Israeli Dance's No. 1: Yair Vardi

Yair Vardi, 64, Director, Suzanne Dellal Center.

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"Not an imperialist, a leader," was Yair Vardi's response in 2009, when asked if there was any justification to claims that he holds too much power in the small, local dance world. In a similar vein, a 2004 interview with him was titled "The One Who Pulls The Strings."

Vardi has held the position of Director of the Suzanne Dellal Center, Israel's largest and most important center for dance, since 1989. Until a year ago, he also served as dean of the Faculty of Dance at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem. His imprint can be found everywhere. He is artistic director of the Carmiel Dance Festival and of the main dance series at the Tel Aviv Center for the Performing Arts. He was a panel member at the Maya Arbatova Classical Dance Competition, dedicated to discovering young, classical ballet talent. He created the Flamenco Days Festival, the Shades of Dance Festival, the Dance Europe Festival (since canceled), the Tel Aviv Dance Festival, the International Exposure Festival, the Hot Dance Festival, and more. And he currently hosts the main event, the Curtain Up Festival. In the past, he has been a member of the judges panel for the Israel Prize in Dance. All of these official posts, in addition to his unofficial ones, seem to make him the most important figure in the field of dance in Israel.

One of the common complaints against Vardi, aside from the very long period that he has set the tone for dance in this country, is that he holds a mainstream attitude that doesn't make any strong statement. One might ask, for instance, what the flamenco festival that was recently held at the Suzanne Dellal Center had to do with the interests of the independent dance center? Or whether Baryshnikov, who the Center boasted of bringing to Israel, is a relevant and hard-hitting artist? Another gripe is that the international dance Vardi brings to the Suzanne Dellal Center is not in tune with the cutting edge of what is happening in dance globally, and especially that it does not adopt a coherent stance that could lead to greater development in this area. For example, what does a festival like Hot Dance, in which the New Spanish Ballet performed alongside both the Black Light Theater and most Israeli artists, wish to say about dance?

Vardi usually asserts that he is giving a platform to many dozens of artists, but this statement could also be used as a criticism of his work, since one would expect him to do a more careful job of screening and taste-setting. This year, three young artists had the opportunity of creating Suzanne Dellal productions, but the performances that resulted were notably lacking in artistic focus. The Vardi era can apparently be characterized as the era of abundance; of providing a broad stage for a wide variety of work, in the hope of finding the next genius after Ohad Naharin. The question is if such a mission is really possible, in the absence of a clear artistic, political or aesthetic line. Or perhaps what Israeli dance really needs right now is not a brilliant creator but rather a brilliant curator?

Yair Vardi. Illustration by Leo Atelman