Dancing amongst walls

The new dance piece The Gates of Jerusalem explores the time-honored quest for the true nature of the Holy City.

jerusalem dance 88 (photo credit: )
jerusalem dance 88
(photo credit: )
To choreographer Amir Kolben, the real Jerusalem is "a city of tensions, between being holy and being profane, between high and low, between dangerous and wonderful places, between dirty markets and serenity. It's so extreme," he says, "I find the city lives within these tensions." This view of the world's holiest city is what Kolben presents in his latest dance, The Gates of Jerusalem. Intrigued by Mayor Nir Barkat's vision of 10 million visitors ascending to Jerusalem each year, Kolben sought to create a complex portrait that stretch beyond the images that glorify the city to tourists. His contemporary choreography also challenges stereotypes of Israeli dance. While many foreigners may associate this country with folk dance, Israel boasts a thriving concert dance scene. Kolben is better equipped than most Israeli choreographers to tackle the nature of Jerusalem. His group - Kolben Dance - has been based in the city since its inception twelve years ago. Despite the conveniences of Tel Aviv, the country's center of dance activity and the home for most dance companies, Kolben notes that he feels he belongs more in the "deeper, spiritual city of Jerusalem," as opposed to the country's artistic capitol, but Kolben notes that despite the conveniences of Tel Aviv, with its many theaters, festivals and studios. The Old City holds a particular lure for Kolben, "Whenever I feel an urge to go abroad, I go there. And in many, many aspects, it feels like visiting a foreign country. Despite the fact that I know the place very well, and I know many parts of the history of this place, it never stops surprising me, and it never stops showing different facets of it when I visit." Attempting to capture the unique character of Jerusalem, Kolben took his seven dancers out of the studio and led them on journeys through the Old City. As the cast wandered through winding alleys, they drew inspiration from sights, sounds and smells. Aside from collecting vivid impressions, Kolben's company also improvised in each of the Old City's eight gates for videodances by Pavel Dibrov. Each gate offers a different pathway into the ancient city's mysterious maze. Together, however, they unlock the door to a more complete experience of Jerusalem. The videos of the dancers' improvisations transport glimpses of the gates to the stage, adding what Kolben calls a "spice" to his set choreography. The musical backdrop was mostly composed by Itay Binnun of the world music group AndraLaMoussia. The rich score is rounded out by other selections from Arabic and Christian traditions. This blend of musical influences and the combination of live action with videodance reflect some of the mixtures - East and West, old and new - which characterize Jerusalem. By exploring the city's many dichotomies, Kolben avoids the superficially pretty picture that is sold to visitors from abroad. Yet the choreographer emphasizes, "there's a lot of beauty in Jerusalem as well, which I admire, which I love, which I am attached to, and which I tried to express in this dance." Complicated beauty emerges in The Gates of Jerusalem, and Kolben believes that the dance offers a "special mixture which is available to everyone who wants to see a point of view of a Jerusalem-based artist on this city." The work's world premiere takes place on February 11 at Mercaz Shimshon - Beit Shmuel at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are NIS 60-90, (02) 620-3455/6. The writer is a dance scholar and the founder of danceinisrael.com