Raz Gluzmann began his dancing and choreography career relatively late in life. He’s also unusual in his artistic choices. Take his latest work, “Gufneshek” (“Bodyweapon”), which processes his experiences as a commander in the Golani Brigade in the West Bank and during the Second Lebanon War.
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The work, performed at Hazira Performance Art Arena in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, deconstructs the experience of soldiering. Gluzmann dances alone, painted in camouflage, moving erratically. The masculine language in the piece becomes more comprehensible when you realize that the inspirations are the day-to-day gestures and skills involved in being a soldier, whether closing a heavy flak jacket or training on the firing range.
Very few dance works directly consider the stamp that intensive army service leaves on an artist’s body and mind. Gluzmann, who was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Kibbutz Hulata in the Upper Galilee, says he worked on the performance after returning from a long visit to Berlin around a year ago. The idea probably would never have arisen if he hadn’t gained perspective from the outside.
“In this work, for the first time I let myself express non-dance movement. The few ballet lessons I took in my life weren’t congruent with the movements of hand-to-hand combat and warfare. I tried to make this feeling go away, to repress it,” he says.
“I was a very good soldier, and the military, masculine physicality is something total. It took me years to realize that this wasn’t right for me. In retrospect, I think we’re so inured to all the militarism that we don’t understand how bad it is for us.”
Dance doesn’t usually explore the battlefield, Gluzmann notes. Plenty of Israeli dancers never did army service and weren’t interested in issues like “what is freedom” or “what is independence” – topics that would arise wherever Gluzmann danced, whether in Israel or abroad, he says.
“Even dancers who have served in the army, in combat, have turned their experience into an image, but not the topic itself,” he says.
Maybe Gluzmann’s performance is the culmination of his unusual journey as a dancer. Although he was always attracted to movement and dance, he never studied it formally as a boy. “On the kibbutz it was for girls,” he smiles.
After high school came the army. After a year of service, he joined the Golani Brigade’s engineering corps, eventually becoming a commander.
After discharge at 23, he decided to study dancing, moved to Jerusalem and split his time between the Vertigo troupe’s training workshop and academic study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (He dropped out to focus on dance). In time, he created works combining photography, sound and video art.
Working on "Gufneshek" with the animator Yonatan Gafni and the composer Omer Keinan, he discovered that all three had been combat soldiers. The name "Gufneshek" was no mystery to Gafni and Keinan – it’s a phrase Israeli soldiers hear thousands of times during training.
Guf (pronounced “goof”) means body. Neshek means weapon; it’s the word often used to mean rifle. The idea is to create a single thing, a body-weapon. “It’s repeated so often that it becomes instinctive,” Gluzmann explains.
Another Hebrew speaker might think it was a play on the term guf-nefesh, body and mind.
“That too. Interpretation is a matter of your background,” Gluzmann says. “People who were combat soldiers completely understand what I mean, and others take it to the interpretation of body and mind.”
Philosophically and emotionally, it’s a play on words and meanings that Gluzmann considers fascinating: Empty the mind in favor of the weapon.
“The main thing I wanted to investigate was the trace that the weapon leaves behind on the body, or if we take a larger view, the trace that the popular fighting army leaves on civil society,” he says. “Where it echoes in culture, in society and in the language – that’s what I tried to follow.”
You don’t have to be a combat soldier to suffer from shell shock, Gluzmann says.
“I think we’re a whole society with PTSD, but we’re so used to it and in such denial that it becomes part of everyday life. We don’t want to see it. The more I worked and developed it, the more I understood that the work engaged in release – in reflection on the army’s influence on the body,” he says.
“Just this week I realized that this work’s premiere would be in a week commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. I can’t imagine a more symbolic time to explain what I’m saying here.”