In Neve Tzedek, the old Yemenite neighborhood of Tel Aviv, sounds of prayer from small synagogues in Ottoman period buildings are almost drowned out by the hubbub from bustling cafes and noisy tourist groups exploring alleyways and passing refurbished buildings outfitted with ground-floor galleries and small shops selling the newest fashions.
It’s a surprise, though, to turn into the walkway leading to the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance. It’s wide, and it opens onto the plaza, where neighbors and their dogs mingle with tourists and avid dance fans. Different-sized theaters and buildings with studios dot the premises, filled with an amazing variety of dance performances. This was especially the case from November 30 to December 4, when the center hosted “International Exposure 2011,” the 17th year for this festival of contemporary Israeli dance performances. It is now so popular, and Israeli dance so well respected, that in attendance were 161 curators, arts presenters and journalists from 34 countries in Africa, the Americas, Australia, the Far East, Europe and the former Soviet Union. They all came to see which Israeli dance and dancers they might engage for their upcoming seasons.
The intense days and nights of dance included more than 40 performances at five different venues within the center, augmented by “Off Exposure” performance by lesser names and some side trips away from the center to other theaters and studios in Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Holon.
Dance has always been popular in Israel, but it’s taken different forms. Before independence in 1948, there was fervor among kibbutz artists and new city dwellers to find a way that the people could express their excitement about reviving the land and finding their pride of place. Israeli folk dancing became a signature phenomenon of the new culture and was such fun to perform that it spread internationally.
Today’s worldwide interest in contemporary Israeli dance is in watching it rather than participating. Its performers are astounding for their reckless, highly technical accomplishments: Choreographers are daring and relentless in the ways they capture an ennui, along with the frustration and abandonment of the older generations’ idyllic hopes. Their works are specific to Israel, but speak for many beyond its borders.
Rami Be’er’s apocalyptic “Sacred and Profane,” for his Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Co., is one such dystopia. It begins with a lone dancer under a leaky heaven — sand pouring slowly from above, like a giant hourglass running out, its sand endlessly piling up all over the stage. Others come and go in the sand, and suddenly a giant kind of metal incubator hood lowers from a different part of the ceiling onto a table structure, breeding a fighter, caught underneath the hood. Like Cain, he sets out to haunt and hunt his Abel in a violent duet.