Making the fireflies reappear

Mor Shani remounts his work ‘While the Fireflies Disappear’ as an homage to Inbal company founder, choreographer Sara Levi-Tanai.

(photo credit: EFRAT MAZOR)
While most Israelis see Eilat as a vacation destination just a short plane ride away from their homes, Mor Shani sees the next frontier of Israeli dance. Originally from the balmy environs of Israel’s southernmost city, Shani traded Eilat for Holland and Holland for Tel Aviv. His career as a must-be-watched choreographer began with a jolt, placing him in the center of Israel’s contemporary dance community at a young age. After years of tireless work creating and collaborating, Shani had won himself an unchallenged place at the table. It was at this moment that the pull to return to Eilat took hold.
Sitting out back at a cafe in Habima Square in Tel Aviv, Shani, 33, sips his iced coffee and smiles. He is fully at home in his body, exuding a type of warm ease one rarely encounters.
“My dream is to found a dance company in Eilat,” he says with confidence.
Shani goes on to explain that while no dance company has ever made a home in Eilat, there is a dance program at the local high school and a wealth of potential. Before he can pack up and head south, Shani will remount his work While the Fireflies Disappear. The work, which was commissioned by Inbal Dance Theater, where Shani was a house choreographer for two years ending in August, is an homage to company founder and choreographer Sara Levi- Tanai. The piece premiered over the summer as part of the Israel Festival marking the 70th anniversary of Inbal’s establishment.
“My family is really into folk dance, but I never connected with it,” he says. The child of a former dancer and dance teacher, Shani didn’t have to stray far from his living room to train, however the lack of dance opportunities ejected him from his hometown at an early age. After a time with Bat Dor Dance Company and a stint writing culture for Walla’s online magazine, Shani relocated to Arnhem, Holland, to pursue a degree at ArtEZ. While still in school, Shani experimented with choreography, creating short works for student platforms. Upon completing his degree, Shani choreographed the duet Lu Carmella with his thenpartner and former Batsheva Ensemble dancer Ron Amit. The piece became a big success, touring internationally for several years.
Shani recalls an award ceremony for The Swans, an Oscar-esque prize awarded in the dance sector in Holland.
“We were nominated alongside some major choreographers like Jiri Kylian. It was insane. Ron and I were so young. I bought the nicest clothes that I could possibly find,” he laughs.
Though things were going quite well in Holland, about two years ago, Shani began to feel an itch to return to Israel.
“I was just questioning what my next step would be when I received an offer to come back to Israel and create a work for Inbal Dance Theater to be shown in the Diver Festival,” says Shani. The first creation he made, Simple Dance, brought a welcome gust of fresh inspiration to the company. Shani’s choreography, which incorporated theatrical elements, gesture and moments of physical virtuosity, suited the company’s revived image. His invitation to return and create again came easily after that. The process for Simple Dance and that of While the Fireflies Disappear were completely different. “Each piece requires a different process. No two are the same for me,” he explains.
The 70th anniversary of Inbal’s inception was an opportunity to delve back into intriguing dance history. Levi-Tanai’s work, which captured a blend of traditional Yemenite dance and contemporary movement of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, holds a special place in the Israeli dance continuum.
“Growing up in Israel, I knew Sara Levi-Tanai’s work,” he explains. “Sara really documented herself thoroughly, so I had a lot to get into.” The big question, for Shani, was if contemporary dancers could connect to the movement language that Levi- Tanai has worked with 70 years prior.
“The big relief that I experienced was in seeing that the dancers found the work relevant to them. They enjoyed dancing it, so I didn’t have to bring anything back to life. It was all there,” he says.
Shani made certain to include fashion, an element that had been key in Levi-Tanai’s creations.
“We partnered with Maskit, who had made the original costumes for the company, and made the costumes for my piece, too. There was a very strong bond between Inbal and fashion and I wanted to celebrate that.”
Returning to the work has afforded Shani a new perspective on his many months of research and development. Aside from switching a couple of cast members, he has left the piece largely as it was at its premiere.
“It’s very pleasant to come back to the piece now. The process was very complex and it’s nice to be able to enjoy working on it without all of the stress.”
Inbal Dance Theater will perform While the Fireflies Disappear on November 15 and 16 and December 24 and 25 at Inbal Dance Theater Company and Arts Center. For more information, visit