Dancing with pride

Aside from director Paul Emerson, no one is more excited about the upcoming program than the dancers of Company E.

Dance by Paul Emerson 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dance by Paul Emerson 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘I blame Rachel Erdos for this entire tour,’ says Paul Emerson, choreographer and artistic director of Washington-based dance troupe Company E. “Well, I credit and blame her,” he chuckles.
Emerson’s ensemble is days away from touching down in Israel for a two-week engagement that will take them throughout the country with a mixed Israeli-American program. The company will perform in Haifa, Herzliya, Beersheba, Jerusalem and Modi’in.
Emerson is a consumer of many types of expression. A writer, photographer and choreographer, he is hooked in a global exchange of ideas, constantly on the lookout for inspiration and innovation. He has been a major instigator in Washington’s artistic community. Thwarting the magnetic pull of his northern neighbor New York City, he has succeeded in developing a loyal dance audience in the US capital.
As the artistic director of City Dance Ensemble and Company E, he gives a viable platform to many established and emerging choreographers, including the British-Israeli Erdos.
“Rachel submitted for the first of the Next Choreographers Commission that we started,” he explains. “In addition to doing Paul Taylor and Doug Verona works, we were looking for someone with fresh ideas and fresh perspective. In the States, there is a lot of fear of being who you are as a choreographer. So we opened up this project internationally and we chose two pieces.”
He traces his infatuation with Israeli dance back to the long sessions in front of countless DVDs four years ago, when he first encountered Erdos’s breathtaking duet Alma. This was the spark that ignited his love and pursuit of Israeli choreographies, which has inspired much of his company’s work over the past few seasons. In fact, Company E, formerly City Dance Ensemble, is one the most enthusiastic purveyors of Israeli work outside of Israel.
“When Rachel came into my universe, I got very curious about the Israeli scene, not the household names but the artists that were just coming up,” he says. “There was something in Rachel’s work that had a different level of perspective and honesty. I started mining down in the Israeli dance scene, and it knocked me over. Under every rock you turn over, there’s somebody else with something to say. There’s gotta be something in the water, because there is more superb work coming out of Israel per square foot than anywhere else in the world.”
With the success of Alma in his repertoire, Emerson set out to discover more about the local dance community. At the International Exposure Festival in Tel Aviv the following year, he spotted budding choreographers Yossi Berg and Oded Graf. He invited the two to teach their duet Most of the Day I’m Out to his dancers, changing the cast from two men to a man and a woman. The company recently presented Most of the Day I’m Out and Alma during a tour in Switzerland and Germany.
It was at International Exposure that he also set his sights on Sharon Eyal. At the time, Eyal was a house choreographer at Batsheva Dance Company and had been invited to do a number of works for foreign troupes. Emerson took particular interest in a piece Eyal and partner Guy Behar had made for Norway’s Carte Blanche, entitled Killer Pig.
“We started thinking about doing a program of all Israeli work in the States,” he said.
The evening included Minus 16 by Ohad Naharin, Killer Pig, Most of the Day I’m Out, and Dust by former Batsheva Ensemble dancer Andrea Miller. Bringing Eyal and Naharin’s works over required training Emerson’s technically trained dancers in the fluid ways of Gaga, Batsheva Dance Company’s unusual movement vocabulary. To ready the performers, he brought in former Batsheva dancer Daniel Agami to familiarize the cast with the Gaga. In addition, former Batsheva dancer Tom Wein joined Company E for the 2011-2012 season, assisting the process as rehearsal director for Eyal’s work and by giving additional Gaga classes.
In February, with several months of training under their belts, the cast of Company E was ready to premier its Israeli program. From the rave reviews and warm reception, it was clear to Emerson that he had hit a sweet note. “Sold-out houses and standing ovations make you feel good about how you’ve done,” he says. “Sharon’s work doesn’t look like anybody else’s work.
One of the things that is most impressive about her is that she is a true interdisciplinary collaborator. Music, light and movement live together. The overall experience is astonishing. People will see this with Killer Pig on the tour.”
Following the success of the Israeli program, he set out to concoct a new cocktail that would showcase both American and Israeli choreographers. The program, which will be presented in Israel, consists of three works: Scorching by American choreographer Kate Weare, Killer Pig, and Last Look by dance legend Paul Taylor.
“Paul Taylor, who is an extraordinary friend, was willing to let us travel with Last Look, which has never been seen in Israel,” he says.
For Emerson, Last Look represents a special moment in Taylor’s time line of choreographies.
“Every once in a while, an acknowledged master of an art form steps outside of himself to a risky, dark, profound, terrifying place. That’s what Last Look is for Taylor. It’s an honor to bring that work for the first time to Israel. We’re the only people he’s ever licensed it to.”
Aside from Emerson, no one is more excited about this program than the dancers of Company E. It is not every day that a performer is asked to take on the works of so many recognized masters.
“They are so emotionally invested in doing it right,” he says. “They recognize that it’s an honor to be doing these works. For the dancers, it’s like the NBA championships.”
Next season, Company E will turn its focus to choreographies from Korea and Spain. However, Emerson’s love of Israeli movement is no passing fad.
“I’d be perfectly happy to just mine Israeli choreographers for the rest of my life,” he muses.
Company E will perform in Israel from May 14 to 22. For more information about the company, visit www.companye.org. For tickets, visit www.bimot.co.il.