Big fish on a small stage

Big fish on a small stag

trout 248.88 (photo credit: Assaf Ashkenazi)
trout 248.88
(photo credit: Assaf Ashkenazi)
On a regular weekday, what are you doing at 12:15 p.m.? Many of us are just tucking into lunch. Others are in the midst of work-related tasks. If you were to stumble into Studio A at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv any day of the week at noon, chances are you would find the members of the Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company in the midst of a rehearsal. At any given time the company is working on up to five productions, a workload that would send most people into a frenzy. The pieces they produce on stage reflect an intense work ethic, yet the atmosphere in the studio is surprisingly free and easy. Dancers lie around stretching and discussing one or another correction they have received in previous rehearsals. Others work with Pinto and Pollak. Watching them pad barefoot around the turquoise studio, it stings a little to think that most of the rest of us spend our days behind a desk. On the particular day that I visited the studio, Pinto and Pollak were busy preparing two pieces for upcoming performances. Pinto had her eye on apprentice Almog Loven, who was running sections from Oyster while Pollak fine-tuned a segment of their newest work, Trout. It's been 10 years since the first performance of Oyster, and yet Pinto critiqued Loven as if the premier were next week. Stories of past performances were told as two veteran dancers, Noga Harmelin and Dana Shoval, tried on black dresses with lace trim. "It's amazing," said Pinto. "The costumes really make the part." Shoval, Harmelin and fellow longtime company member Nir Tamir crowded into the corner of the room, reviewing a vignette from Trout. Pollak stood a few feet away, offering corrections and suggestions. Pinto, sitting on a bench at the front of the space, chimed in at several points, editing the movements, exchanging one gesture for another. The division of responsibility between Pinto and Pollak was interesting to witness. After more than a decade of collaboration, they work together like a well-oiled machine. However, while two heads can be better than one, pleasing two directors can be tricky for the dancers. "I'm a little confused by yesterday's information," said Ariadna Montfort, a new addition to the company, referring to feedback she had received on a solo from Trout. "Oh, are Avshalom and I giving you contradictory ideas to work with?" asked Pinto. "Not really," Montfort replied. Shai Haramati, who was sitting close by, offered, "Sometimes you take from Inbal, you take from Avshalom and then you go shopping. I combine their corrections." "One time," said Pinto, "when we were working with Pilobolus, I said to this one dancer 'can you come early?' and Avshalom said 'can you be late?' and I don't know how she did it, but she was both late and early." Pinto and Pollak's collaboration with the American-based company Pilobolus resulted in Rushes, a breathtaking work which turns men into monkeys and ordinary chairs into Rockettes. Prior to this partnership, Pinto and Pollak had never choreographed a group of dancers other than their own. THIS PAST year ushered in another fresh opportunity for the two. In 2008, the European Union designated Stavanger, Norway, as one of two cultural capitals of Europe, the other being Liverpool, England. The city celebrated by hosting four artistic groups for residencies, during which they created new works. Pinto and Pollak were invited to participate. "It's like it was with Pilobolus. We ended up doing something we never thought we would do," said Pollak, referring to the particulars of the creation process for Trout. Upon arriving in Norway, the company set up shop in Tou Scene, a former brewery turned contemporary arts center. During their stay in Scandinavia they performed Oyster and Shaker, and brought Trout to life. Pinto and Pollak were immediately struck by the energy of Tou Scene. "Every wall was covered with creativity. There was mold and rust. It had a history. It's a space which invites artists to create," said Pinto. "One of the spaces in Tou Scene is the main stage. As soon as we saw it we knew. The place inhales action," said Pollak. "It's a great space for a site-specific work, which is something we've never done before." Now, one and a half years later, Pinto and Pollak are bringing Trout home to Israel. The piece is being performed as part of the Curtain Up Festival running this week at Suzanne Dellal, and then for an additional week in December at the same venue. The catch is that Trout is being staged in the Yaron Yerushalmi Theater, the smallest of the Suzanne Dellal Center's performance spaces. This decision, made by Pinto and Pollak, has generated a degree of buzz. Since the establishment of their company, Pinto and Pollak have enjoyed the spotlights of Israel's largest stages, including Suzanne Dellal's main stage and the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. "We decided to do it in Yerushalmi for a lot of reasons," said Pollak. "Our hope was to find the same kind of play that would bring out what we had experienced in Norway. We needed a different kind of space, where somehow everyone would feel some kind of energy from the space, not just from the stage." In Trout, the physical space plays as central a role as the dancers. The floor of the stage is replaced by a square wading pool. "As a dancer you work with images, liquid textures around the body," said Pinto, "and then suddenly you have something else surrounding you. Something new. It creates not just a physical difference. It creates a new sensation, feeling and emotion. "When we were creating, the weather was stormy and we were in the water. We couldn't heat the water at the beginning so it was cold. It was a very deep, strong sensation for the body. The environment was not pleasant," said Pinto. "But it wasn't torture," chimed in Pollak. "It was exciting." The walls, which appear ordinary to the eye, are rigged with microphones. The sounds created by the dancers moving through the water and contact with the three walls blend together with live music, performed by The Kitchen Orchestra of Norway, to compose the sound-scape of Trout. The collaboration with live musicians marks another first for Pinto and Pollak. "We've never had live music before. Well, we did an opera [Armid at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center], but not music that in and of itself is a kind of improvisation," explained Pollak. The Norwegian ensemble is comprised of a revolving cast of experimental artists, some of whom will accompany the dancers on stage during all seven performances in Israel. PINTO AND Pollak have been adding to both their repertory and their own family this past year. As we spoke, Pinto fed their newborn son, who seems as comfortable in the studio as his parents. When asked which of their pieces was the closest to their heart, Pollak quickly replied, "Our favorite piece is always the newest one. It's like the youngest child. It takes some time until it joins the other ones." Because of the logistical challenges that come along with mounting Trout, the upcoming performances will be the first since the company left Norway. "I really want to see it on stage again," said Pinto, "I miss it." While technical elements set Trout apart from Pinto and Pollak's previous works, it is a beautiful addition to their family of pieces. The colors and feel are different, but the sense of nostalgia and wonderment are evident in Trout as much as in any of their other masterpieces. "We aren't changing radically from production to production," said Pinto. "We are the same people who are drawn to the things we are drawn to. We are attracted by a variety of things that appeal to us. "However, we are looking for things we never did before. New keys and new ways of expressing ourselves. In Trout, we did things we had never done before." "It's always us," added Pollak. "Us plus something. Us plus running away, us plus trying something new, but it's always us." Trout will be performed at Yaron Yerushalmi Theater from December 5 to December 12. For tickets go to or call (03) 510-5656. Tickets are NIS 170.