One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The public group dancing at the Carmiel Dance Festival and the huge crowds that attend are in my eyes the real asset of the festival today. The dancing masses vote with their feet on the important place of Israeli folk dancing as a living, dynamic form of dancing worthy of being taken seriously.

Of all the performances featured, I attribute the greatest importance to two competitions: One is the folk dance competition in memory of dancer Asheri Hever for folk dance creations and the other, the competition for choreographing Israeli dance performances for the stage in memory of the dancer Eyal Ben Yehoshua. These two competitions moved this year to larger venues in order to accommodate the increased interest, with the Israeli dance choreography competition taking place in the enormous amphitheater, as the main event of the festival's second day, which in the past was designated for hosting a visiting dance troupe from abroad.

The importance of the two competitions lies in the fact that they reflect the creative status of contemporary folk dance and raised pointed questions regarding its future.

The folk dance competition featured 12 dances. I saw beauty in the fact that the troupes performing the dances were mixed, old and young, all wearing jeans and white shirts and performed a medley of circle dances and dances for couples. The music for the dances was exclusively Israeli songs.

"Nahon she'at kan" by choreographers Nurit Greenfeld and Marco Ben Shimon was the winning dance. Set to music by Daniel Salomon, this enjoyable pairs dance is supposed to express love and is based on combining accepted folk music movements with a waltz tempo.

Second prize went to the dance "Roked Ve'neekad" by Yisrael Yaakobi to a Yemenite melody. The movements were beautiful, with the refined moves of Yemenite Jewry, with a wave coursing up the body and hands gyrating close to the body, but the steps were too complex for a folk dance. The dance was performed in two segments that were very far removed from each other, spread across the large floor of the sports hall, and the delicate movements were lost in that vast space. In Yemen, they performed these dances in a space crowded with other dancers, and still it was a pleasure to watch.

And there were other dances that should have been laced with humor, such as dances to the songs "A funny thing happened to me on the way to Suez" to choreography by Beri Avidan, or "A spirit of folly" to choreography by Michal Pellach, but I didn't see in the movements any hit of humor or folly, and the moves were routine and controlled. The same was true of "Rikud Ha'esh" by Eli Segal, whose movements with debka steps were like a fortified and impenetrable wall.

After watching the 12 dances, the gap between the artists' good intentions, as reflected in the text read by the narrator, and what I saw was glaring. There was no connection between the words and the step. I am not looking for realistic translation of the text, but I am looking for something that encompasses the gist of the spirit or idea behind the song. What I saw were different compositions of the same familiar folk dancing lexicon of movement, with the main difference being the position of those same phrases within the dance.

At the same time, favorable mention should be made of the fact that no dance elements identified with modern, classical, jazz and other related dance styles were inserted. I did not find the creativity that could emerge from the encounter between the existing dance materials of folk dancing and the spirit and lyrics of the song. In the dances, which bear different names, the dancers progress, change, run, skip for no reason and it seems that the only dominant element in the dance is the need to keep to the beat of the music. If you watched the dance and did not hear the music, it was impossible to understand whether it was a happy dance, a dance of mourning, longing or love.

I also found too many steps in the dances, as if the professionalism is linked to the complexity, which occasionally seemed to be trying to cover the lack of ability to dare to let go, look inward honestly and dare to be real and simple. If at the folk dance competition simplicity is supposed to be a central element, reveal the core, the DNA, then the dances at the Israeli dance performance competition should disclose the development and use of basic elements for the purpose of the choreographer's personal artistic expression.

These dances are also not intended to be danced by everyone anywhere, rather dances suitable for the requirements of the state, for frontal observation, with complex choreography, and the amateur dancers should have some kind of technical basis. The competition, which featured nine dances to music from song festivals, had among its participants some of the leading folk dance choreographers who are supposed to be taking this type of dance a step forward.

In all the dances, the considerable investment in costumes and finishing touches of the amateur dancers was apparent. However, I did not see any attempt to expand the core of folk dance and most of the dances, with a lexicon of movement from classical ballet and modern dance, looked as if they were meant for use in musical plays with a strong emphasis on the entertainment and "show" element.

First prize went to the dance to the song "Tziporim barosh" (lyrics, Shimrit Orr; music, Matti Caspi) with choreography by Itzik Cohen, costumes by Roi Yitzhak and performed by the Tzivei Mahol Hadera troupe. The dance portrays a happy group of birds focused on a scarecrow about to fall. The choreography is full of imagination and humor. The movements flow from the subjects' lovely costumes of puffy short skirts with identical outlines for men and women and on their heads, hats that cover the hair with an elongated visor to mimic a bird's beak.

I do not know what the connection is between this dance and folk dancing, but the dance does indicate the choreographic talent of its creator. Second prize went to choreographer Amit Ashrowitz and the Carmei Mahol Carmiel dance troupe for a piece to the song "Im yipol hakokhav sheli" (lyrics and music: Yair Rosenblum).

In a dance to the song "Noah" (lyrics: Yoram Tahar Lev, music: Matti Caspi) with choreography and costumes by Rachel Leitzman performed by the Kfar Ata troupe, the dancers jump like animals, with glamorous costumes with feathers and sequins that would not be out of place in the Casino de Paris. The dance to the words "Lekha dodi likrat kala" with choreography and costumes by Shlomi Elimelech performed by the Tzuza Troupe of Kiryat Malachi, which was supposed to express sanctity, received an interpretation that was reminiscent of a harem in a Hollywood film.

Another dance, to the song "Adon Olam" (words: Rabbi Shlomo Elkabetz; music: Gershon Persky) by choreographer and costume designer Beri Avidan is a kind of dance of a primitive tribe where the dancers had horns on their heads and ran and jumped without the filter and styling provided by the elements of movement. And at the end, amid all the chaos, Adam and Eve emerge, as if a magician's trick or gimmick, with fig leaves to conceal their private parts.

The question that arises is: What is the objective? Where should all the energy of the hundreds, and perhaps thousands of young people in the folk dance troupes be channeled? Perhaps one can say, and with some degree of justice, that important work is being done here in raising a generation of young people who love dance, but work in the current format of entertainment showiness extracts a heavy cultural price of waiving genuine searches, out of modesty and recognition of the importance of the challenge, for how to move Israeli folk dancing forward.