Dance Me to the End of Love

Whiskey, sleeping pills and tears were choreographer Tamir Ginz's refuge upon realizing he was not the only one in his girlfriend's life. But from all the pain emerged a new work for his troupe, Kamea, which debuted this week.

Before he could start on his new work, choreographer Tamir Ginz had no choice but to muster all his remaining strength. A few months earlier, he had closeted himself in his apartment when realizing that he had forgotten that "everyone cheats." Naive and romantic, he had been certain that his longtime relationship was surrounded by a wall that was impervious to erotic chatting on the Web and hasty sex with the neighbor.

Now he shaved off his unkempt beard, threw out the whiskey bottle and boarded the train from Tel Aviv to Be'er Sheva, where the dancers of his company, Kamea, were uncertain about his return. Ginz, 40, a highly regarded veteran dancer in the local scene, did what had proved effective in previous crises: He converted his heartbreak into a new work, "The Naked Truth." The work - which premiered yesterday at the Carmiel Dance Festival and will appear next week as part of the "Summer Dance" events at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv - contains a great deal of Ginz, but also of his dancers: "I am in each of the characters on the stage, and the dancers have also given of themselves: a dancer who broke up with her boyfriend after many years and fell apart as a result, or another whose partner was killed in an appalling road accident a year and a half ago, and she herself underwent serious crises - it's all there."

Ginz describes "The Naked Truth" as a collection of memories dealing with relationships. It evokes the thrill and expectation of the first night together, and contains wild group betrayal, the private humor shared by couples, the pleasure and warmth of parenthood, much sadness, and also romance and kitsch.

In contrast to your previous works, you are not dancing this time.

Ginz: "I barely pulled myself together to create the work. I did not have time or energy to dance as well. I may join the company during the season. There is one very melancholy character in the new work. I am not melancholy at all, but in the present context that is the part I would choose to perform."

Ginz discovered the truth one gloomy night about a year ago, when he returned from a series of performances in South America. "In an instant my life crashed before my eyes. Then I started to investigate what had been happening around me all these years, and I discovered a very complex and lengthy web of deceit," he relates in a dramatic, rapid delivery, like someone who has gone through the story endlessly in his mind. "People say, 'Cheating, what's the big deal?' No one is really faithful to his partner. Everyone is into one-night stands, everyone is on the Internet and having sex with each other. In the gym two weeks ago, a married woman with a child started up with me and made it clear that she is available for me in the mornings.

"As far as I was concerned, and contrary to everything that is fashionable, it was clear that a relationship is monogamous. What a question. I am a good boy from the Krayot [Haifa suburbs] and not Tel Aviv. There are different standards for relationships in the periphery, as compared with Tel Aviv. It sounds totally feeble, but I believe in that. Not that there is no cheating or no affairs in Be'er Sheva or the Krayot, but Tel Aviv is a bustling market of free sex, which is now also anchored in the digital world. The dimensions are different. When I talk about it with my parents and siblings, who live in the North, they just don't believe it's possible that three neighbors in the same building are holding orgies on a regular basis.

"My parents were engaged in many power struggles, and it was very hard for them to stay together. So much so that when I was a boy, their difficulty in communicating hurt me and I wanted them to split up. Still, they persisted, and in their old age they take care of, console and love each other. I suppose it was on the basis of that ethos that I believed that despite the difficulties, we undergo everything in order not to grow old alone. That is not just babble; I really believe what I am saying. A true relationship and a stable family are the greatest happiness, and not the bed of the person I will jump into for a while.

"In the realm of dance, quite a few work relationships are forged on a sexual basis. I was never willing to advance myself through sex, even though I was courted by a woman who could have helped my career a great deal. Naturally, even though I had many heterosexual relationships, people automatically thought I am gay, gay, gay, because that is the stereotype of male dancers, and also because there is something delicate in the behavior of people who engage in dance. I remember that girlfriends would chase kids who shouted 'Ya homo' through the studio window, because they saw me teaching in tights. I have been the director of the dance track at Blich High School [in Ramat Gan] for the past 10 years, and there are still students who shout 'homo' at me when they see the tights peeking out of my baggy pants, when I walk from the teachers' room to the studio. I don't make a fuss over it, because to be gay is nothing special. If I were to take offense at something like that, what would my dancers who really are gay feel - that it's a curse?"

When you investigated your life, what did you discover?

"That I was involved in an illusory relationship. A lot of people who were in my milieu, and were ostensibly my friends, actually shared my life in ways I didn't believe. Today all I can do is spit in their faces. I hold my head high and go to the gym, even though there I see people like the 20-something reception clerk and the married Shin Bet [security service] man, both of whom shared with me, without my knowledge, the most precious thing in my life.

