No Funding? No Problem, Say Founders of Israel Dance Collectives

These collectives are a natural outgrowth of the social-justice protest movement that began in summer 2011, when choreographers were among those to make their voices heard.

In recent months, European cultural budgets have been slashed significantly due to the continent's economic woes. In England, they've been cut by nearly one-third and in Holland by a quarter.

In Israel, where it seems like there's nothing left to cut, dancers and choreographers feel at risk – and that sense of foreboding has spawned a new trend: dance collectives.

These collectives are a natural outgrowth of the social-justice protest movement that began in summer 2011, when choreographers were among those to make their voices heard. "After the protest of summer 2011, the old ways of doing things could not continue," says Ayala Nardi, who together with Einat Ganz and 11 other choreographers founded the Ma'agal Yozrim (Hebrew for "Creators' Circle") collective. Ma'agal Yozrim's first performance evening was held a month ago.

"It is inconceivable to me, as a creative artist, that I must rely on so many different bodies to produce my works," Nardi says. "If you are accepted to a festival the budget you receive is enough to pay for refreshments; to put on a production you need thousands more shekels." Six months ago, she says, the idea of several choregraphers' staging their own festival came up. "We proposed thinking about a different, autonomous way of doing things, as the direct continuation of the Choreographers protest," she says.

The solution Nardi, Ganz and their colleagues adopted was to establish a group that replaces the standard business model for a dance troupe – owners, director and salaried employees – with one based on dues-paying members who are full partners in both the artistic and the administrative decisions. Nardi and Ganz prefer the word "cooperative" to describe their venture, and as yet, their partners aren’t paying membership fees.

"When it comes to equal sharing of the burden," Ganz says, borrowing a term that generally refers to getting the ultra-Orthodox to perform mandatory military service, "'cooperative' is more appropriate than 'collective' to describe the group's structure. Profits are not shared equally. We are not a kibbutz," she says, adding, "Labor has a value that must be translated into reality."

Musicians aren’t the only ones who need to jam

Playground, a dance collective comprising 10 musicians and dancers who hold monthly improvisation performances at Tel Aviv's He'azor club, has no revolutionary pretensions. "We decided musicians aren't the only ones who need to jam – dancers need to as well," says Inbal Shahar, who founded Playground together with trumpet-player Arthur Krasnobaev.

"I envied musicians; for them jamming is common, while dancers only get a chance to jam in the context of improvisation, Gaga" – the movement language developed by Israeli dancer-choreographer Ohad Naharin – "or during the artistic process," she says. "All of these are very goal-oriented. I wanted to jam with dancers as well," Shahar adds.

Playground's musician members work in the local rock industry or with ensembles such as those of Efraim Shamir and Shuli Rand as well as the Groovatron and Avi Lebovich & the Orchestra; its dancers are former members of companies including Naharin's Batsheva, and have participated in independent productions or those of Tel Aviv's Suzanne Dellal Centre. Before each Playground event, group members lay down some ground rules for the improv session, but not all of the members are aware of them. "What interests us is the cross-fertilization," says the collective's pianist, Itamar Rose, adding that as a musician, "all your senses are working" during these sessions. He likens it to scoring a movie while watching it live.

Make a breakthrough, even without a 'dance diploma'

Portraits, a collective that performs in Studio Naim, a yoga and dance studio in south Tel Aviv, was founded by dancer Yarden Raz, 27, and DJ Nadav Neeman, 26, a former member of the local "Kids Up Late" crew. It is based on a revolving group of dancers and choreographers. "I know people from the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, from Vertigo and from Batsheva, whom I really want to see dance, and even more to see them create," Neeman says.

"In Israel it is very difficult to make a breakthrough if you don't have a 'graduation diploma' from a particular troupe, and I wanted to change that," notes Raz, who recently returned to Israel after a few years in New York, where she co-founded a dance collective called The Current Sessions. "The show is a kind of rehearsal space; it's as if the audience is watching one big dress rehearsal. There is no hierarchy or namedropping among the dancers and choreographers," she says.

In addition to dance professionals, Portraits also includes a DJ, musicians, video artists and filmmakers, and each event also brings in dancers from abroad. So far these have included members of the Norwegian company Carte Blanche, the Netherlands Dance Theater and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

"At any given moment there are hundreds of foreign dancers in Tel Aviv." Raz says. "So many dancers come to Israel for courses in Gaga, and many friends of Batsheva's foreign dancers come to visit them, so it's only natural for them to join the performances."

David Bachar
David Bachar
David Bachar