Ethiopia for all at the Hullegeb

The Beta dance company will present the premiere of You Are Me But I Am Not You, a work incorporating facets of the dancer’s cultural and personal growth.

The Beta dance company (photo credit: YAKOV SABBAN)
The Beta dance company
(photo credit: YAKOV SABBAN)
Any artist worth his or her salt – regardless of their chosen discipline or genre – has to have a story to tell, as well as presenting their technical skills to the audience, as sleek as they may be.
Dege Feder certainly brings weighty personal baggage to her avenues of artistic expression, which embrace wide creative tracts, taking in dance, choreography, music and the plastic arts.
Feder is one of the major attractions of the sixth edition of the annual Hullegeb Festival, which takes place at venues across the capital December 16 to 21. Founded by Confederation House, the event is designed to showcase the artistic achievements of the Israeli Ethiopian community. Feder will appear with the Beta dance company, which she now directs, when it presents the premiere of You Are Me But I Am Not You, a multifarious work incorporating facets of the dancer’s cultural and personal growth, filtered through the prism of Israeli and Ethiopian dance motifs.
Feder’s oeuvre, and that of other artists from the community, is naturally fueled by some of the experiences Ethiopian Israelis have endured, from harrowing incidents en route from the country of their birth to the Promised Land, to the challenges they had to contend with as they came to terms with Israeli society, gaining a foothold in an entirely different sociocultural milieu.
Feder, now a 37-year-old mother and a leading member of the Israel dance community, says the different disciplines in which she engages not only provide her with different means through which she can put her feelings and thoughts into visual and tangible form, but also inform each other.
“All the types of art I work with come from the same place,” she notes.
They are all crafted in her own, very personal, style and largely free of formal constraints.
“Other than painting, which I studied at university, all the other things come from my experiences and my life in Ethiopia, and from a natural place. I left Ethiopia at the age of seven and a half, and I remember everything. I remember the village we came from and the way to Israel.
What I do today comes from my personal story. My work in dance and art comes from a spiritual and very elemental place, from inside me.”
Music is certainly central to Feder’s life, and a fundamental part of her development as an artist. Her work as a dancer and choreographer also largely feeds off sonic energies structure.
“I listen to special music, not the kind of music you hear in the ordinary scheme of things,” she says. It is not just matter of wrapping her ears around some pleasant sounds and, maybe, even shaking a leg while she goes about her domestic chores or some other routine activity.
“I really get into the music, and I relate to all the nuances of the music – the tempos, the spirit of the music.”
This informs the way she goes about her choreographic work. “That also influences, visually, the dance movements, the way the dancers use their bodies. It produces special elements of movement.”
Feder says her creative path takes her every which way, and that everything she sees and hears is fodder for her dance endeavor.
“There is the rhythm and also the harmony, the song. For me, the song and the harmony are the soul and the tempo is the body. Together they make up a real person.”
Tempo certainly comes into play in Ethiopian music and, as a result, in Ethiopian-based dance.
“There is great emphasis on tempo, and percussion, and the way the body breaks lines and the use of specific parts of the body,” explains Feder.
“When you dance, you don’t move the whole body, only very specific parts, and with sharply defined shapes. There is less tenderness and fewer soft lines. Rhythm is what drives the body movement. It gets you going. You can’t be unmoved when you hear music, at least people from the Ethiopian community.”
That is certainly the case with Feder, and she needed little encouragement to shake a leg in her own, inimitable, style unfettered by formal training.
“Ever since I was little, on any occasion, when I heard music I’d get up and dance,” she recalls, adding that there were tangible rewards – albeit paltry – to be had, too.
“I remember we’d make a dance circle at all kinds of events and, if you danced well, people would give you some money, or something else, like a candy. I never studied dance formally.
I have always been drawn to music and movement. I never thought I’d be a dancer or a musician. It just happened naturally.”
Feder has stuck to that laissez-faire ethos.
“I can’t dance with rules,” she says.
“I can be in the middle of an Ethiopian dance and, suddenly, I’ll introduce some hip-hop and, by the same token, I can merge some Ethiopian moves into hip-hop. I don’t really care about genres or what fits with what. I go with what my body feels at any given moment, and what the music gives me.”
That sounds all well and good, but Feder is also a choreographer and that, surely, entails the creation of some sort of framework, some sort of structured sequence of moves that culminate in a work of art that has some kind of syntactical and logical flow to it. While agreeing with that general concept, Feder says she still likes to keep things as constraint-free as possible.
“When I choreograph I work with neutral frameworks. When you see my work, you can’t identify this or that with Ethiopian dance or any other style in a clearly defined way. It’s the same with the music I do. I sing in Amharic, but it has all kinds of elements in it. It’s the same with my dance work.”
Then again, Feder is willing to make some “compromises,” and to cater for the tastes and cultural identity of the members of her own community.
“I do use specific and recognizable motifs for Ethiopian audiences,” she notes. “I cater to everyone,” she adds with a laugh.
Elsewhere in the Hullegeb lineup, the Tezeta Israeli-Ethiopian musical ensemble, led by saxophonist-vocalist Abate Berihun, will get the festival ball rolling on December 16. Tezeta will host veteran rock guitarist-vocalist Ehud Banai, who wrote a song called Avoda Shehora (Black Work), in 1987, based on some of the challenges faced by Ethiopian Jews who made aliya in the 1980s.
Other festival standouts include multi-genre band Kuluma, the KGC hip-hop threesome, a stark physical theatrical work by Moshe Malka called The Mark of Cain – The Story of the Malessa Family, and a high-energy rock confluence between violinist Michael Greilsammer and iconic vocalist Ester Rada.
For tickets and more information: (02) 624-5206 and