Dance review: Dare to dance

The decision by Montpellier Dance Festival’s artistic director to host 10 Israeli choreographers was regarded as a brave gesture.

Yuval Pick's ‘Score’  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yuval Pick's ‘Score’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
France June 22 - July 7
This year, France’s 31st prestigious Montpellier Dance Festival hosted 10 Israeli choreographers.
This exceptional decision made by the festival’s artistic director Jean-Paul Montanari was regarded as very brave, considering the political atmosphere among the cultural elite in Europe these days. In fact, Montanari himself has abstained from coming to Israel since the second intifada.He was at a hotel in Tel Aviv when a suicide bomber set off an explosion nearby. People from the French embassy called immediately and urged him to stay indoors. In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post he recounts, “I got dressed and went out to the streets. I had to. Remember, I was born in Algeria and my childhood years were filled with bombs and there was murder all around me. Memories from those years came back in a flash. I didn’t want to ever see it again, and it caught up with me.”
Montanari is known in dance circles as a daring director with strong agendas that he fervently defends. There is an air of defiance about him, and he thrives on challenges. Over the years he has taken on quite a few. For example, he was the first to seek recognition and rights for the gay community when HIV first broke out in the 1980s. He is a major contributor to taking hip-hop from the streets and putting it on the stage in the name of cultural pluralism.
He is known for supporting hardcore conceptualists in dance, and he recently he explored the overlapping borders between legitimate dance and the circus.
The decision to invite 10 Israeli choreographers within the intensive 2011 program falls within his decision to focus more on the Mediterranean Basin and explore lesser-known grounds. Initially he attempted to bring Israeli companies concurrently with dance groups from the Arab world, but they refused to cooperate.
Tel Aviv was thus declared a Capital of Dance, as it fulfills all his criteria. It has to have an important resident creator – and Ohad Naharin certainly deserves the title. It must have a dance center, such as Suzanne Dellal and various other dance venues, and it must show political interest. That’s his official rationale.
On the impulsive side, there is ongoing frustration, as Paris’s most prestigious venue ignores the Batsheva Dance Company, and some journalists have failed to review their performances. “I wanted to show that Naharin is an important creator. Since some journalists don’t bother to come to review Batsheva, I decided to have a strong Israeli unit that would make it impossible to ignore.We certainly succeeded and received incredible coverage from them for the first time,” he says..
Asked if there is a measure of anti-Semitism involved, Montanari refused to bite: “It’s not my place to speculate.”
A few days after opening, it was high-profile Batsheva’s turn to perform, after Tamar Borer presented the strong political piece Ana in collaboration with Tamara Erde, a work that was sympathetic to the hardships of the Palestinians. Batsheva performed Naharin’s Project 5, which caught the attention of pro-Palestinian groups, who demonstrated and managed to infiltrate the amphitheater. They climbed on the upper lighting construction and dropped flyers on the audience. The police stopped the commotion in minutes and tightened security for the rest of the festival.
Later, the police found a cell phone that one of the climbers had dropped, which proved that there were ties between him and known activists of Islamic groups.
Suzanne Dellal’s artistic director Yair Vardi pointed out that their infiltration was potentially dangerous: “They could have just as easily dropped explosives on the stage,” he said. Despite increased awareness, the audience was not checked upon entering the venues.
There was no one happier than Ziv Nevo Kolman, our cultural attaché in Paris, who learned that all the Israeli performances were sold out early in the game.
A lot of effort and support was invested in that singular venture.
The second week hosted three Israeli choreographers living abroad, whose work is rarely seen here.
Yuval Pick is a former Batsheva dancer who performed with the esteemed Lyons Ballet for 16 years.
He choreographed for his small ensembles and other companies and recently became the director of a major national choreographic center (CCN) and kept dreaming that someone would invite him to perform in Israel. Only after he was included in the Israeli season at Montpellier did he receive his first invitation to perform at Suzanne Dellal. When asked if he would give it all up if he could work in his homeland, he unequivocally said yes. His piece Score impressed viewers with its high energy and urban soundtrack recorded in Tel Aviv.
Emanuel Gat has been living in France since 2007, and his international career has skyrocketed. Living in Kiryat Gat with his wife and five children, he could hardly support his family. When he was offered a cushioned landing in France for himself and a group of Israeli dancers and was promised generous means to live and create, backed by his promoter, he seized the opportunity. His latest creation, Brilliant Corners, which premiered at the Venice Biannual, is breathtakingly beautiful with unusual spatial weavings by a superb international group of 10 dancers (none from Israel anymore).
At his press conference, Gat took me by surprise when he announced that he is much happier paying taxes in France than in Israel. Following him for years, I believe he still has unresolved issues with his emigration.
He and Hofesh Shechter, who is based in London, are both considered by Montanari to be world-class artists. Shechter, in fact, made a giant leap from being a member of a struggling band in Tel Aviv and ex-Batsheva dancer to becoming the darling of the London dance establishment, which showered him with unprecedented budgets and facilities, followed by fame in a span of three years. He writes his own music, and his Political Mother Choreographer’s Cut attracted thousands to the huge hangar Zenith Sud in Montpellier, who came for what was considered to be more of a rock concert than a dance performance.
Some 24 musicians, six full drum sets, more percussion, guitars, etc, accompanied the 16 dancers.
Around 23 tons of equipment was moved to build the stage, set and lighting and carry the instruments.
The vibes pulsated under the seats and pumped the thousands of people who stood between the stage and the seated audience. Shechter himself stood on the top circle of the tiered stage set, delivering an anarchistic body performance with strong anti-fascist messages. What a blast! The 10 invited Israeli choreographers were Tamar Borer, Ohad Naharin, Barak Marshall, Yossi Berg and Oded Graf, Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor, Yuval Pick, Emanuel Gat and Hofesh Shechter.