do the laundry and which one would go to the army was the biggest issue of that creation for us.”
“In this process, gender was not an issue at all. We never talked about who will do the man’s part and who will do the woman’s part. It was clear to us that we would do a bit of this and a bit of that.”
Putting themselves back into Ben-Gal and Dror’s shoes allowed Sheinfeld and Laor to once again check themselves, their artistic practice and their tastes as performers.
“If we were to make a duet for ourselves, we wouldn’t have gone to the places that we go to in this reimagining of The Third Dance.”
“As much as we love pathos, we are also afraid of it. There are things in this piece that we thought we wouldn’t do. There’s a long French kiss, for example. At first, we said ‘that’s pathetic, we can’t do it.’ But as we went, we started to let go of these barriers and those moments became very meaningful,” says Laor.
“In this work, we are confronting how we are in a 16-year relationship. Usually, when you see a couple on stage, you see the battle of the sexes. In this piece, you saw an established couple... a couple that had a living room of their own to drink wine in and listen to Mahler. You see a couple dealing with what you do when you’re bored, when you’re out of sync. These are things I haven’t seen touched on in dance before,” says Laor.
Though Sheinfeld and Laor have created many works together, they only once made a duet for themselves, a short intro to the group piece Post Martha, titled Pre Martha. Somehow, working with Ben-Gal and Dror’s material allowed Sheinfeld and Laor to hone in on their own relationship.
“I always say this, but this process was the most complicated, the longest and the most important for us,” says Sheinfeld. “We had to understand that what we do is create space that enables us to manifest ourselves.”
“We discovered new things about ourselves through them [Ben-Gal and Dror], which was the whole point,” Laor adds.
The Third Dance will premiere on May 31 and June 1 at the Jerusalem Theater. For more information, visit www.israel-festival.org.il.
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