When choreographer Zvi Gotheiner immigrated to New York in 1987, the doldrums of Israeli dance scene was one reason for the move. There was plenty of folk dancing and several modern companies, including a dominant troupe called Batsheva, where he was a member, but those companies performed mostly works by stalwart American choreographers like Martha Graham, José Limón and Glen Tetley.
“The dancing in New York was flourishing, and there was so much excitement,” Gotheiner said. “In Israel, there was only one aesthetic. Here, there was Merce Cunningham and Tricia Brown, there was a sense of discovery. But things have changed. In Israel, dance has become more Israeli.”
Three decades after he immigrated, the vitality of that Israeli dance scene is one reason why Gotheiner is so in demand as a choreographer in the States. Last May, his company ZVIDance, was the first to be presented by the American Dance Institute under the auspices of its new Israeli Dance series. This weekend, the Rockville venue welcomes the 2014 installment in the series: LeeSaar the Company, an all-female troupe run by Israeli emigres Lee Sher and Saar Harari. Next season, for the first time, the venue will bring a Jerusalem-based company to perform in Rockville, as well as another U.S.-based company lead by an Israeli.
“I see so much contemporary dance, and there is something about it that is difficult to articulate, something in the movement that makes it so different from American dance,” said Adrienne Willis, executive director of ADI. “It’s unpredictable, and very different from anything else that we are bringing in.”
Last year, the Israeli Embassy officially came on board as a sponsor for the series, after Willis met Sarit Arbell, the embassy’s director of cultural affairs. The two women metfor the first time in New York, when they were attending the 2012 Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference. Arbell grew up dancing in Israel, first as a ballerina, then as a folk dancer.
The two women have both attended panels on therise of Israeli dance, but acknowledge that there is no one reason. They agree that one factor is that so many Israelis grow up dancing — with the exception of the ultrareligious — and that it’s a more socially acceptable activity for men than it is in many other Western nations. There was, early in the country’s formation, an attempt to fuse the dancing of people already living in Palestine with the folk dancing of Eastern Europe. In 1964, Graham stepped into that stew, and with funding from Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, founded the Batsheva Dance Company.
The troupe coasted along, doing mostly American repertory through the 1980s.. Then, in 1990, an Israeli-born, Juilliard-trained dancer, Ohad Naharin, returned to his homeland to lead Batsheva. Since then, Israeli dance has taken off, and many Batsheva descendents have left the company to establish careers of their own all over the globe. A short list includes the U.K.-based Hofesh Shechter; the New York-based Andrea Miller; and Sharon Eyal, whose work was last seen in Washington when performed by Norway’s Carte Blanche dance company at the Kennedy Center.
But there are also Israeli choreographers who have become successful without relying on Batsheva as a launching board, including Emanuel Gat, who has worked with Paris Opera Ballet, so Naharin alone is not responsible for the success of so many companies and choreographers.
The embassy is not providing ADI with any direct funding for the Israeli series, but it has contributed heavily in terms of in-kind donations and logistical support. The embassy is also helping by promoting the performances through well-established networks. There nearly a dozen synagogues in the Rockville area, and Willis acknowledges that demographics are yet another reason why the Israeli series makes so much sense for ADI.
“It’s very rare that an arts organization can do programming that serves its community and still uphold such a high artistic standard.” Willis said.
LeeSaar the Company comes to ADI at a time when the troupe is a hot commodity in New York. The troupe has recently performed “Grass and Jackels” at the Joyce Theater and was in residence at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, completing the complex technical designs for “Princess Crocodile.”
“There is something very physical about being Israeli,” Harari said. “Israelis do not have a lot of filter. They are very direct. When they talk, it can be a bit too much for people, but when it’s physical, it can be a bit more clear.”
Sher, his partner outside and in the studio, is more willing to put her movement into words. She says the abstract narrative of “Princess Crocodile” is about the duality of being female, which she, as a former Israeli actress and paratrooper, is probably uniquely qualified to explore through choreography.
“I believe, as a woman, that all of us are all princesses and crocodiles,” she said. “It’s how we approach our dreams, and how wild we are. How forward we are, and how delicate we are. How intense we are, and how breakable we are, but also so powerful. But I gave birth twice, so now I know I am a crocodile, I can really eat someone.”
Ritzel is a freelance writer.
by LeeSaar the Company. Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. at the American Dance Institute, 1570 East Jefferson St., Rockville; www.americandance.org.