The Canaanite spirit

Local choreographers and dancers Moran Yizhaky Abergel and Kim Taitelbaum unveil their latest work on the ancient Middle Eastern goddess Astarte.

LOCAL CHOREOGRAPHERS/DANCERS Moran Yizhaky Abergel (center) and Kim Taitelbaum perform their latest work, ‘Astarte.’ (photo credit: YAIR MUCHAS)
LOCAL CHOREOGRAPHERS/DANCERS Moran Yizhaky Abergel (center) and Kim Taitelbaum perform their latest work, ‘Astarte.’
(photo credit: YAIR MUCHAS)
The common conception of contemporary dance productions is that they are created in the studio. Long hours spent generating and revising movement phrases, perfecting each and every transition; nuance and gesture are a must for most dance artists. It is through these often-arduous sessions that the final product, what will go on stage, comes into focus. And while they certainly employed this tactic when developing the duet Astarte, choreographers and performers Moran Yizhaky Abergel and Kim Taitelbaum took many of the big leaps in their creative process over the breakfast table. The result of this omelet-driven process will premier this week at the Kelim Choreography Center in Bat Yam.
“There was a lot of talking, a lot of early morning meetings and a lot of breakfasts along the way,” says Abergel over coffee at Nehama Vahetzi in central Tel Aviv.
“We approached the work slowly, taking our time to get into it,” adds Taitelbaum.
Abergel, 35, is one of the more elusive and intriguing personalities in the Israeli dance scene. She has been on stages for more than a decade, most notably in the work of Anat Danieli. For the past several years Abergel has created her own work, operating in the fringe arena. Taitelbaum, 31, is a man of many talents. Aside from his presence on stage, he has designed costumes for works by artists such as Bosmat Nossan and is currently pursuing a masters degree in experimental music at the Musrara Naggar School of Art.
The two artists met several years ago while participating in a workshop led by choreographer Sharon Zuckerman Weiser. The connection was immediate, however it took some time before Abergel and Taitelbaum decided to create together.
“I felt that Kim could bring out things in me that I can’t get out of myself,” says Abergel. Last year, Abergel and Taitelbaum presented their first collaboration as part of the Machol Shalem Festival in Jerusalem. Etude to Body and Control featured five performers aside from the two choreographers.
“We attempted to make a change with our last work. It was a piece that dealt with the body that was about biblical anarchy, sexuality and social constructs,” explains Taitelbaum.
While still working on Etude, the two began taking steps towards Astarte. They received a nine-month residency at the Kelim Choreography Center.
“We have a strong tie with Kelim and with Anat Danieli, founder of the center. Our piece was custom-made to fit the Kelim space,” adds Taitelbaum.
The work begins with a black tree, two-dimensional, laid flat out in the space. Strewn around its branches are strands of yellow fabric. Abergel enters the quiet space slowly, gazing all the while at the tree. She sits next to it, considering it, and begins to collect the material, crafting a type of wig or headdress out of the pieces.
“We began with these pieces of fabric, yellow and black, that were scraps from a factory. Our first day in the studio, we basically just played with them, seeing what we could do with them,” says Taitelbaum.
As the piece progresses, Abergel and Taitelbaum interact with one another as well as a host of props on stage including a keyboard and a large sword. Their movements are measured and minimalistic, building a tangible sense of urgency and tension.
“The piece deals with lost gods, like Astarte, the god of feminine power and of a falling people,” says Abergel. “There is something very ancient about it, very Middle Eastern. We allowed ourselves to jump between dance styles throughout the work, to draw on a lot of different vocabularies and experiences as well as to touch on a lot of different concepts. The piece is timeless in a sense that it wants to go back in time and return to the present.”
Astarte, or Ashtoreth, was worshiped in Syria and Canaan in the first millennium BC. She represented power, femininity, fertility and sexuality.
“In this work, we go back to the mental place that is Canaan, which exists in every person that lives in the region that was once that land,” explains Taitelbaum. This notion, of Canaan-ism, affects the choreographers in their daily life as well as in the studio. “The local dance community is segregated from its neighbors. We are cut off from what’s around us and are constantly looking at Europe for influence. That alone creates a certain aesthetic here.”
“There is a very special energy and beauty of being here in this country. This piece is very much a reaction to everything that we have seen and how we think the dance medium should be. Dance has to affect a change in the cultural world.”
The evening will open with a performance by musician Yaniv Shenfeld, who will perform in the as-yet unrenovated secondary space of Kelim. This may be the last performance to take place in the arena before it goes under the chopping block. The sprucing up of this second space, formerly an army base, will hopefully take place in the coming months. An enthusiastic Headstart campaign designed to make the dream of a bigger Kelim possible is currently running full throttle.
Astarte takes place at the Kelim Choreography Center tonight at 9 p.m. For more information, visit