Growing together

Machol Shalem dancers are teaming up with a German troupe to combine different cultures.

Israeli and German dance troupe 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli and German dance troupe 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In a city with so much ancient history and tradition, sometimes it can seem like the present day is being ignored – at least, that’s how Machol Shalem Dance House cofounders Ruby Edelman and Ofra Shafir felt about the Jerusalem cultural scene.
In an effort to keep artists active and inspired in Jerusalem, Machol Shalem is developing new creative projects to help keep the city relevant, and is heavily subsidizing space to encourage artists to remain in the capital.
“Due to the fact that the city is poor compared to other cities, culture is often neglected, and a lot of attention is going to the Jerusalem tradition,” Edelman, the dance group’s CEO, tells In Jerusalem. “The investments are all about looking at Jerusalem for its 3,000 years of heritage, but we want to contribute to another layer of the culture. It is the opposite of the tradition and the ancient; we want to provide the most up-to-date.”
He and Shafir worked with the Jerusalem Foundation to create a space for artists to work that wouldn’t be too expensive.
“I think art in Jerusalem is one of the most important things for the city... because it’s such an inspiring city,” says Shafir, who acts as artistic manager. “If we don’t have a platform for [artists], then they leave. It is our goal to make them stay and have all of this Jerusalem inspiration put in the art and be in Jerusalem and not only in Tel Aviv, which is the main place where art has been.”
The dance group is located at the Musrara Community Center, near Mea She’arim and the Green Line, where its founders feel they are strategically situated to make a difference.
“I think the place of art, especially here, is to bring out all of the conflict that is held inside and to express it. Especially in our neighborhood, where the studio is on the border of east and west Jerusalem,” says Shafir. “We are in a place where the artists really get to feel it and show it on the outside.”
However, the group’s efforts to bring together cultures are not exclusive to Israel.
Shafir and Edelman are currently working on a three-year project between two youth dance troupes – one in Jerusalem and the other in Germany. The Machol Shalem dancers in Jerusalem are teaming up with the School of Life and Dance (SoLD) troupe in Freiburg under the direction of Graham Smith.
“We know that in this background is the whole German-Israeli history,” says Edelman. “We are dealing now with the fourth generation from the Holocaust, and we thought it would be interesting to create a project [in which], through a creative process, they would research their own identity compared to a stranger, someone who has a completely foreign background and society.”
This cross-cultural collaboration, called the Percival Project, draws inspiration from German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach’s work Parzival, which relates the tale of Arthurian knight Sir Percival’s quest for the Holy Grail.
The SoLD troupe, which consists of 15 young people, premiered its interpretation of the Percival myth and its issues of identity on June 15 in Germany. The troupe members are visiting Jerusalem from July 29 to August 12, during which time they are starting the creative process anew with the Jerusalem teens to see how interacting with a new culture alters their understanding of the search for the grail. At the end of their stay, the troupes will present their new Percival dance performance together.
“The myth of Percival is about a boy who is searching for his future, for his goals, for literally a grail, but there are many interpretations about what the grail really is,” says Shafir. “We’re raising questions from this myth about whether getting your grail is important, or if the way to your grail is the most important. Maybe the whole point is just searching for yourself... maybe it doesn’t matter if you get there or not.”
Jannika Erdmann, a 19-year-old dancer from SoLD, says that for her the main issue in the myth is “the courage of Percival. I don’t mean the courage to fight with weapons, but the courage to enter the world, the society that he does not know. He always takes the plunge, and he allows himself to make mistakes. At the end there is the grail, the salvation, and of course it belongs there, but for me this part is the greatest myth – it is intangible.”
Each troupe will have the opportunity to showcase its work in another country, as well as come together to make a collaborative performance that includes elements of each studio’s work.
“On the way, we are talking about how we deal with the challenges in our life and what is the thing that draws us back to our goal each time,” says Shafir.
Working in the context of language barriers, different cultures and a shared past, these dance troupes will be helping keep modern culture alive in Jerusalem by creating something new. The project will finish in 2015 with their final performances together.
“In 2015, it will be 50 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, and that is going to be a very symbolic way for us to bring the project to an end,” says Edelman.
During their two-week visit, some of the German teens are staying with the Jerusalem dancers in their homes, and others will be living at the Jerusalem YMCA.
“I think this will be a very intense time. I hope I will learn something about their way of life or their view on life and if it’s the same as we in Germany have it, and if not, how it differs from ours,” says Jule Herman, another member of the SoLD troupe.
The two weeks of exchange include time working and eating together, as well as about three travel days, in which the teens will have time to explore the Jerusalem area together or on their own.
“I am looking forward to dancing with them, because I think it is a special opportunity to get to know one another through one’s physical reactions,” Erdmann says. “I think we can teach one another how a little part of the youth of the other country behaves and in which direction our thoughts go.”
Herman feels that “it’s not so much about teaching the Israelis something or learning something particular from them. For me, it’s the experience of spending such a large amount of time with other people we have never seen before, but to whom we’re still connected because of the same interests.”