Brothers in arms: We do not torture people

When the lights go up on Noa Shadur’s work, regardless of which piece is being shown, it is clear within seconds who the choreographer is.

Noa Shadur (photo credit: Tammi Weiss)
Noa Shadur
(photo credit: Tammi Weiss)
When the lights go up on Noa Shadur’s work, regardless of which piece is being shown, it is clear within seconds who the choreographer is. Though she is at the beginning of her career, Shadur embodies a certain visual clarity rare to dance-makers of her generation.
The movement is sharp with Fosse-esque overtones, the music fluid with the occasional electronic spike and the visuals clean and concise.
Her newest work, We Do Not Torture People will premier this weekend at the Suzanne Dellal Center as part of the highly anticipated Curtain Up Festival. For the past 23 years, this event has annually offered a handful of emerging choreographers an opportunity to create a new piece with the artistic guidance of one or more directors.
Shadur is a veteran of Curtain Up, having presented the duet Into The Night as part of the celebratory 20th anniversary program in 2009. This year, the Ministry of Culture and Sport took on two artistic directors for the festival, Ronit Ziv and Yoram Karmi.
The choreographers were each given a rough time limit and were challenged to fulfill their vision. For the past six months, Ziv, who was charged with curating two evenings for this year’s program, has mentored Shadur.
“I loved working with Ronit,” said Shadur in a recent interview over coffee in Tel Aviv. “Every time she came to watch she had an important insight. She really believed in the piece from the very beginning.”
Of Shadur, Ziv had just as many kind words to impart to the press at a presentation leading up to the opening of the festival.
“Noa’s work is political commentary,” said Ziv. “She has a very engaging way of doing things. I remember, right at the beginning, we had a meeting and Noa pulled out this old photo from a youth movement or some teen group making a Star of David with their bodies. She told me that, basically, that was what the piece was about.”
The image, a photo taken in 1946 in Palestine, was one piece of the puzzle that propelled Shadur throughout her process.
“I was drawn to the notion that these people were inside a world where they stood behind a certain symbol, no matter what. There was also something about the way these teens held their arms up in the star that looked like weaponry. I got very interested in the beliefs of this particular time period in history and the undoing of those beliefs,” she explained. “I referenced Zionist and Communist symbols.”
Originally, like the young men in the postcard, Shadur wanted to assemble an all-male cast. However, as she began to work, the need for women in the studio became undeniable. After a bit of shuffling, Shadur alighted upon the optimal cast, comprised of Almog Loven, Einat Betsalel and Or Hakim.
Dressed in denim shorts and work shirts, the three dancers look like they have been transported from the fields onto the stage. However, their effortless, striking movements betray the old fashioned aesthetic created by their clothing, creating poignant juxtaposition between the then and the now.
Much like in Shadur’s previous works, Calypso and Into the Night, no step is taken for granted in We Do Not Torture People. A fan of subtlety, Shadur’s dances are chock-a-block with minimalist gestures. The dancers move between mechanical, repetitive phrases and sweeping, physical interludes.
“As I started to create, the idea of soldiers came into my mind. I didn’t really want to get into the army as a subject but I see now that some kind of technical or robotic element did enter the piece,” she said.
Another theme in this work is the oppression of sexuality and of women. Loven, the lone man, seems to bear a certain responsibility over the women.
Instructing them like a camp counselor, Loven moves between the two powerful ladies, keeping each in check, guiding them away from the explosion that seems imminent.
“Maybe Almog represents me. I didn’t want to let sexuality play a part in this piece. I wanted them to be unisex, which is why they are dressed the same. However, within that dress code, there is this femininity that shines through,” said Shadur. “Throughout the entire process, I paid very close attention to the power dynamic between the three of them. In the end, Almog is the one who rebels against their common cause, leaving the women to serve it themselves.”
Shahar Amarillo’s original score makes We Do Not Torture People feel like one cohesive thought. The music makes no sudden movements, keeping a steady rhythm and flow throughout the work.
The name for the piece is a memento for Shadur of another piece of her inspiration puzzle.
“I was watching a documentary about the Black Water Militia in the United States,” she explained.
“And one of the leaders was interviewed about their activities. This is an independent, armed organization and they are very serious. This man said ‘We do not torture people,’ as a kind of disclaimer. Something about that line really resonated with me. I think this piece speaks of a type of systematic torture and of the little tortures between people.”
We Do Not Torture People will be presented as part of Curtain 4 on November 23 at the Suzanne Dellal Center and on November 26 at the Jerusalem Theater. For more information, visit