"The whole thing between us started with very great love, which was, it turns out, mostly one-sided. Wow, I am actually trembling now when I say that. The discovery that you are not loved, and that your relationship was the opposite of what you thought, is so shocking and humiliating. It is the loss of the woman whom I thought was my best friend, my greatest admirer and my greatest love. A loss that was accompanied by lies of extraordinary dimensions."

And in all those years you suspected nothing?

"Nothing. On the surface, life was an idyll, at least for me. It wasn't a relationship of shouts or quarreling, rather of mutual support and consultation about the smallest things. I suspected nothing and I am not suspicious by nature. I never opened a drawer of hers in my life or invaded her territory in any other way."

When Ginz juxtaposed the two segments of the new reality - the sense of betrayal as opposed to "what I thought was the best thing that happened to me in my life" - the result was "a total collapse. I just lay on the floor and spent three months crying, drinking a lot of alcohol and taking sleeping pills, because that was the only way I could calm down. I felt that I was being sliced in two. I suffered at a level I never believed was possible. There are still nights of terrible physical pain. Not for a moment did I think I would ever be capable of creating, teaching and dancing again.

"I think I paid a high price because of my dance career. I work from morning to night, fly to performances abroad, and also do the laundry, cook, clean up and am responsible for all the household chores. My career did not contribute to my crack-up, but did contribute to my blindness. I invested an infinite amount in the dance company and didn't see what was happening in my personal life. My good fortune is that the company also saved and rehabilitated me. I poured my soul into 'The Naked Truth' and underwent a healing process."

'I quit!'

Tamir Ginz's professional career cuts across central intersections in Israeli dance. He started dancing at age 13 under the tutelage of his sister, Tali Hershkowitz, in a dance studio in Kiryat Motzkin. As a high-school student he danced in many schools in the North, with Kai Luthman in Haifa, the workshop of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company at Kibbutz Gaaton, and in the company of Adam and Ilana Pasternak in Haifa.

After doing army service in the personnel management division, which made it possible for him to continue dancing, he studied at The Place, a contemporary dance center in London. At the beginning of the 1990s, he danced for two years with the Batsheva Ensemble and Dance Company, in the period when Ohad Naharin became the company's artistic director.

"I had a bad time there as a dancer," Ginz recalls. "It was hard for me to let go, and dance frustrated me as a performer. I wasn't among the dancers who connected with Ohad, and from the start I felt that I would not be the dancer he was looking for."

Ohad Naharin became the dominant and most successful presence in contemporary dance in the country from the moment he took over at Batsheva. His language differs fundamentally from that of Ginz, who strives for emotional, predictable movement within a clear narrative framework.

"I think Ohad is a distinguished person," Ginz emphasizes, "although I liked his work before he started with the 'gaga' [a language of movement Naharin developed, through which he trains and creates with his dancers]. I try to develop a communicative, clear language, which does not look contemporary and mad, as is happening with Batsheva today. I do not try to be sycophantic toward the spectators; I just like beautiful movement that conveys an emotional message. Many choreographers today are obsessively engaged in trying to reinvent themselves. The audience views movement which is alien to it, movement without any message or feeling. I want people to understand what I am talking about. What developed with Batsheva is that the fringe became mainstream."

After his experience with the Batsheva Company, Ginz realized that he wanted to focus on teaching and choreographing. He started to work in the school of the Bat Dor Dance Company, alongside Jeannette Ordman, the company's artistic director and its co- founder, together with Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild.

Ginz: "Everyone in the world of dance, myself included, has much to say in condemnation of Jeannette, but there are quite a few things that have to be said to her credit. She supposedly deprived me by making me start teaching the beginning students and moving ahead slowly year by year. That is how I became an outstanding teacher. She gave me my first opportunity to work with the best of the company's apprentice dancers. We sat in her office for hours and she taught me how to clean up the movement step by step, to organize a stage, to extract the maximum from the dancers and to be a perfectionist. That was her expertise - which was a bit too much, because she would shout a lot at her dancers, and because of her the Bat Dor Company looked clean to the point of sterility on the stage. As a creator, too, she left me high and dry for nearly seven years in the process of becoming a choreographer."

In 1997, Ginz became the house choreographer of the Bat Dor Company, creating works every year and striving to become Ordman's successor. At the same time, he began to direct the dance track at Blich High School, which he continues to do.

"I underwent a crisis at Bat Dor, because I tried without success to take the reins," Ginz admits. "I hoped to get from Jeannette the mandate to take the artistic direction and do it differently. To introduce contemporary works and at the same time to try to revive the place economically. I marketed Bat Dor and led it to a situation of 70 sold-out performances a year. In practice, I was the company's director from 1998 until 2001. It was then that the funds of the baroness, who died in 1999, ran out, the Culture Directorate [a governmental institution] provided minuscule support, and worst of all, Ordman did not let up. She confronted me and insisted that the company perform works from the 1970s or poor works. I wanted to rehabilitate her life's work, but she would not let anyone but her touch the company, because the company was her life. It's not surprising that she died not long after Bat Dor disappeared.

"I left Bat Dor in 2002 with a large note: I quit! Jeannette stopped talking to me when she found out that I was establishing a company. Shortly before her death, I went over to say hello at an event we were both attending, and she turned away from me and did not want to talk to me."

Like a family

Ginz founded Kamea, a contemporary dance company (whose name in Hebrew means "amulet"), at the Bat Dor School in Be'er Sheva, in conjunction with the school's veteran director, Daniella Shapira. (The school began as a branch of Bat Dor in Tel Aviv, but in time became an independent institution but preserved the historic name.) His first work for Kamea, "Secret Garden," also evolved out of a personal crisis. At the age of three, his son was diagnosed as autistic, "100 percent PDD [a form of autism]," Ginza says. When he was in the final stages of creating the work, the child was given a new diagnosis, "which said he was 100 percent normal. That is my existential miracle."

What is the explanation for that extreme change?

"Physicians never say that a diagnosis was mistaken. At the age of three, he met the criteria that matched the autistic label, and three years later he met all the criteria of a regular child, without question. I believe that the symptoms were not read properly, and besides that there really probably was a miracle here. He received from me and from his mother amazing and loving care. He moved from the place of an uncommunicative boy, with visible autistic symptoms, to the place of a sociable, communicative and talkative boy. He is a brilliant child with sharp intelligence, and it could be that that also helped him.

"In the past year, parallel to my collapse, I became a true parent. After my relationship blew apart, what remained was my son. I felt that the educational process absolutely had to be under my responsibility. I don't trust anyone other than myself to bring that boy to the status of a mature, sane, serious, handsome adult with high moral standards. I trust only myself. The person who helped me, surprisingly, was my father, Amram Ginz, a Holocaust survivor and a very tough person, whom I never got along with my whole life. My good fortune was that he loved art and therefore did not object to my becoming a dancer. In the past year I discovered my father, who took care of me and gave my son what he did not give me over the years. Wow, I have real tears in my eyes."

Do you share the very personal stories behind the works with the dancers?

"The company is not very involved in my private life. When we worked on 'Secret Garden,' they did not know about my son's diagnosis, because I didn't want them to have in mind the image of a special boy that would limit them. I only told them toward the end. In the past year they knew that I fell apart. It was impossible to hide it, because I did not actually function, and for three months I barely showed up to work with them. At the start of my collapse we flew to China for a series of performances. We had one show in front of 1,000 people. The music was already playing, and Daniella had to pull me out of the dressing room so I would get onstage in time and do my role. I was out of it. During all the traveling in the van I sat apart from the members of the company, who were laughing and singing, buried in a handkerchief.

"There are complex relations between me and my dancers. On the one hand, they are like my family and I love each of them. When we perform in Tel Aviv, some of the dancers sleep over at my place and I get up in the morning and make them pancakes. At lunchtime on Shabbat they can call and come over to eat. On the other hand, I have to discipline them and they can get very angry with me. I am friend, father and boss. I am emotional and terribly obsessive, so it's hard with me sometimes. I can make demands and pressure them, and they can fall apart and talk back. It's all very intense with us, and endless tension is created."

The company's dancers have to commit to move to Be'er Sheva, and their lives revolve almost exclusively around the company and the other members. In contrast to the center of the country, a dancer can live on his salary in the southern city. Like other companies, the Kamea dancers earn between NIS 2,500 and NIS 4,000 a month, depending on their status in the company. Ginz himself has a hard time making ends meet, so he has to hold down two jobs and at his advanced age is still taking money from his mother.

"The obligation to reside in Be'er Sheva does good things for the company," he explains. "The dancers go shopping together, cook together, go out together, sleep at one another's place. There are two couples in the company, and my feeling is that interaction of that kind also exists between some of the others. It's a very crystallized group, like a family. That is the right way to work. There is a great advantage in a close company community with the quiet of doing."

Is it possible to be a loving, close- knit family in such a competitive profession?

"There is a great deal of tension in the company because of competitiveness and roles, but I ensure that every dancer I have will be present onstage and get a part, because all my dancers stimulate me. Anyone who doesn't stimulate me and whom I do not like will very quickly find himself outside." W