The ABCs of modern dance

The Beta Dance Troupe brings the Amharic alphabet to life in ’Hahoo.’

Dege Feder (photo credit: YA’ACOV SADAN)
Dege Feder
(photo credit: YA’ACOV SADAN)
For Dege Feder, the Amharic alphabet is more than a means of transferring thoughts into writing; it is a portal into a specific period in her past.
“When I was about six years old,” explains Feder, “I studied in a school in Ethiopia for two months. Every time I see the letters [of the Amharic alphabet], they take me back to that time.”
On Sunday night, the Beta Dance Troupe will reveal a new program by Feder entitled Hahoo during the fifth annual Hullegeb Festival in Jerusalem.
The title is taken from the first two letters of the Amharic alphabet. The artistic process for this work began nearly half a year ago in a dance studio in Haifa, where Feder began to experiment with the notion of translating letters into dance.
“I wanted to bring the alphabet to life. I found that the image of the letters was very challenging to work with. If you give a dancer the image of an animal, it is an inspiration that already has life and movement. A letter has a physical presence, but it is very difficult to imagine something that doesn’t have any movement or life and try to depict it as something that is alive and breathing,” she says.
Feder is an established dancer, choreographer and musician. She is the artistic director of the Beta Dance Troupe and is the founder of Lela, an Ethiopian fusion musical group dedicated to performing songs that she writes and performs. For Hahoo, Feder threw all her talents into the pot, creating the choreography, soundtrack and performing herself.
Together with Beta dancers Godai Betawlin, Mazal Demuza and Yael Avinathan, Feder slowly unraveled Amharic into a parallel, physical language.
“We did a lot of experimenting along the way. I love to research and try things out, which is essentially what we did throughout the process,” Feder says.
The score proved to be yet another challenge for Feder, as it is a recording of her vocal responses to the movement of her dancers. Just two weeks before the premiere, Feder was still hard at work in the recording studio, polishing up the second half of the score.
“I knew that I would make this soundtrack from the beginning,” she explains, “but I didn’t anticipate how the recording sessions would go. I allowed myself to respond freely, using my voice in many different ways to the dance I saw. I think the result is very unusual.”
In the coming months, the Beta Ensemble will celebrate its 10th anniversary. The troupe, which was established by Ruth Eshel, has served as a home to Ethiopian and Israeli dancers and choreographers for the past decade. With each season, Beta gains acknowledgment and respect in the local dance community; however, in Feder’s eyes the company still has a long way to go in the struggle to be accepted as one of the top dance companies in Israel.
“I want us to reach a professional level that is comparable to the major companies like the Batsheva Dance Company and the Inbal Pinto Dance Company. In order to do that, we need to receive more funding,” she states.
Raising the level of exposure of Beta would be of great benefit to the Ethiopian community in Israel, adds Feder. “I want to give the young people in our community the motivation to dance and to achieve.”
One of her many goals is to recommence Beta’s international touring. From 2006 to 2009, Beta was invited to perform in the US, Colombia, Poland, Ecuador and Ethiopia. However, for the past five years, technical and financial issues have put the company’s jet setting on hold.
“What we’re doing is very unique here and in the world. There is no other company that takes traditional dances from Ethiopia and updates them,” says Feder. “I would like for us to share this wonderful thing that we are doing with more people, in Israel and abroad.”
‘Hahoo’ will be presented at the Leo Model Hall in the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit