Dance has always been a fringe media. Unlike acting and music, it has almost no mainstream facet, though television programs such as Born to Dance and Dancing with the Stars have produced a certain celebrity. In many a city, dance is most often seen as a component of a larger event - Broadway shows, for example. While there is a strong dance element in many musicals, choreography is not what fills the balcony seats.
And yet, in our young country, dance is one of the most respected and viewed art forms. Most Israelis have knowledge of at least one modern dance company, and a comparatively large number of people here have been to see a dance performance at one point in their lives. To close the decade, let's take a look back at the choreographic accomplishments that drew domestic and international eyes to the once underdog of the art world.
'Oyster' by Inbal Pinto Dance Company
Oyster does not exactly belong in the summary of the 2000s. It premiered at the end of the 1990s. However, it belongs in this wrap up because of its presence throughout all 10 years of this decade. Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack began working together in the 1990s. Pinto was a former Batsheva dancer, Pollack a successful television actor. They emerged from a pool of independent choreographers with their small company of dancers. After several successful pieces, they struck absolute gold during 1999's Curtain Up Festival at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
Oyster, which takes the audience into the world of a painfully beautiful dilapidated circus, was an immediate hit. Pinto and Pollack recently celebrated 10 years of Oyster and seem to have every intention of continuing to mount the piece. It has been performed all over the world, from New York City to Norway to Japan.
'Mamootot' by Batsheva Dance Company
There is no question that Ohad Naharin changed the face of Israeli dance forever. Beginning in the latter half of the 1990s, his takeover of the once Graham-based dance troupe was the first step in an cultural makeover that the dance community largely benefited from. Moving away from the outdated aesthetics of long dresses and pulled-back hair, Naharin created a style of dance that mirrored the Israeli temperament. It is in-your-face and unapologetic, witty and strong, warm and shocking.
Of the masterpieces Naharin produced in the past 10 years, Mamootot stands out clearly for its innovation. It premiered in 2003 and offered a new way to see dance. The show invites us into Batsheva's deluxe studio space and challenges our most basic assumptions about performance. The lights never dim. The dancers are not separated from audience members in any way. The performers and crowd observe each other simultaneously. Overall, Mamootot provides the audience with a perspective on the performance, which is real, not airbrushed.
'Birth of the Phoenix' by Vertigo Dance Company
Choreographers Adi Sha'al and Noa Wertheim of Vertigo Dance Company are deeply committed to the environment. In the past 10 years they have slowly moved their company from Jerusalem to Netiv Halamed-Heh, an ecological community near Beit Shemesh. In 2004, Sha'al and Wertheim, who are life partners, decided to share their love of nature with their audience. They constructed a moveable stage, which was open to the elements and created Birth of the Phoenix.
The show is about the union between man and nature and can be performed in any location that is wide enough to hold the construct. The work is significant for two reasons: It was one of the first site-specific pieces to be produced by a dance company here and because it has enjoyed a huge number of performances since its creation. To this day, Vertigo's crew can be seen around the country, assembling Phoenix's metal dome.
'Tetris' by Noa Dar Dance Group
Noa Dar was one of the queens of the fringe scene in Tel Aviv for many years. In the middle of the past decade, she received her own studio space near Tel Aviv's Cinematheque. Then, in 2006, she unveiled Tetris, a somewhat site-specific piece created in her company's new home.
Tetris, like the previously mentioned pieces, is special because it gives the audience a completely fresh vantage point. Standing on stools, the members of the crowd poke their heads through holes in the stage, from which they take in Dar's choreography. The juxtaposition of the audience presents the viewer with a unique set of options. They can stand on their stool and keep their eyes on the dancers on stage. They can sit on their stool and watch the dancers snake in and out of holes in the floor. They can ignore the performers completely and watch each other. The viewer thus becomes a part of the action, not just a spectator.
Of the independent artists to emerge in the past 10 years, none has had as significant an impact on the greater dance community than Yasmeen Godder. After completing her MFA at New York University and collecting a Bessie Award along the way, Godder returned to Israel and got straight to work. More than any one piece of Godder's, her overall existence as a creative force changed how we make and see dance.
The culture of ugliness, strangeness and curiosity that Godder orchestrates in her works has been a breath of fresh air. Godder has reeducated her audience. She has blurred the line between dance and performance art permanently. We no longer expect to see exclusively harmonious, beautiful movements on the stage. We are ready to watch dancers sing off key, douse themselves in paint and tear their stockings. She is bold, powerful and gutsy and has inspired a throng of choreographers to depart from their polite ballet training and branch out into the world of the bizarre.
The Independent Choreographer
If there is one thing that has set this decade apart from past decades, it is the prominence of the independent choreographer. In the '90s, emerging talents were limited to one festival, Curtain Up. In the past 10 years, the number of festivals open to independent choreographers has multiplied rapidly. Now we have the Shades of Dance Festival, the Other Dance Festival, Zirat Mahol Festival, Maholohet and IntimaDance, to name a few. Whereas once independent choreographers could be found performing almost exclusively in Tel Aviv, nowadays there are blossoming dance communities in Jerusalem, Acre, Mitzpe Ramon and Haifa.
Over the past 10 years, an enormous number of new talents have caught the eyes of dance watchers both here and abroad. This decade alone has brought us Renana Raz, Noa Dar, Yosi Berg, Oded Graf, Hillel Kogan, Ronit Ziv, Niv Shenfeld, Rachel Erdos, Dafi Eltabeb, Michal Hersonski, Dana Rutenberg, Idan Cohen, Sahar Azimi and countless others. Israeli choreographers are present at almost every festival and competition in Europe. It is these artists that we should put our focus on in the upcoming decade.
A FEW thoughts on the near future of Israeli dance:
The return of the classical form
For the past 15 years or more, we have worked on breaking away from the antiquated European school of pointed feet and arched backs. Dance has received more flow and less positions. Perhaps the pendulum will swing back toward clean lines and minimalist costumes in the coming years.
The departure from proscenium stages
It began abroad in the past decade. Choreographers left theaters behind and headed outdoors. Dance was seen on staircases, in graveyards, in the ocean and basically anywhere you could think of. Given the limited number of theaters available on any given evening and the friendly climate here, it's very possible that Israel will experience its own site-specific resurgence.
The dawn of the freelancer
Until now, companies have auditioned for members and worked for the most part with them only. More and more, big dance companies are abandoning year-long contracts and opting to hire dancers per project. This allows the choreographer to tailor each piece much more specifically and, in addition, allows for a greater fluidity for dancers between jobs. Much like the collaborations between band members and other musicians and the forming of new bands, dancers will cease to work for one person and will take on many projects at any given time.