From Dellal upward – dancer, choreographer and arts leader

Yair Vardi leaves an unmistakable legacy.

Yair Vardi (photo credit: AVI EVEN)
Yair Vardi
(photo credit: AVI EVEN)
It says a lot about the breadth and scale of Yair Vardi’s job that two people will replace him when he steps down from his position. For 32 years Vardi reigned over the Suzanne Dellal Center, seeing it from a sandy construction site to a bustling, internationally renowned cultural hub. During that time Vardi was not ever just one thing, his job could not easily be captioned or described. His name was, and still is, synonymous with the center’s.
In fact, imagining a Suzanne Dellal Center without Vardi at its helm is a difficult feat. Some see it as an opportunity for some much-needed change, others fear for the collapse of the establishment altogether. But, regardless of what the public thinks about it, Vardi will step down at the end of this month and will hand over the reins of his life project to not one but two successors.
“I feel very good,” he said over the phone earlier this week. “I’m whole with my decision. I think 30 years is a good amount of time and a good time to leave this wonderful factory, which expanded so much, to other people. It was very hard to build and will be easy to destroy, so I hope that the people that will continue after me will manage to preserve what I did. I know they will take it in different directions. But the door will open to a lot of new things.
“We built a new building to allow for a lot of new initiatives to occur here. I expect changes and I think there will be some hurdles. I don’t think it will be easy to charge forward right away. I try not to think what will be and how it will be. I brought Suzanne Dellal to here. Now others will take on from where I’m leaving off. There’s still a lot to do, a lot of people to help, to give, to invent. There is a great foundation, healthy, strong, wide and rich.”
VARDI, 71, was born on Kibbutz Kfar Blum the same year that Israel declared independence. His early career as a dancer brought him to London, where he was a member of Rambert Ballet. He then founded his own company and later established a dance center in Newcastle. Twelve years after leaving Israel, he returned to assist the Dellal family in bringing a nearly impossible vision to life: a dance center in Tel Aviv.
In his three decades as the unquestioned leader of the center, Vardi championed dozens of projects. Some, such as International Exposure (which takes place this week), changed the face and position of Israeli dance worldwide forever. Some, such as the string of productions choreographed by Barak Marshall, struck out to unknown territories with fresh voices. Others, such as the dance school Vardi dreamed up, didn’t make it out of the gate.
“I wanted to make a school, which we tried and didn’t manage to do. I wanted to make a group of dancers that would have permanent work, a company of dancers who work with different choreographers. We started it but we didn’t manage to continue it the whole time. But that could be great. It’s not that I regret. It’s too bad that I didn’t manage to make it happen in a permanent way. But we didn’t stop working and creating and I think it will happen those things will happen with my successors,” he said.
A school is already under way. A joint project between the Suzanne Dellal Center and Batsheva Dance Company, this year saw 40 high school-age dancers selected for an elite pre-professional training program.
“It’s a pilot. It’s complicated to get a school off the ground. It’s the first year. Now there’s one class. Next year there will be two. I truly believe that it’s the right time and place for it. And everything has its time and place.”
As for the future for Vardi, he declines to make any major statements for the time being but assures that he will continue to be part of the cultural world and will always strive to enrich the dance community in Israel. His successors, who will step up to their positions in 2020, are Anat Fischer Leventon as CEO and Naomi Perlov as artistic director.