From Haifa Suburb Street Punk to IDF Combat Soldier to Modern Dancer

At the height of the second intifada, Idan Porges was stationed in Hebron and saw his friends get killed. More than a decade on, his dance cabaret opened in Tel Aviv.

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Idan Porges, a 29-year old alumnus of the Batsheva Ensemble dance group and a regular in the productions of choreographer Barak Marshall, claims to understand struggle. 

He struggled with his parents to study in the theater track at the WIZO high school in Haifa rather than at the local high school, ORT Bialik. He struggled in the army "to erase" his personality so he could serve in a combat unit. And while dancing in the ensemble, he struggled with his left knee, after he shredded the ligaments in it.

Nowadays, Porges is taking a breather from struggle and focusing on the act of artistic creation. His debut production as a choreographer, "At the End She Dies," was recently staged at the Tel Aviv Dance festival held at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv.

The main character in the show, a tragic Chinese cabaret actress named Silvia, is played by dancers Daphna Davidovitz and Moran Muller.

Chinese cabaret?

"This is so far from what I know that I could fantasize about it," he says. "I wrote a fairy tale about a girl who falls in love with the theater, who grew up in it and was raised by it and who is searching for the pure place where there is only a character, and her self disappears. In the Chinese Year of the Mouse she reaches a deal with the director of the theater that she will remain close to being a pure character. In return, he tells her that she must beware of rodents. But her fear doesn't stop gnawing at her, until it eventually kills her."

Acting like a dancer

Like Silvia, Porges became infatuated with the theatre at an early age.

"I was a clown as a kid," he says. "I had the stage bug. I always loved moving around, even in the seventh grade I had groove. The first play I performed in was Leah Goldberg's 'Baalat Ha'armon' ['Master of the Palace']. It was full of passion, and I gave it my all. I was sure I was going to become an actor. I discovered dance at MATAN [a nonprofit organization that promotes youth involvement in the arts] when Eldad Ben Sasson, then a dancer at Batsheva, came to teach us the repertoire of [Batsheva choreographer] Ohad Naharin. But it seems to me that it really began because I was drawn to dancing. I had dancer girlfriends in high school."

Porges was born in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Motzkin, grew up largely in nearby Kiryat Bialik and spent his teenage years in Kiryat Haim.

"I was on my way to becoming a punk from the Haifa suburbs," he says. "I had long hair spread with hair gel and a ponytail ... I had 12 rings, tight-shirts, I listened to Metallica and [Middle Eastern singer] Zohar Argov. When I decided not to be a punk, I took some beatings for it."

After finishing his army service, Porges studied French thespian Jacques Lecoq's method of physical theater at the Theater of the Body school in Tel Aviv and between 2005 and 2008 danced in the Batsheva Ensemble, where he picked up Naharin's Gaga method.  Today, Porges is a senior teacher of the method.

"I always had a physical understanding of theater, and I was a very physical actor," says Porges, describing his transition from theater to dance. "Gaga is my answer to Lecoq's method of physical theater. In the beginning, I thought it was the true form of physical theater. There is desire and restraint, action and a theatrical dimension. When I began to dance they told me, 'Don't act it,' and it really offended me." 

"Is pulling the flesh off the bone not dramatic?" says Porges, referring to an instruction given in the Gaga method. He continues," Is saying,' take me' and moving the shoulders apart not acting?"

Porges' relationship with Naharin has seen its ups and downs.

"It has improved a lot," says Porges of their relationship at present. "Ohad doesn't like me as a dancer, so I didn't dance in the adult troupe. But I believe he always appreciated me as a teacher. I am the first ensemble member to become a Gaga teacher. It was a great compliment for me. After I had danced for two years in the ensemble, Ohad had the well-known conversation with me about the end of our relationship and told me that I wouldn’t go on to the adult [ensemble] but that I would travel to Sweden for the project 'Kamuyot,' ['Quantities'] and that there are at least seven dancers who need to dance in the ensemble before me. It was hard to take, and I cried, but I was still very flattered. I was still amazed that I reached this stage without any education in dance."

Military discipline

At the beginning of his army service, Porges was in the Nahal track for the arts. Nahal is a branch of the Israel Defense Forces in which soldiers combine active duty with work in outlying parts of Israel. As part of this track, Porges taught theater lessons to high school students in Nahariya. But he says that he was eager to serve in a combat unit.

"I raised my health profile and was accepted into Nahal's Airborne 50th Battalion in the Paratroopers Brigade," says Porges. "It was a disappearing act on my part, a journey to erase the ego and become a man who says, 'Yes, sir.' The thought that I was helping myself and the country aided me; I needed some pathos to justify this step."

"I fired on Palestinians; I carried out arrests of suspects and accomplices, sometimes four in one night," Porges says. "An improvised explosive device placed under a tree blew up in front of me. I was a signal operator in Hebron and saw a medic get killed. On the news, you don't see the bones. I understood the Palestinians had a stronger position, because they had nothing to lose, and that is a power that can't be contended with. I was pretty right wing during my military service. It was in 2002, during the second intifada. Hebron was burning. At the end of the course, I was the brainwashed guy in the regiment."

"You must want to serve; military service must be something of significance," says Porges of being an artist who chose to serve in combat.

During his work at the Batsheva Ensemble, Porges says his left knee gave out, forcing him to undergo a long physical rehabilitation. But Porges returned to work as a dancer in the ensemble and afterward danced for independent choreographers, like Alice Dor-Cohen and Dana Ruttenberg. Now he involved in producing American-born Israeli choreographer Barak Marshall's original productions, "Monger" and "Rooster," for the Suzanne Dellal Centre.

Idan Porges: En route to becoming a suburban Haifa punk.Credit: Noa Yafe
Idan Porges at the Suzanne Dellal Centre.Credit: Noa Yaffe

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