The Crater Good

Adama Dance Company's latest work, 'Up Chi Down Chi,' expertly utilizes the troupe's Mitzpeh Ramon setting.

Visitors to dancers Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal's Hangar Adama in Mitzpeh Ramon cannot help but be impressed by the place and its atmosphere. There is a large courtyard, mud houses for overnight accommodation, plus cozy tepee rooms for more youthful guests and a giant igloo-shaped structure, soon to be used as a studio and event space. Inside the largest structure, which used to be a warehouse, there are three dance studios - the largest divided into a performance space and a salon with old couches and low tables, where last weekend a new work by the two dancers was staged: "Up Chi Down Chi."

A description of Dror and Ben Gal's Adama Dance Company is required here. The couple moved to Mitzpeh Ramon 13 years ago, and since then it is inappropriate to discuss their work without mentioning the ideological context of the place where they chose to live. It's also not right to see the performance and leave immediately after it's over. The performance is just part of an entire complex of movement and dance at Adama; the hangar also offers workshops, classes and, primarily, a unique ambience.

Gadi Dagon

Dror and Ben Gal are unique and esteemed artists. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, they made their mark on Israeli dance with works such as "Hamorim" (Donkeys ) and "Inta Omri," which were both innovative while also corresponding with the place where they were created. The two were invited to festivals around the world and, to a large degree, paved the way for independent choreographers. But after years of intense work, and at the peak of their fame, the duo decided to leave Tel Aviv and started looking for a place whose beauty and tranquillity would chime with their take on "what is life" and "what is dance."

They chose Mitzpeh Ramon. Dror and Ben Gal rented a large, abandoned warehouse and an adjacent four-dunam yard in the southern city's industrial zone. The two felt that only those who truly believed in their approach would travel so far to study with them, and that the distance would filter out the nonbelievers. Today Adama has a dance company with seven dancers; a children's dance school with around 70 students, and a teaching staff comprised of the company's dancers.

Adama as a whole radiates humility and simplicity, and is very well maintained. The place has no workers or service staff. The couple and the company dancers take care of maintaining the place, partially exposed to desert sand dunes. They build, cook, clean, put up shade, repair and do the gardening. Dance, in other words, is a way of life here.

Performances take place in the salon. Ben Gal and the dancers set up the studio, move the sofas, couches, stools and chairs, handle the sound and lighting systems. The new piece has a strange name, "Up Chi Down Chi." Up Chi is what it sounds like in Hebrew - "apchee," a sneeze that brings down the Chi, the energy and vitality found in the body. After this downfall, as with breathing, the Chi level surges again.

The dance surprised me. I expected to witness the gentle and wavy flow typical of Dror in recent years, her meditative-circular movement in the seamless Adama space. But this time, as in the distant past, Dror and Ben Gal collaborated to create a dance that opens with a series of hand gestures. To the monotonous ticking of a metronome, the dancers - wearing tailored gray-blue suits designed by Sasson Kedem - open with a series of touches to the face, nose, forehead and circular caressing of the belly. Later on, the movements recur in a different order.

After the surprising start, Dror's wave-like flowing movement surfaces, adorned with the previous gestures. Then it is replaced by a segment of tango dancing, which at first seems out of place but soon afterward recalls a waltz or tango by the duo from 1987's "Two Room Apartment." Then there is a solo by a dancer in a lovely party dress made of scarves, also designed by Kedem, that are linked associatively to touches to the nose and to sneezing. Then the dancers move toward the solo dancer and start knotting the scarves, stabilizing them as if they were filled with Chi. The scene is reminiscent of Pina Bausch's dancers, where frequently men touch a woman, caress her repeatedly until the softness of the caress becomes an invasive torture.

The new dance also has a section I would describe as African tap dancing: the feet tap dance, but the body is not as rigid as it is in American tap dancing and is more relaxed. And there are other, more associative, segments, not connected by the movement or contrasting with it. The segment with dancers wearing tailored clothes looks like a product by Adama, which is a platform for talented dancers and their skills.

Early the next morning, there was a workshop involving stones, on the edge of the crater. It opened with a half hour of slow, quiet walking, during which each walker is by himself. After that, the group was split in two and the people in the first group lay on the ground with their limbs spread. Suddenly they feel as if someone is piling stones on them, making a stone tomb, but also protecting them from the chilly wind. Everything is done slowly and intently. At the end of the process, the person lying on the ground is surrounded by his friends and the stones are removed. Then it is a bit less cold and the down Chi of the morning is filled with the Chi of the sun's rays - energy with which you return to the big city.