Israel’s hottest dance-makers sidestep politics, remain provocative

On the world map, Israel is tiny (about a twelfth the size of Oregon). But on the metaphorical map of modern dance, it looms large. Though better known for conflict than creative output, the nation of approximately 8 million produces a number of dancers and choreographers out of all proportion to its population, with groups such as Batsheva Dance Company touring internationally and tastemakers from around the world descending on Tel Aviv each year for the International Exposure dance festival.

Portland dance presenter White Bird has brought more than a few companies and choreographers from the Israel to Portland, including the aforementioned Batsheva and, as recently as December, dance-making duo Yossi Berg and Oded Graf. The organization adds more artists to that list March 19-21 with “New Israeli Voices in Dance,” a double-header comprised of Hillel Kogan’s provocatively titled “We Love Arabs” and a world premiere from the Israel-born, Los Angeles-based Danielle Agami.

“We’re very excited about the work that’s coming out of Israel, clearly,” says Walter Jaffe, White Bird’s co-artistic director.

Jaffe and partner Paul King became enamored with Israeli modern dance when they first attended the International Exposure festival a few years ago, experiencing firsthand the physicality and directness that characterizes much of the work coming out of the middle eastern country.

“In a way, it’s like the Israeli character: Very straightforward,” Jaffe observes. “There’s nothing pretentious about the work we see in Israel.”

“New Israeli Voices” kicks off with Agami’s piece, “Exhibit b,” performed by the choreographer’s L.A.-based company Ate9. White Bird commissioned the work for this show, so while Jaffe is familiar with Agami’s style — physical, as he describes it, and typically incorporating music and speech — not even he and King know exactly what to expect.

“It’s a new work, and it’s going to be as new to Paul and me as it will be to the audience,” he says.

Jaffe and King saw the other piece on the program, Hillel Kogan’s “We Love Arabs,” at the 2013 installation of International Exposure, where it was an audience favorite. The theatrical, self-referential duet is about a choreographer (performed by Kogan) creating work with an Arab-Israeli dancer (real-life Arab-Israeli Adi Boutros).

“There are all sorts of presumptions the choreographer is making — and that the audience is making — about the dancer,” Jaffe explains. “You assume he’s Muslim, that it’s going to become very political, and so on. The work dispels all that.”

In spite of its title, Jaffe says “We Love Arabs” is ultimately more playful than political. Still, White Bird is taking pains to give audience members a chance to talk about the performance in moderated post-show discussions.

“We think the two pieces are going to generate a lot of ideas, and maybe concerns,” Jaffe says. “It’s much better to vocalize them than to go away frustrated at not being able to express yourself.”

— Jonathan Frochtzwajg for The Oregonian/OregonLive


Israel’s hottest dance-makers sidestep politics, remain provocative