The Jerusalem Ballet Tiptoes Onto New Ground

A daring project, giving dancers the chance to choreograph, has injected life and creativity into this classical troupe.

Something good is happening in the Jerusalem Ballet under the artistic direction of Nadya Timofeeva and managing director Marina Neeman. The company - which was founded by Nadya's mother, Bolshoi prima ballerina Nina Timofeeva used to be an old-style Russian ballet troupe in the shadow of the Bolshoi. But recently it has dared to embark on a new path.

The change began about a year ago when Yoram Carmi created "Clara" for the troupe. The encounter between the contemporary choreographer and the ballet dancers created an interesting lexicon of movement. The choreography also altered the quality of the movement of the classical dancers, adding momentum and flow to what had previously been virtuoso dance which suffered from mannerisms and blocked energy.

Another and perhaps more important stage in the transformation is the present program, a project initiated by Neeman that is composed of works by dancers from the troupe and Israeli choreographers. While contemporary modern dance in Israel is bubbling with a wealth of creativity by Israeli choreographers, for decades the field of ballet was a desert. In the Israel Ballet troupe most of the works were created by artistic director Berta Yampolsky and a handful of choreographers from abroad. I don't recall when any Israeli choreographer living in Israel, except for Yampolsky, created for a troupe. Nor was there any initiative to raise a generation of creative artists from among the troupe's dancers. The invitation to Itzik Galili, an admired Israeli choreographer who had an international reputation, to create for the Israeli Ballet, is a refreshing and worthwhile change. But that's not enough to raise a generation of local artists in this genre. All of this underscores the importance of the Jerusalem Ballet's latest project, which is helping to make the dance desert finally bloom.

The troupe initiated the invitation to choreographer Yakofo Gudani, who in the past danced in William Forsythe's troupe, to come to Israel. He gave a choreography workshop to the troupe's dancers as well as a lesson in contemporary ballet technique. What was performed on stage was a reflection of the positive results of the workshop. It was evident that the dancers want to create a lexicon of movement, and that it is the joy of dance that drives their movements. The dancers are inspired by music or an image, and the movement bursts forth from inside them.

In "Undine" by Keren Notik, the journey of the young and talented artist in a search for new materials is prominent. While the women's dance was of high quality, there was something unraveled in the performance of Gal Yerushalmi. Shlomi Frige created a duet for two female dancers (Katia Zateikin and Michelle Adam ), in long red skirts that created a dialogue of voices reminiscent of the Renaissance.

Vitaly Novitsky's composition was outstanding and there were several interesting duets. "Tango for Viola" and "Two Women" by Julia Muster-Verlotzky presents two different women, one in a black dress (Adam ) and the second in red tights (Dorodny ). Both dancers are talented, but Victoria Dorodny sparkled in a surprising solo dance and in virtuoso movement solutions.

The dance, "The Promised Land," by Tomer Dahan was not clear. This is a trio for a female dancer and two male dancers. They wear a kind of black cloth mask on their face and spray words in Hebrew onto two white screens, and in the end eat lettuce from a bowl. While the movements of the female dancer Elina Irgo were interesting and also demonstrated her capabilities, the male dancers, who are good dancers, were given a thankless role. The most mature and profound work performed in the program is "Gertel" by Tami and Ronen Itzhaki. I've seen the work twice before, but this time, its true potential was realized in the performances of dancers Adi Hanan and Keren Notik. The piece begins with the two dancers standing on their toes for a long time almost motionless (which is very difficult ), and their hands stretched above them, as though their fingertips are trying to touch the sky, while the tips of their toes are fixed to the ground.

Ronen Itzhaki walks among them and, like a spiritual guide, suggests images to help them achieve the kind of concentration that gives rise to spirituality and physical control. Afterwards he asks them to reduce the connection to the ground even more and to examine how long they can stand on one foot, with only their big toe touching the ground. From here on the dancers continue to explore the idea, which becomes a series of improvisations within the confines of the choreographic instructions.

Israeli ballet needs more projects of this type -- initiatives that so that will finally produce young artists who can advance the genre of ballet, injecting it with creativity and putting it on par with contemporary modern dance.

The Jerusalem Ballet
Eyal Hirsh