Two choreographers work together to explore both sides of Israeli dance

“It’s like we are living in parallel universes. Like, if we switched places, we would make the same work. We are mirrors for one another,”

Solidarity in disagreement Shira Eviatar and Hadar Ahuvia perform  ‘Possessing’ at Tmuna Theater (photo credit: TAMAR LAM)
Solidarity in disagreement Shira Eviatar and Hadar Ahuvia perform ‘Possessing’ at Tmuna Theater
(photo credit: TAMAR LAM)
Sitting over tea with Shira Eviatar and Hadar Ahuvia, the lyrics of Edie Brickell’s Wheel came to mind. “Somewhere there’s somebody that looks just like you do, acts just like you too, feels the same way.” In truth, Eviatar and Ahuvia do not resemble each other so much as that they appear to be the perfect match for one another.
“It’s like we are living in parallel universes. Like, if we switched places, we would make the same work. We are mirrors for one another,” smiles Eviatar. Perched on two antique armchairs in Eviatar’s Jaffa apartment, curls – Eviatar’s deep brown and Ahuvia’s golden – abound, the two choreographers fall easily into step with one another’s thoughts.
In fact, at many points in their past, were it for a small shift, the two could have met, lived in the same city or even swapped places altogether. Thirty-three years ago both Ahuvia and Eviatar were born in Israel. Eviatar’s American mother had made aliyah in 1970 and married her Israeli father. Ahuvia’s kibbutznik parents left Israel in 1995 for the United States, where they spent two decades raising their children before returning. Both women found dance at an early age, both came to movement through folk dance and both place those roots at the core of their choreographic research and work.
“My mother was a folk-dance teacher. She came to the States in the 1960’s to take up a position at a summer camp,” says Ahuvia, whose time in the states included periods in Hawaii, Florida and now Brooklyn. Ahuvia is an active member of the progressive Jewish community in New York. She identifies as a white, Jewish, Ashkenazi artist and is a founding member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Artists Council. Her body of work includes The Dances Are For Us, Joy Vey and Everything you have is yours? for which Ahuvia received a nomination for the Bessie Award for Outstanding “Breakout” Choreographer.
“In my work, I look at Ashkenazi Israeli folk dance and analyze it. I look at the subtext that is folded into the dances. I look at how Zionism was and is being expressed and practiced by American Jews. I feel that, sublimated in these dances is land theft and oppression. People made these dances in order to feel powerful. In my choreographies, I become a ‘markida’ (folk dance instructor).”
Eviatar’s work delves into folk dances from the Sephardi or Mizrachi tradition. In her creations Rising, Body Mandala and Eviatar/Said, Eviatar repositions Yemenite and Moroccan dances onto the stage.
“When I first came to the dance world with these movements, with my loose pelvis and shoulder blades, people didn’t know how to take it. When teachers asked me to ‘align my four points’ I felt it was a political request. At first, I wanted to deal with the erasure of those heritages and stories. But then I realized that I want to do what I am doing, not look back into the past about it. My work is about being forward, it’s about creating a space of solidarity,” explains Eviatar.
The two were brought together a year ago, at the Jews and Jewishness in the Dance World Conference in Arizona. Conference director Naomi Jackson recognized the likeness between the two women and gently urged them to meet.
“Naomi said, ‘you should talk to Hadar’ and ‘you should talk to Shira’. We met and it was like a vacuum, we immediately felt that we had this alliance, that we were on the same mission,” says Eviatar.
As independent choreographers, they were able to hatch a quick plan for a collaboration and set it in motion. They met in New York and then again to prepare Possessing for its premiere at Gibney Dance Choreographic Center in November. The work, which spanned two hours in its New York performances (they have since shortened it), invites the audience into the meeting point between these two fascinating, similar yet distinct women.
They stress that while there are many points of contact between them, there are also enormous gaps in perspective and opinion. Ahuvia makes a gestures that evoke the shape of a double helix demonstrating that – even in the most elemental fibers of our beings – there is closeness and distance.
“We can hardly understand each other,” says Eviatar. “It takes a big effort to find what we agree on.”
“We agree to be together in questions and not necessarily find answers. There is solidarity in our disagreement,” adds Ahuvia.
The work is performed entirely in the nude.
“There is something similar between us but you can see our techniques and practices on our bodies. We wear our past, it’s in our dances and our body language. Anything that we would wear is in the past and the work of change is in the present,” says Eviatar.
While Ahuvia is in town, the two will present Possessing at three venues, Tmuna Theater, Machol Shalem Dance Center in Jerusalem and Habait Theatre in Jaffa.
Eviatar and Ahuvia will perform Possessing on December 22 and 23 at Tmuna Theater, at Machol Shalem Dance Center on December 26, and at Habait Theatre on December 28