Shake it up

A collaboration of Kolben and San Francisco’s Margaret Jenkins dance companies premieres at the Israel Festival.

A collaboration of Kolben and San Francisco’s Margaret Jenkins dance companies premieres at the Israel Festival (photo credit: MORGO MORITZ)
A collaboration of Kolben and San Francisco’s Margaret Jenkins dance companies premieres at the Israel Festival
(photo credit: MORGO MORITZ)
Oil and water don’t mix. However, if you shake them together vigorously, the two are momentarily rendered indecipherable. Replace oil with Margaret Jenkins Dance Company of San Francisco and water with Kolben Dance Company of Jerusalem, shaking with dancing, and you have a picture of what will take place on stage in The Gates of Wind, a collaboration of the two troupes.
“Neither Amir Kolben nor I were interested in turning our two companies into one,” explained Jenkins in a recent Skype interview.
The Gates of Winds will premier in Israel next week as part of the annual Israel Festival.
“We talked a lot about how to make it clear that there were two companies with distinct points of view,” she said.
Having crossed the threshold of her 70s, Jenkins appears radiant, youthful and in her prime.
Bringing together these two companies was a geographic, artistic and cultural feat. The process began four years ago, when Jenkins paid a visit to Israel to explore her Jewish heritage.
“In 2011, I went to Jerusalem for the first time with my husband. I was interested in seeing the land, in putting my feet on the ground literally and figuratively. I knew that the 40th anniversary of my company was coming up and I was wondering if I would find someone in Israel with whom I could embark upon a collaboration.”
Though her first visit did not result in an immediate connection, Jenkins was convinced that Israel was the place to find the artist she was looking for.
“I came back in 2012, to interview artists, see some choreographers work and teach some workshops.
Someone at the Jerusalem Foundation introduced me to Amir’s work. I went to work with his company and found it fascinating. I really enjoyed talking to Amir about his history. Amir was born in a kibbutz outside of Jerusalem and then moved to the city. I wanted to make a work about heritage with someone who had their feet on the ground in that city,” explained Jenkins.
While in town, Jenkins and Kolben agreed to create a new piece together to be performed in both their hometowns. In 2013, Jenkins and her dancers came to Israel for a five-week rehearsal period.
“The Kolben dancers were very concerned about making sure that my dancers saw Jerusalem and not only the inside of the studio. We took a bus to the territories, we went to east Jerusalem and Amir took us on a tour on the rampart walk,” she said.
In March 2014, Kolben and his dancers made the journey to San Francisco for more rehearsals and the American premier of the piece at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in early April.
With very different approaches and artistic processes, Jenkins, Kolben and their respective dancers had to call upon patience and openness to make the project flow. Collaborating meant listening closely, often more than once to the same idea, trading egos for harmony and trying out a lot of new things.
“You can have great chemistry, but being in the studio is a different animal. There was a curiosity from his dancers and mine for someone who is very different from me,” she explained. “It was a lot about surrender. I felt that Amir’s warmth and way of interacting with me was very familiar and I felt very supported. The respect was very deep and came very quickly. We are both serious artists. There were very interesting challenges for me and my company. I work very collaboratively with my dancers. Collaboration is a lot like community. It’s a word that gets used a lot, but what does that mean?”
Jenkins’s company is comprised of experienced dancers either nearing or above the age of 30. They are all classically trained and continue to attend high-level technique classes on a regular basis. Kolben’s dancers are significantly younger, with backgrounds predominantly in release technique and improvisation.
For Jenkins, this type of creative cacophony is part and parcel to choreography. Over the past four decades, she has tirelessly sought out artists around the globe with whom to butt heads. The company’s list of past collaborators includes Terry Allen, Alvin Curran, Paul Dresher, Rinde Eckert, David Lang, Bruce Nauman, Alexander V. Nichols and Yoko Ono.
“The reason for international collaborations is to challenge myself to go into situations that are different,” said Jenkins.
Kolben was the first artist Jenkins chose to work with who had never done a collaboration of this nature before.
“When I met Amir, I was looking for a person who was different from me but that I could be simpatico with, who would provoke me to think differently. I think he said that between us there are many similarities and also lot of differences. There are the boundaries that we have to push through to live full lives. Amir had one way to address that issue and I had another, and we tried to let them coexist. That was the challenge of making a cohesive work.”
The Gates of Wind premieres at the Israel Festival on June 6 and 7. For more information, visit