‘Dance is Israel’s cultural ambassador’

The Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater, accomplished cultural landmark in Tel Aviv, celebrates 25 years.

Suzanne Dellal (photo credit: Courtesy)
Suzanne Dellal
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Celebrating its 25th year, the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater has built itself a permanent home within Israeli culture. The accomplished cultural landmark of Tel Aviv sits in one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods, Neveh Tzedek, and serves as the home and anchor for contemporary dance in Israel.
In 1989, out of “a need to establish a home in Israel for the art of dance and all its styles and streams,” several parties joined together – the Dellal Family Foundation, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, the Tel Aviv Development Fund and the Education and Culture Ministry – to establish the center as an eternal memorial for the late Suzanne Dellal, the daughter of Zehava and Jack Dellal.
The fruition of the center came from Zehava, Jack and their family’s desire to honor Suzanne’s life in a positive manner. “The family wanted to bring joy, happiness and a communal place to hold activities,” says the director of the Suzanne Dellal Center, Yair Vardi.
The family was based in England but had Israeli roots. Family matriarch Zehava was Israeli, and another daughter and her husband were living in Israel.
While searching for ideas and locations for the center in Israel, Zehava’s son-in-law came upon a worn-down building in Neveh Tzedek that was set to be demolished. He called his mother-in-law and from there the building plan was set into motion.
The four organizations came together and created the Suzanne Dellal Center, which opened its doors in 1989 for its first performance. The founders were determined to fill a void in Israeli culture, and become the cornerstone for Israeli and international dance. The lack of direction in Israeli culture felt by many would soon be filled.
The center was not only conceived to be a place to offer world-class dance productions, but would serve as a communal spot for locals to come together and create art. A secondary purpose was to provide engaging educational activities to the community.
In order to do this, the founders realized the importance of sharing the center with different media and artistic disciplines. This meant it would not just be a stage for performances – but also a hub that would go hand in hand with creativity, movement and art. For this reason, throughout the year, the center provides events, festivals and workshops that are attentive to all different types of art – ensuring a close relationship with all art forms, not just contemporary dance.
The center set out to be a place where artists could come together to cultivate and promote the art of dance. Artists would include choreographers and dancers, as well as teachers and students.
Since its founding, the center has launched successful and innovative programming that “nurtures and supports new work and emerging artists, and provides visible platforms to share new creations with large audiences.” The campus also hosts the Batsheva Dance Company, the Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, the Inbal Dance Theater and the Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth.
In 2010, the center was the recipient of the Israel Prize for its contributions to dance. The prestigious prize is awarded every Independence Day to honor the outstanding achievements of individuals and institutions in a variety of fields.
THE CENTER was the first of its kind, says Vardi. There was a lack of direction in Israeli dance and Vardi says Suzanne Dellal has transformed the art within the Jewish state.
The increase in interest in arts and dance culture in Israel has undoubtedly stemmed from the existence of the center, as there was finally a central place for creativity to percolate.
“There’s no doubt that having a place generates a lot of activity,” Vardi says. Musicians, designers and choreographers are offered a place to bring their visions to fruition.
“Dance bloomed thanks to the center. When you have a place, the right things happen,” Vardi said.
The center has drawn international attention and brought new life to the craft in Israel. “Israel has become a dance country, and the Suzanne Dellal Center has become an icon around the world. We have many requests from international organizations wanting to co-produce with us,” he explains.
Vardi said that working with international artists is always an exciting way for the center to create bridges between Israeli artists and audiences. The center’s international reputation has become a source of pride for Israel: “Dance is the most exciting ambassador for Israeli culture,” he says.
The year-long celebrations for the center’s 25th anniversary reflects the desire to celebrate international success as well.
The center kicked off the celebration last February with a five-day event titled “A Spring of Chinese Dance,” a selection of the best of Chinese dance with the Shaolin Kung- Fu dancers and other contemporary dance shows.
Earlier this month, dance-themed films were featured at Tel Aviv’s documentary film festival, Docaviv.
Upcoming performances throughout the year will also feature a variety of international works. Until June 13, the center is presenting the Tel Aviv Dance Festival, featuring performances by dancers and choreographers from Maguy Marin Company (France), Ballet Preljoacj (France) and Granhoj Dans (Denmark).
Additionally, the center will celebrate Spanish culture in Israel with Miguel Angel, renowned Spanish choreographer, who will present “Mediterraneo” on June 1-2.
Madridanza will take place July 12 to 21, and will celebrate Spanish dance and music with the best of the flamenco artists from Spain.
From July through September, the Israel Museum will display a dance exhibit that surveys the photography of dance in Israel.
The center boasts of being the most visited tourist site in Tel Aviv, hosting over half a million visitors per year and putting on about 700 performances annually.
Vardi also partly credited the gentrification of Neveh Tzedek to the creation of the center. Before the building of the arts campus, there was “nothing there,” he said. The center brought the neighborhood back to life, and now Neveh Tzedek is considered a hotspot and one of the trendiest parts of the town.
The building, designed by Tel Aviv-based architects Elisha and Ronit Rubin, was renovated in accordance with the original design. The architects were determined to integrate the new campus into the style of the neighborhood.
Neveh Tzedek has historical roots as well. It was the first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside Jaffa, and was founded 22 years prior to the founding of the city of Tel Aviv. Faltering as the more affluent population began to move deeper into upand- coming Tel Aviv, the neighborhood began to fill up with abandoned buildings and became neglected over time.
The Suzanne Dellal Center assisted in rejuvenating the neighborhood and creating a more modernized image. As a model of cultural and urban revitalization, the center was able to adopt an even more meaningful place in Israeli art society.
The center still has much to look forward to in its next phase of life, and is set to expand within the year. On the current campus, an additional Zehava and Jack Dellal Studio will be built to “fill the needs for rehearsal space and desire of young artists,” Vardi explained. “They needed to find a place to accommodate the needs of the artists.”
The organization eventually plans to add a performance space as well, with the planned renovation of the Yaron Yerushalmi Theater and Building.
The addition of studio and performance space reflects the cornerstone it has built for itself within Israeli arts, as well as its international reputation. While most of the dancers are Israeli, the center hosts international performances and sends original performances abroad.
For additional information on upcoming events and performances: