As the saying goes, the third time’s the charm. In the coming days, members of Batsheva Ensemble will hope that saying holds true.
At the onset of coronavirus restrictions in Israel, the Batsheva Ensemble was hard at work, performing a dress rehearsal of a new and very experimental evening for the troupe. Designed by then-brand-new artistic director Gili Navot, this performance strung together five new works by six independent Israeli choreographers. Unlike most mixed bills, Girlanda (“a string of lights” in Hebrew) did not create a divide between the creations, rather it melded their individual worlds into a long sequence.
The dress rehearsal was, as most are, full of tension and expectation. Costumes were tried for the first time in motion, lighting was fine-tuned and an audience, albeit friends and colleagues, saw the work for the first time.
The next morning, the Ensemble, along with everyone else, awoke to a reality in which live performances were no longer possible. For months, Girlanda was placed on the shelf.
“During the dress rehearsal, we were all getting messages about the impending closures,” says choreographer Talia Beck, whose work HHH is one of five in Girlanda. “Then, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there was a period in which we thought that everything was going to reopen. The company decided to move the performances to their studio, Studio Varda, so we went back to rehearse, adapting the lighting and everything to the new space. We redid everything,” she explains over coffee. Just after getting all their ducks back in a row, theaters were closed once again and again, Girlanda was put on hold.
Beck, 40, is one of the most interesting voices in Israeli dance today. She is a graduate of the Thelma Yellin High School in Givatayim. She has danced with Vertigo Dance Company, Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, and with choreographers Yasmeen Godder, Netta Yerushalmi, Ella Rothschild and Asher Lev. Her body of work includes Saudade, Maatzama, Botany of Desire and W. In all of Beck’s works, the character and abilities of the performers guide the creative process.
“It’s all about the dancers for me,” she says.
Like most professional dance companies, the Batsheva Ensemble offers dancers a yearly contract, meaning that casts change during the summer months. For Beck, this provided an extra challenge.
“I had chosen to work with all of the men in the company. We had a very intimate process and I based the work entirely on the material they brought. When they came back after the summer break, I had new dancers, and three of the people I had during the process weren’t there anymore. I had to decide how much to open up for changes. I was sad about those who left, but the new dancers were very special. They each brought something unique to the work,” she says.
Now, with vaccinations in place and cultural venues reopening, the Batsheva Ensemble is finally confident that Girlanda’s time has come. For the third attempt, the company has decided to return to its plan A and hold the performances on the stage of the Suzanne Dellal Center.
“We have a few rehearsals before the shows. The dancers remember everything perfectly, which is incredible seeing as it has been months since our last meetings in the studio,” says Beck.
For Beck, who was never a company member in Batsheva, this journey has been momentous.
“For my entire life, the Batsheva building was there, in my mind. It was this place that I wasn’t part of but it had a presence in my mind. I don’t come from Gaga, so the invitation to make a work for the Ensemble came as a bit of a surprise. I would go to rehearsal every day, punch the code into the keypad at the entrance to the building and think, ‘Wow. This is amazing. I feel very lucky.’”
Beck’s HHH will be joined in Girlanda with Content by Noa Zuk and Ohad Fishof, VIP and Dora by Nadav Zelner, Hold Me by Nava Frankel, and Etude #2 and Stoning and a Trip by Noa Eshkol, restaged by Mor Bashan. The costumes for the evening were designed by Anna Mirkin and lighting design was done by Avi Yona Bueno, aka Bambi.
Girlanda will be performed at the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater on April 21, 22, 23, 25 and 26. For more information, go to batsheva.co.il