A jewel in Brazil

Orly Portal created a work for Porto Alegre Compania Municipal de Danca as part of Suzanne Dellal Center’s Brazil Project

ORLY PORTAL: ‘They had to prepare the body for the movement language of release that I work with.’ (photo credit: CINTIA)
ORLY PORTAL: ‘They had to prepare the body for the movement language of release that I work with.’
(photo credit: CINTIA)
Before going to Brazil, choreographer and multidisciplinary artist Orly Portal didn’t know exactly how to prepare. She was about to visit the country for the first time, was about to meet with a dance company whose work she knew little about and was about to create a new work with five of that company’s dancers, whom she had never seen before. Portal, who likes to be prepared for the challenges that come her way, found herself drawn to music. This was not her first foray into the field – in fact, Portal has a finely developed practice of singing and treating others using the voice – however, it was her first time recording an entire soundtrack for a piece she had yet to create. 
“My way of connecting with this work that I was going to make, without knowing what it would be like, was through the music,” explained Portal over the phone. “I recorded all of the music in Israel with two other musicians. We took Gnawa and Sudanese songs and adapted them and I added texts in Moroccan. The music made the energy that I wanted the dancers to connect to. It was a very exciting preparation for me; it was the first time I created all the music for any creation of mine aside from two Portuguese songs that we added later.”
On the day that we spoke, Portal (49) was doing movement and breath exercises, preparing her body for the day ahead. It was morning in Brazil, the day after Porto Alegre Companhia Municipal de Danca premiered her quintet Beiju. She named the work after her son; whose nickname is Bijou (French for jewel). 
“I thought of my son, Guy, who is 19. I thought of his love and sweetness. I brought that love with me from Israel to Brazil.”
Portal’s commission in Porto Alegre is part of the Suzanne Dellal Center’s Brazil Project, which sent three Israeli choreographers to create new works for three Brazilian dance troupes. Choreographers Ella Rothschild and Ofir Yudilevich were posted with two other troupes in cities – Curitiba and Natal – far away from Portal’s location. Each work first met the local audiences and will meet Israeli crowds this weekend as part of the Suzanne Dellal Center’s International Season before premiering in Germany at the Internationales Solo-Tanz Festival. This cultural exchange is a welcome and unprecedented project for Suzanne Dellal and is hopefully a taste of what is to come from the center in the next few years.  
Portal was given five weeks to go from strangers to artistic partners, a dazzlingly short amount of time considering the amount of information she asked her dancers to absorb. Portal’s practice involves many different streams from Feldenkrais to contact improvisation, folk dance and music, singing, mastery of various traditional instruments and belly dance. She has spent the lion’s share of her career as a choreographer investigating Arab, specifically Moroccan, music and movement. 
“This has been an extreme experience for me,” said Portal, a smile shining through her grounded voice. 
“To disconnect from all of my life in Israel, all of my work and to come here and give myself over just to this, to this place and this work and to be here. It’s pretty crazy. I’m just here. Even when I have free time I’m just here. I can’t really be anywhere else. All my energy goes to this piece and it’s incredible. It’s one of the more impactful processes I’ve had in my life.”
When she arrived in Porto Alegre, the capital of Brazil’s southernmost state, she was met by the five dancers who had been selected to participate in her work. Their backgrounds were different from her own, their style of moving foreign. She immediately got them into her groove, presenting them with the score she had prepared, krakebs (Moroccan castanets) and an introduction to release technique. 
“I turned their world upside down a little bit. They had to prepare the body for the movement language of release that I work with. They had to learn new qualities of movement and new skills of singing and playing. They aren’t used to that because, in dance, there is a separation between these things. They learned really fast. They got into it like little demons. They are very intelligent. This process should’ve taken a year and it was boiled down to a month. It’s a big bravo for them,” she said.
Throughout her time in Porto Alegre, Portal worked closely with the artistic director of the company, Paula Amazonas. Where many company directors would have questioned Portal’s demands or even attempted to derail her, Amazonas embraced and supported. 
“She had my back throughout the process. She didn’t create any gaps between my needs and her approach. She really provided emotional support in keeping everything together, moving in the best direction possible.”
Beiju will be performed as part of the Brazil Project program at the Suzanne Dellal Center on October 12 and 13. For more information, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.