Kibbutz movement

Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company is taking advantage of its out-of-the-way locale.

aide memoire dance 88 248 (photo credit: Gadi Dagon)
aide memoire dance 88 248
(photo credit: Gadi Dagon)
You can tell a lot about a kibbutz by its dining room, says Eitan Pe'er, a member of Sde Boker. Pe'er addresses his comments to participants of a recent press tour to the North, preparing them for the fact that Kibbutz Ga'aton no longer has a communal dining hall: It has been converted into a huge dance studio. This does indeed say a lot about Kibbutz Ga'aton - home to the renowned Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company - where dance has become one of the more profitable fields in the increasingly privatized community. That Pe'er, a resident of a Negev kibbutz, is the foreign marketing manager for the dance company based close to the Lebanese border also says a lot about kibbutz society and the country's size. Now Ga'aton is literally turning into a global village, at least as far as the dance world is concerned. Ga'aton, in Western Galilee, has been home to the KCDC for close to 40 years. Today it is reaching out to dancers around the world and planning to establish a one-of-a kind Dance Village, situated in the distinct pastoral setting of the kibbutz. As nearby Kibbutz Eilon has become famous for its master violin and music workshops with its Keshet Eilon program, so Ga'aton hopes to become synonymous with quality dance studies. Our trip starts about a 15-minute drive from Ga'aton, at Yehiam's Fortress on the grounds of Kibbutz Yehiam. Here we eat a splendid brunch under the Crusader-period arches before admiring the outstanding view of the Galilee at its springtime greenest. The trip to Yehiam is not a mere diversion - or because of the lack of dining facilities on Ga'aton. Yehiam is part of the vision. The Mateh Asher Regional Council is trying to turn the area into both a local Tuscany for tourists and a cultural center that will attract visitors from further afield, and is already holding occasional special Culture Weekend programs under the enticing name of "Music, Movement and Color in Nature" (including one May 15-16.) "The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company remains at Ga'aton out of ideology," says Pe'er. "Although being located in the 'periphery' has both advantages and disadvantages." One of the disadvantages is the reluctance of residents from the center of the country to attend performances in the North and the huge cost of transport to take the company to the center of the country to perform - or to the airport en route to its many trips abroad (almost 40 percent of the company's time is spent out of Israel). One of the advantages is obvious at Yehiam, "about 15 minutes from everywhere in Galilee." The dance company can offer a special experience for culture lovers who want to get away from the rush and noise of the city and relax, a couple of hours from Tel Aviv. Looking out over the impressive view from the 800-year-old fortress (where the early kibbutzniks resided before their homes were built), it's hard not to get caught up in the vision for a cultural tourist haven. A glass of Ga'aton's lychee and passionflower "Loveliqueur" also helps the tougher reporters relax. The basis for the planned dance village on the kibbutz has been in place for years in the form of the Mateh Asher Dance Workshop, the regional dance school and the Kibbutz Dance Company itself. During our visit, we see schoolchildren studying (they can even take a matriculation course on the kibbutz) and foreign volunteers biking along the kibbutz paths. The KCDC dancers rent rooms onsite. Ga'aton also has a program for MASA participants, volunteers who come through the Jewish Agency and study dance as well as work on the kibbutz. Apart from gathering Jewish youth (we met a Colombian who pronounced his experience "metzuyan" - "excellent"), the Western Galilee setting with its Arab and Druse villages is perfect for dance encounters with other ethnic groups. THE DANCE company was established in 1970 by Yehudit Arnon, an Israel Prize winner who lives in Ga'aton. Arnon, a Holocaust survivor, reportedly made a vow as a young woman in Auschwitz: "I promised myself that if I survived from that hell, all my life I would dance." Now in her 80s, she is still involved in the company, although she handed over the artistic creation to Rami Be'er, another kibbutz member and her protege, in 1996. The company is now almost synonymous with Be'er (whose architect father, incidentally, designed the dining hall-turned-studio). When people refer to Be'er as the "resident choreographer," they mean it literally. "The company is definitely still kibbutz-oriented," says Be'er. "I'm a kibbutznik, Yehudit is a kibbutznik and this is our home." Like other founders of Ga'aton, Be'er's parents, too, were Holocaust survivors. His father was an amateur musician, notes Be'er, adding, "our home was one with an atmosphere of music, art, culture, painting, books." The fact that many members of the company now come from abroad doesn't change its basic character, it just enriches the company, says Be'er. During our visit we are treated to an excerpt from Be'er's Aide Memoire (Zichron Dvarim in Hebrew), one of the company's best known pieces. "It relates to the subject of the second generation of Holocaust survivors," explains Be'er. "It doesn't try to describe the Holocaust or tell a story. Everyone can interpret it as they want." The work also "carries a message," he says. "It is a message against violence between races, between people." Forget stereotypes of kibbutzniks dancing the hora. Just as the kibbutz has modernized, so has its dance. Even the company's older works are distinctly contemporary. Be'er's choreography pushes physical limits and boundaries. Much of Aide Memoire, for example, is a 3-D dance, performed up and along a wall of wooden panels with feats that had dancers on a ledge and the audience on the edge of their seats. The panels are even turned into an instrument, as dancers rhythmically pound on them to produce the required effect. "I use all the tools of the stage to create the atmosphere that I want," says Be'er. Not all his work is heavy. As part of its philosophy of reaching out, the company also runs children's programs, including Peter and the Wolf and The Carnival of Animals. Although the KCDC has a standard repertoire, usually running about five or six programs at a time, Be'er says the work varies from venue to venue and with the changes in the ensemble's composition. His inspiration comes "from anywhere and anything - music, architecture, people, nature…" He admits that the Second Lebanon War in 2006 "also had an impact." Lebanon II, however, had a positive effect, as the plans for Ga'aton's dance village were born out of the effort to revive the area after the hostilities. If the First Lebanon War gave birth to the hit movie Waltz with Bashir, it seems only fitting that the second war should help bring quality contemporary dancers to the region and help it thrive to a different beat.