East meets Middle East

In ‘Kulukulupa,’ local choreographer and dancer Shahar Biniamini explores the intersecting worlds of ancient Japanese dance and theater and Zen Buddhism.

ISRAELI DANCER Shahar Biniamini performs with Japanese-born dancer Eri Nakamura in ‘Kulukulupa.’ (photo credit: GADI DAGON)
ISRAELI DANCER Shahar Biniamini performs with Japanese-born dancer Eri Nakamura in ‘Kulukulupa.’
(photo credit: GADI DAGON)
On the day Shahar Biniamini came to the studio, under each arm a Japanese fan, he had the full intention of learning how to wield his props like a proper geisha. For months Biniamini had fantasized about the Far East, from Butoh dancing to Zen Buddhism. However, when he placed said fans in the hands of his partner for the project, Japanese-born dancer Eri Nakamura, he realized that his plan had a few holes in it.
“I was sure she was going to teach me how to do it but it turned out she had no idea how to dance with a fan. In the end, I taught her,” laughs Biniamini.
This week, as part of the Batsheva Hosts series, Biniamini will present his version of “east meets west,” the duet Kulukulupa. The work, which premiered late last year, will be shown together with Shamel Pitts’ Black Box: Little Black Book of Red.
Biniamini, 27, is one of the finest dancers in Israel today. A former Batsheva company member, Biniamini’s agility and strength are accented by candid performances and a sense of humor. In the two years since he left the ranks of the world-renowned troupe, Biniamini has carved a name for himself as an independent choreographer as well as the initiator of Tnuda, a meeting between dance practitioners and scientists hosted by the Weizmann Institute’s Prof.
Atan Gross.
It was while at Batsheva that Biniamini met Nakamura, then a new transplant from Japan via Australia and Canada.
“I wanted to work with Eri because she’s Japanese and because we have a great connection.
I had this very external, raw idea that was connected to my fascination with Japan. It was funny to come to a Japanese dancer with this idea about Japan. We went very far away from that first idea. In the studio, we talked a lot about her childhood stories. She left Japan at a young age. We were very interested in how we were raised in different cultures and how it influences us today. We got to the same place; we were both dancers in Batsheva with a lot in common.
But we got there from very different paths and emotional journeys. We took all of this stuff, these personal stories and made them very abstract.”
On the day that we spoke, Biniamini had just returned from a month-long stay in Singapore, where he created a new work for a local ensemble. With shows booked for Wednesday and Thursday nights, Biniamini hit the ground running, returning to Kulukulupa after a long hiatus from the piece.
“It is pretty crazy,” he says, “we worked on the piece in the studio for a month or so.
We had the premiere... one show and since then we haven’t touched it. Usually only after the first show do you get a first idea of what the show is about. That’s where the process starts. So it was strange to perform and leave it for so long.”
Back in the studio, Biniamini has already made significant changes to the work.
“I came back from Singapore with a lot of ideas and new inspirations,” he says.
“The creation has a lot of short parts. It isn’t important to us that the audience understands the stories but it is important to show an emotional journey about coming of age in any culture. It came out that its very abstract and very general. It started very specific and got more and more wide. [It] came out that in the piece [in] the moments that are very quiet... there is an underlying pain.”
This tension, or sublevel emotional charge, is one of many connective threads between Kulukulupa and Pitt’s Black Box.
“The seeds of the pieces are very similar.
It’s interesting to see how everyone takes it, taking personal stories and letting people experience them through the work.
Shamel’s piece is Black Box and we are using a lot of black in the piece. There is a lot of interchange between the two pieces,” says Biniamini.
Following this engagement, Biniamini plans to put some energy into a new work being created by the Tnuda group. In May, the Singaporean company will visit Israel to perform a work by Noa Zuk as well as Biniamini’s new creation. Finding time and space for these two endeavors, the management and promotion of Tnuda and propelling himself forward as a choreographer poses the biggest challenge in Biniamini’s daily life.
“How do I combine these two, to create a platform that is about the meeting of people and not to neglect the choreographer that I am, to show what I do so that people will see it? I feel that as an independent, I want to create a new identity that matches how I imagine choreographers of the future. There is a lot of dispersion of attention associated with this, which I need in order to design something new for myself.”
Shahar Biniamini will present Kulukulupa at Batsheva Dance Company’s Studio Varda on February 3 and 4 at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
For more information, visit www.batsheva.co.il.