Dance hopping at the shuk

The annual From Jaffa to Agrippas Festival brings dance into the bars of Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market

ILANA BELLAHSEN takes part in Osnat Kelner’s dance piece ‘Stirring.’  (photo credit: Courtesy)
ILANA BELLAHSEN takes part in Osnat Kelner’s dance piece ‘Stirring.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In 1887, three Jerusalem residents put down flags on the north side of Jaffa Road. Johannes Frutiger, Shalom Konstrum and Joseph Navon saw in the empty space an opportunity for trade and community. They named the area after Navon’s brother, Yehuda. On the opposite side of the street lay the newly established neighborhood of Beit Yaakov. For denizens of the two budding areas, amenities were hard to come by, and so a market was formed on an empty lot just east of Beit Yaakov. Over the coming decades, the market grew and grew, was torn down, changed names and vendors and eventually transferred from open-air tables to an enclosed pathway of merchants. Today, that market, Mahaneh Yehuda, is the most famous in Israel, holding over 250 individual vendors and shops. It is a tourist attraction, a way of life and a meeting place for all of the various groups that inhabit that nation’s capital city.
This week, Elad Schechter and c.a.t.a.m.o.n. Dance Group will host the third annual From Jaffa to Agrippas Festival, which brings together his love of dance and his love of the market.
“Mahaneh Yehuda has a type of meeting that doesn’t happen in other places in the world and even not in Jerusalem. Everyone meets here in the shuk, everything that comes to Israel is represented in the shuk. It is the main artery in Jerusalem. People come to meet, shop, eat drink, be,” says Schechter, founder and artistic director of c.a.t.a.m.o.n. Having recently moved into the company’s new home in the Alliance House, Schechter can’t help but wander in and out of the various alleys of the market. “The market is all about abundance, balagan [mess] and meetings. It’s an incredible place to create in,” he adds.
The event invites audience members to embark upon an amped-up pub crawl through the many bars of the market. Each of the stops includes a performance by a different choreographer, tailor made for the specific business that hosts it.
“We chose the choreographers that we were interested in working with and then they chose the locations for their performances,” explains Schechter. “We do a location scouting tour in the market and the artists choose where they want to create their work. They pick a bar and, together with the owner, they create a work that has to do with the vibe and energy of the place. A lot of places in the shuk are very small and not all of them can hold a dance piece. But we are open to everything.”
Schechter began his career as a choreographer going through the known channels, most of which are in Tel Aviv. Several years ago, he moved to Jerusalem, determined to become part of the rapidly developing arts scene in the city.
“There has been a significant change in the Jerusalem scene in the past six or seven years, largely due to the fact that few new players joined the field. The scene is amazing, more than other places in Israel because it’s much more open and enabling. It’s also a much newer scene. There is a lot of room for creating. A project like ours exists in other places, there are other such formats in other places in the world, but the fact that a lot of the demographic in Jerusalem hasn’t seen dance and we are offering it close to them for free makes it very accessible for the audience.”
The artists to participate in this year’s program, the largest yet, are Lital Ben Horin Netzer, Dror Liberman, Osnat Kelner, Sofia Krantz, Sharon Vazana, Hadas Neuman, Dafi Eltabeb, Oryan Yochanan, Maya Michlal-Gelfand, Maayan Liebman-Sharon, Tom-Lev Dekel and Nitzan Lederman. Whereas previous years brought a handful of artists into the mix, this year’s festival includes 12 up-and-coming choreographers. The large number of participants are supported in their creation processes by a number of donors, including the Jerusalem Municipality.
“This year we received donations from a few foreign foundations. They are helping us to make the body present in Jerusalem, to bring an array of voices from all over Jerusalem into the market.”
Though the productions are site-specific, “From Jaffa to Agrippas” has proven to be a powerful springboard. In fact, one of Schechter’s own creations, which premiered in the first festival, just returned from an extensive tour in the United States.
“We took Urfa, which we made in 2014 for the market, to New York, San Francisco, Washington and Chicago. It was very interesting because the piece is very specific to Mahaneh Yehuda. The responses were very warm.”
Next year, Schechter will take the company’s new piece, Tech It Away, back to North America for a follow-up tour.
“From Jaffa To Agrippas” will take place today and tomorrow. For more information, visit