The ground dance floor

“That said, I really enjoy dancing on pointe. I believe it verges on the divine. The feeling of floating above the ground is amazing."

Ballet Ness Ziona: Dedicated to presenting neoclassical dance at the highest level possible (photo credit: EWA KRASUCKA)
Ballet Ness Ziona: Dedicated to presenting neoclassical dance at the highest level possible
(photo credit: EWA KRASUCKA)
In business, getting in on the ground floor can equal hitting a big jackpot. However, jumping in on a venture that is in its seedling phase is tricky, involves a great deal of risk and is not for the easily spooked. When she was asked to join Israel’s newest dance company, Rona Lerner had little hesitation. At the time that she met Elie Lazar, newly appointed artistic director of the new Ballet Ness Ziona, Lerner was dancing for the Holon-based Fresco Dance Group.
“Elie taught classes at Fresco,” says Lerner. “I met him there, and he told me about the company and just invited me to join. I was very lucky.”
This month, Ballet Ness Ziona will host the Tel Aviv premiere of Lazar’s Hofesh, the company’s inaugural work. The performance holds great significance for the budding troupe, with the potential to put BNZ on the map.
Prior to her return to Israel, Lerner, 23, studied dance at the Miami City Ballet School. Joining Fresco was a natural fit for her because of the company’s proximity to her childhood home and its contemporary style. In Fresco, Lerner toned down her classical training, sloughing off her pointe shoes and embracing Yoram Karmi’s fusion of ballet technique with modern movement sources. The jump to Ballet Ness Ziona, which is a markedly neoclassical ensemble, meant returning to techniques and styles Lerner had tucked away.
Lazar’s style was forged through many years of working with and establishing leading dance troupes in the US. He founded the Joffrey Ensemble Dancers, the official company of the Joffrey Ballet School, Joffrey South and Lazar Ballet and was the artistic director of the Montgomery Ballet in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a renowned ballet teacher with yearly engagements around the globe.
Last year, when Lazar returned to Israel, he did so with a mission. He was set on transferring his knowledge and experience to a local company. Identifying the gap in Israel’s dance community, Lazar established Ballet Ness Ziona, which is dedicated to presenting neoclassical dance at the highest level possible.
For Lerner, making the transition from Fresco to BNZ required great flexibility and commitment; she snapped back into ballet shape within weeks of receiving Lazar’s offer.
“Three months after I joined, we had the premiere of Hofesh. I have a quartet with three male dancers in Hofesh,” explains Lerner. “It’s connected to a section of all the girls. Personally, it’s very challenging. When I joined Ballet Ness Ziona, I hadn’t danced on pointe for a long time. Going back to it is a big challenge for me. The combination of stamina and the physical challenge of getting back onto pointe is really significant.
“That said, I really enjoy dancing on pointe. I believe it verges on the divine. The feeling of floating above the ground is amazing. At the end of the day we all know that ballet hurts; we know what we got into, and it is worth it if you ask me,” she says,
Lazar’s acceptance into the Israeli dance community brings a style otherwise unrepresented. Neoclassical dance refers to a style that emerged in the 1920s thanks largely to Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, as well as American legend George Balanchine. The style developed as an answer to or revolt against the narrative, romantic ballets of the 19th century. In neoclassical ballets, there is less plot and more, pure movement, highlighting the virtuosic athleticism and artistry of the performers.
“There isn’t another company like ours in Israel. There are lots of modern companies and one ballet company but no neoclassical. I think that the Israeli audience really appreciates what Elie is doing, and that will only continue to grow,” says Lerner.
In staying true to classical long lines, Lazar makes certain to include touches of looseness to his choreography. Hofesh is a great example of this inclusion, offering an arc from starched pirouettes to relaxed flow.
“The creation, like the name, is about freedom,” explains Lerner. “At the beginning of the piece, everything is very held in – very ballet, very technical. At the end, we let our hair down, literally. We dance to music with lyrics. It’s much freer and more enjoyable for the body. The audience also feels it. It’s hard to sit still watching it.”
The Tel Aviv premiere sends a bit of a chill down Lerner’s spine, being the most exposed show the company will have to date. The stakes are high, and the entire company can feel the pressure rising. Luckily, Lazar remains cool.
“Usually before any performance, I try to breathe deeply and relax,” says Lerner. “The most important thing for me is to enjoy and not get stressed out before the show because that doesn’t help. Elie always says to relax so that we can let the movement happen and not push too hard. He is like everyone’s dad. He does everything – from morning classes to rehearsals to marketing to setting the stage before each show. He is with us in all the fun, challenging and hard moments.”
Ballet Ness Ziona will present Hofesh at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv on June 27 at 9 p.m. For more information: