'When I Dance, I Remember What I Used to Be'

Quadragenarians Iris Erez and Tamar Lamm are rediscovering the joys of dance in their new collaboration, 'First Body Many.'

Shir Hacham
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Shir Hacham

The first time that dancer and choreographer Iris Erez laid eyes on dancer and photographer Tamar Lamm was when a photo of Lamm and her twin sister, both of them flaming redheads, appeared as models in an Israeli women’s magazine in the 1980s. (The shot was taken by their father, Ben Lamm, a well-known fashion photographer.) The second time their paths crossed was at the end of the 1990s: Erez was supposed to replace Lamm in a work by the choreographer Yasmeen Godder, but that didn’t work out as planned. The third time they met, though, was on stage, in Godder’s iconic work “I Feel Funny Today” (2000). Erez performed a duet with Matan Zamir, while Lamm stood on the side of the stage and knitted a red ball of wool into a dress, which she then proceeded to wear.

Now, in a new encounter, Lamm is dancing with Erez in the latter’s work “First Body Many,” which premiered last December at a Jerusalem dance festival and will be performed again on February 11 at Warehouse 2 in the Jaffa Port, as part of the “Choreographers Up-Close” series. (There will be more performances during the year.)

In a way, Lamm was more Iris Erez than Iris Erez herself – a kind of pale, skeletal, redder version of the latter, who is herself pale and muscular. It’s not surprising that two women with seemingly transparent, broken-looking bodies worked with Godder during the period of the choreographer’s breakthrough in Israel (Erez worked with her for seven years). More recently, Godder – whose works deal with femininity, power, control, exposure to the gaze of others and change (sometimes with the use of animal masks) – has begun to mentor a new generation of choreographers.

This is perhaps the perspective from which to consider Erez’s work. At 42, she is an independent choreographer and dance teacher, as well as heading the dance repertoire committee of the “culture basket” for schools (part of a unit of the Culture and Sports Ministry). Erez first met Godder at a festival in 1999, in which she performed as a dancer. Until then she had studied dance academically, with a view to becoming a dance therapist. She describes the seven years in which she danced with Godder as a “very intensive relationship.” Asked whether she is influenced by Godder in her work, Erez replies, “A colleague who has watched me from my first work with Yasmeen says that my character today is like a continuation of what it was then – only now it is conducting a dialogue with itself.”

“First Body Many.” Photo by Itay Marom

“First Body Many” (Erez’s sixth piece as a choreographer) opens with Erez wearing layers of shirts, sweaters and pants, and trundling across the stage ponderously and grotesquely, like a forlorn drunk. This image, which generates laughter, is almost too visual. The music in the work – saccharine feminine pop as reverse irony, rock and atmospheric music – blasts from a speaker and stereo system that are situated nonchalantly on the stage, as though we’re watching a rehearsal.

Opposite, Lamm is poised, ghost-like, on the stage. Her gaze is frozen, she barely moves. Erez moves around her heavily. When Erez starts to peel off her layers of clothing and finally stands naked before the audience, her lean, lithe body exposed, Lamm moves back to watch the transformation. Erez’s exhibitionistic sensitivity holds the audience and the work until the end.

“Tamar is like an inner circle,” Erez says of Lamm. “She is more introverted and has her own nuances. Her character is simply present. What activates her is memory. Her transformations occur almost in a fantasy, whereas with me they occur in reality, now.”

The elements of covering or hiding of the body and grotesquerie are also found in works by Godder, Meg Stuart and Jérôme Bel – all of whom have influenced Erez. Stuart’s “No One is Watching” (1995) is a clear inspiration, while in Bel’s well-known 1997 work “Shirtology,” a performer removes jerseys with icons of popular culture, such as the number of a soccer player, musical notes or consumerist slogans.

Lamm, 41, attended the dance school of the Bat-Dor company as an adolescent, danced briefly in the Israel Ballet and then studied film at New York University. There she first met Godder, in a free ballet class given by Zvi Gotheiner, a revered teacher who is influenced by the Alexander technique (which seeks to reduce muscular and mental tension during everyday activities). She even danced in the company founded by Erick Hawkins, the former spouse of Martha Graham.

Lamm and Godder hit it off immediately, and in 1999, a week after returning to Israel, Lamm began to collaborate with Godder on a work about their return to the country. After being injured in her thirties, Lamm abandoned dance and devoted herself to raising three children (she and her partner live in Ramat Hasharon).

“First Body Many.” Photo by Itay Marom

“I thought I would have children and go on dancing,” she relates, “but I was drawn into motherhood. I didn’t see how I could combine intensive work with Yasmeen with raising a child. I was a very ‘total’ mother – homeschooling until a late age, natural childbirth and breast-feeding until late, too. At the same time, I missed dancing more than being on the stage. The stage wasn’t the reason I danced – it was dancing itself that I missed in an extreme way.”

Lamm went back to dancing even before she began to work with Erez on “First Body Many.” She appeared in “Bohu,” a work by the choreographer Tamar Borer, and will also dance in a new work by Borer.

What’s it like to suddenly go back to dancing after 40?

Lamm: “When I dance now, I remember what I used to be. On the one hand, it’s natural for me to perform; but on the other, I wonder where all those years went, because it feels as though I didn’t miss even a day. Still, I am a completely different person in terms of the body’s feelings, too, so I have a lot of mental work to do. Back then, I felt like a young person and today I don’t. Dancing for me today is like connecting those two identities.”

After her injury, Lamm found another use for her studio, inspired by her father’s legacy and her time at film school in New York. She began to film dance, especially works by Godder. Indeed, it was Lamm who created the important images that first presented Godder to the public.

While she stopped dancing, Lamm also took part in several group exhibitions of photography (though she did not show her dance images), including “Wall Flowers” at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art (2001), and an exhibition at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art (2005), at which she showed “Souvenir” series. She also had a solo show, “Archive,” at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv (2007).

“First Body Many.” Photo by Itay Marom

In April, she will take part in a group exhibition at the WIZO Haifa Academy of Design and Education, where her subjects include her 104-year-old grandmother, portraits of porcelain animals, and rooms in a Tel Aviv shelter for women that were rented out for prostitution (part of the “Souvenir” series).

‘Total chaos’

Erez, too, gave birth two years ago (to a son), and also attests to the difficulty of synchronizing motherhood and career. She and her partner live in the community of Nataf, in the hills west of Jerusalem, and run a small day-care center for toddlers there. Before becoming pregnant, she decided to take a break from the stage.

“I went back to dancing last February,” she says, “after two and a half years of not dancing, during which my body was in total chaos. I remember asking myself if I would ever even want to appear on the stage again, if I really need the ups, the downs, the adrenaline and the excitement – which I never get over.

“In the first stage of motherhood, I felt as though I’d been launched into space,” Erez continues. “That was a short, intensive period when I felt like an astronaut. When I started to dance again, I was surprised to find that I still enjoyed the renewed encounter with the body. I wasn’t sure I would be able to cope with all kinds of physical things, but I am coping. At present I am dancing less than before and I feel the lack, because it’s a strong part of my life – it’s my life material.”

What was it within you that made you start to be a creative artist?

“As a dancer, you work in a studio, you get driven from one place to the next – there’s something almost grossly irresponsible about that way of life. I wanted to start to take responsibility for what I did and to create a world on the stage, not to be transported all the time.”

“First Body Many.” Credit: Itay Marom
Iris Erez (left) and Tamar Lamm.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

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