Inundating the Senses

The influence of Israel, and Israelis, on a Japanese-born choreographer produced the dance piece 'Flood.'

Elad Samorzik
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Elad Samorzik

"My Israeli identity has become stronger recently," says Mami Shimazaki, the Japanese dancer and choreographer whose new work "Flood" premieres on Wednesday at the Summer Dance Festival at Tel Aviv's Suzanne Dellal Center. "I talk more, make more noise, laugh more. [I'm] more lighthearted," she continues in polished Hebrew."But somehow when I work, I create serious, very Japanese things. This time I wanted to expose my Israeli identity in my work as well," she says explaining the background to "Flood." Shimazaki - whose name means "the beauty of linen" in Japanese - has been living in Israel for 14 years. Born in Tokyo in 1975, she started studying ballet at age three. At 16, she moved to Switzerland and studied at Maurice Bejart's Rudra dance school in Lausanne. After finishing her studies, she danced with several troupes and projects in Europe and Japan, but failed to find a leading company willing to take her into its ranks. At the end of the 1990s, after meeting Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin in Holland, she came to Israel and joined the Batsheva Ensemble.

"I was in shock at how normal everything looked," she says, recalling her first visit to a Middle Eastern country. "I imagined a desert, camels and people wearing kaffiyehs." After a year with the ensemble, she was promoted to the Batsheva Dance Company, in which she danced until 2009 (with a break of a year in which she gave birth to her daughter ). She also danced with the Klipa Theater and in a project abroad. Over the years Israel has become her home, and she lives today with her daughter in Tel Aviv, working as a dance and classroom teacher at the Democratic School in Kfar Sava.

Choreographer Mami Shimazaki, Roy Efrat and Adam Calderon rehearsing 'Flood,' which premieres at the Suzanne Dellal Center this week.Credit: Tali Mayer

In parallel, Shimazaki developed a career as a choreographer. In 2000 she and Sharon Eyal, Batsheva's house choreographer, presented "Wrinkle" at the Intimidance Festival. After that, while continuing her dancing with Batsheva, she created a series of works, including "Soda" (2006 ), "Beak" (2004 ), "Blue Wound" (2001 ) and "Starting Point" (2007 ). In 2010 she created "Loop People," a solo she performs accompanied by cellist Ran Nahamias. The piece has been performed in China and will be shown here on Wednesday, before the premiere of "Flood."w

A creative trio

When Shimazaki decided to abandon the cooler aspects of her work in favor of a more colorful atmosphere on stage, she immediately thought of two potential partners, Roy Efrat and Adam Calderon. The two, who perform the work with her, were actively involved in its creation. "Roy and I danced together in the Klipa Theater," Shimazaki says, "and we connected from the first day and became good friends. I trust him and his taste. He's the first person to whom I show my works in progress and I always listen to him."

Efrat, 32, who has been dancing from a young age, studied at the Gaaton Dance Workshop and and at the Nissim Nativ Acting Studio. He has been a member of various dance groups and worked in stage directing. In comparison, Calderon, 30, has never danced professionally. Nonetheless, Shimazaki emphasizes how affected she has been by his creativity.

"A creative person, it doesn't matter whether a dancer or not, knows how to bring in intriguing elements," she explains. "When we still didn't really know each other, he would say that he wanted to dance and I didn't pay much attention to this. But he continued, [it was] like brainwashing. Over time I came to know him better and decided to give him a try. I was curious to see what would come out of it, because he is not a dancer."

Calderon, an active and talkative type, concurs that "in a Japanese way," Shimazaki at first ignored him and his attempts to win her over. He is enthusiastic about the opportunity to finally mount the stage and says that he has dreamed of dancing since childhood - specifically "since I was 12 and saw [the Batsheva production of Naharin's] "Anaphase" in school, and I peed on myself I was so excited."

Although he has never danced in public, intensive use of the body is not foreign to a young man who swam on the Israeli national team and won medals here and abroad. "I always felt different, from an early age," he says. "And somehow I understood in my head that if I played sports, people would leave me in peace." At 17 he entered the Wingate Institute boarding school for gifted athletes and served in the army as one as well. Then he stopped swimming at 21. "I was driven by anger. I always had to prove I was equal. And when I started to leave the bubble, I understood that I wanted to be an artist," says Calderon.

He boarded a plane for Berlin with a musical dream. "I taught myself to compose and adapt, bought equipment and started to write music for an album," he says. "I found a sponsor, a recording company, brought out the album and just started performing." And that wasn't all. For seven years in the German capital, he designed clothing, produced video and plastic art, and established an underground gallery in public bathrooms in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood. Then he decided he wanted to become involved with cinema and wrote a screenplay for a film "Marzipan Flowers" which will be shot this year in Israel.

Calderon is now approaching dance with the same enthusiasm. "I really love music and rhythm," he says. "I'm very pop-oriented and am careful to do things that are accessible and easily assimilated. I'm not involved in elitism. I want to reach a broad audience that will enjoy the work."

This spirit of showmanship dominates the costumes he designed as well, long body suits in green, purple and black, tailored shirts slit in the back, spotted tights and blue Olympic swimsuits covered in yellow leaves.

His approach blends very well with Shimazaki's current ambition to mount a lighthearted and accessible piece. The three of them chose several of their favorite songs for the soundtrack, entered the studio and began to work in an open, flowing atmosphere. "I believe that dancers must be as free as possible," Shimazaki says about rehearsals. "I don't use ego or aggression."

In the end, a 25-minute piece was born, which opens with a solo by Calderon to the music of Tsilla Dagan's "A Day Will Come," followed by Shimazaki's solo to the Japanese version of Connie Frances' "Where the Boys Are" in the background. They are joined by Efrat in a relatively static role, which emphasizes the energy of the other two. After a series of developments, the work ends in a rhythmic trio with the three donning face masks of black cloth in a sort of ninja dance.

In today's permissive atmosphere it seems that anyone who wants to dance on stage can do so. But the way there isn't always simple. Calderon says that at first he tried to impress Shimazaki when carrying out the series of exercises she gave him, "so she wouldn't change her mind." He quickly discovered that this excess motivation paralyzed his body for several weeks.

Shimazaki says that she was pleasantly surprised during the process, both because Calderon remembered the movements ("usually people who are not dancers have trouble with this" ) and because of the technical aptitude he demonstrated. "He works hard at home and I see improvement all the time," she says. Shimazaki is aware of the criticism that is likely to arise from her selection of Calderon, but she defends her choice."He has charm, people like him, and it's sufficient that Roy and I support him as dancers. So I took the chance."

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