From Jaffa to Agrippas dance festival to take place at Mahane Yehuda

The festival, which started out a full eight years ago, has evolved and morphed over time.

 'MEET ME in the market' (photo credit: EFRAT MAZOR)
'MEET ME in the market'
(photo credit: EFRAT MAZOR)

Among the many amusing and insightful adages that compare life with cycling, one sagely posits that, in either field, if you don’t keep on moving you simply topple over. 

Jerusalem has been moving, albeit at varying tempos and with differing degrees of intensity, for millennia. That is the basic tenet at the core of this year’s From Jaffa to Agrippas dance festival, due to take place at the Mahane Yehuda shuk October 5-7.

The title of the three-dayer spells out most of the geographical stretch, across the length of the shuk, wherein the artistic offerings will take place for the entertainment and, no doubt, compelling visual delight of Jerusalemites and out-of-towners of all ilks.

The festival, which started out a full eight years ago, has evolved and morphed over time, and artistic director, dancer-choreographer Elad Schechter feels that the maturing process has done the event a power of good.

“There have been changes since we first started out,” he notes, adding that is largely down to the shifting sands of urban reality and, naturally, the health and politically related issues that have impinged on our lifestyle over the past 18 months or so.

“This festival challenges the dance medium and, especially, in Jerusalem. And this tradition has undergone all sorts of changes. Reality in Jerusalem never manages to duplicate itself,” he laughs. “Each year is something very different.”

As one grows older, it is to be hoped we gain a better grasp on who we are, and what is really important to us. That can often involve a process of downsizing, and adopting a more crystallized take on the physical objects we accumulate – aka “stuff” – and how we apportion our energy. 

That mindset was very much part of the thinking that went into conceiving this week’s From Jaffa to Agrippas program. “This year’s festival is much smaller and, I think, more focused. There were years when we put on lots of shows, and the festival was quite long. This year, due to the [coronavirus] circumstances, and also regardless of them, we felt we wanted something more precise and focused.”

Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Perhaps that is also an existential order of the day. “I am basically just happy the festival has survived,” Schechter says with a wry chuckle.

However, it is not only the relative longevity of the event – these days, keeping anything going, let alone a cultural project, for eight years is no mean feat – that has informed the way the festival agenda has unfolded.

While there is generally a concomitant learning curve which impacts artistic and logistical decisions, more importantly, the festival has grown up within a dynamic and transient locale which has undergone a quite astonishing transformation since the dance-based project started out.

“When we began in 2014, the first buds of gentrification were beginning to show,” Schechter explains. “It was very much just a basic market, with maybe around 20 bars and restaurants, and a handful of hole-in-the-wall places. Today there are 120-140 restaurants. The market is a completely different bedrock to work off, compared with when we started out.”

Clearly, From Jaffa to Agrippas is not just about putting together a bunch of quality dance acts and unfurling them for the public. The geographic moniker also incorporates cultural and social baggage that helps to tailor the shows, which feed off the public space accouterments and human seasoning potpourri that lies at the core of Jerusalem and has done so since time immemorial. “The first editions of the festival attracted people in the evening and at night to consume cultural creations, and not necessarily in connection with the bars and the cafés and restaurants the public went to.”

The proliferation of eateries, boutiques and the like have changed the market landscape and, hence, the backdrop of the dance program.

“The festival has changed a lot since it started out, because of the way the shuk has developed, and we relate to that as a very fruitful platform for us to work off,” Schechter says.

It is also a quintessential Jerusalem event.

“I was born and grew up in this city, and set out to express the amazing human cultural mosaic, and the history of the place, through dance,” the artistic director continues. “We take this specific urban element, called the shuk, with all its complexities and layers, and we add the culture of the human body to all of that – the very Israeli Jerusalemite concept of the body, how to impart ideas through the body, within the specific urban domain which has become a theater, which becomes life.”

Since he returned from extended sojourns in Belgium and New York, where he furthered his professional education, Schechter has set out to tell the ever-evolving story of Jerusalem through the c.a.t.a.m.o.n. Dance Group he established in the city on his return.

The dance company’s credo references “dance functions as a cultural mediator, as it facilitates nonverbal encounters and shared experiences. By doing so, social change can be motivated and different communities can meet. Movement artists have a sensitive ability to connect and bridge gaps of communication.”

LIFE IS, of course, a manifold business, and that diversity is reflected in the programmatic layout.

There are a couple of premieres on the roster, including “Grey Area” by Jerusalem-bred dancer and choreographer Sophia Krantz, which will be performed in the century-plus old Alliance House, near the shuk.

The creation feeds off contemporary vibes as four women cope with the fallout of quarantine, whereby there is precious little room for cloistered physical maneuver.

Krantz poses such highly pertinent questions as “Does an action exist if it isn’t presented publicly? Is it worth anything without a post on social media?”

The other debut showing at Alliance House features a rarity in these parts, an actual offshore artist doing his thing here, rather than having it transmitted across digital platforms.

Montreal-based dancer, actor, movement teacher and choreographer Jason Martin will present “A Plea for Impermanence,” which is described as “a multidisciplinary solo performance focusing on cycles of transformation, metamorphosis and renewal.”

And if that doesn’t quite catch the attention, the work also revolves around “the capacity of resilience and adaptation of the human condition regarding the body, matter and ecology.”

Another festival slot that should grab the milling Jerusalem public is “Meet Me in the Market” by Canadian-born Tel Aviv-based choreographer-dancer and Jerusalem Post writer Ori J. Lenkinski.

The peripatetic work reprises the groundbreaking 1962 American TV broadcast when then-first lady Jackie Kennedy invited the world into the newly renovated White House. It is said that, in so doing, Kennedy refashioned socially acceptable ideas of “the perfect woman,” embodying a finely balanced admix of fragility, vulnerability and strength.

Almost 60 years on, Lenkinski invites the public for “a presidential romp in the Mahane Yehuda market, which [like Kennedy] is rich in history, secrets and life.”

And, incredibly, there is another import in the program. Franco-Swiss dancer and choreographer Edouard Hue will present his intriguing and highly topical “Forward,” in which he investigates ways to evolve through a morass of obstacles. Sadly, that sounds all too relevant these days.

What better place to present such a definitively Jerusalemite event than the shuk? 

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