International Dance and Theatre Festival, Tel Aviv, Israel 
Roving dance critic Dr Sunil Kothari reports 
February 7, 2004   

The Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv, Israel arranges every year an edition of International Exposure during the first week of December presenting the latest new choreographic works of the choreographers/ dancers from Israel. The Division for Cultural and Scientific Affairs of the Israel Foreign Ministry invites leading dance critics, choreographers, dancers, organizers, impresarios to witness the dance works for a period of a week at the Suzanne Dellal Centre. 

This year they extended the scope by including theatre presentations also. However, the programme was so crowded that it was impossible to attend all the events. Also there were visits to the ballet, modern and folk dance schools in Jerusalem, to the Kibbutz at Galaton and of course the Wailing Wall and Old City. 

And meeting with the international crowd of dancers, choreographers, critics and friends, with whom one wants to catch up with late dinners after the performances and one needs lots of energy to keep awake during the series of performances from hour to hour. Add to it receptions and visit to the Dance Library and you need more than a month to stay in Tel Aviv to see all that dance would include. 

The first impression is very favourable. The people are warm, smiling and friendly. In particular, with the Indians on account of the number of Indian Jews having returned to Israel, one feels at home when meeting them. I met Mr. Noa Massil and his charming wife, who were in Mumbai and spoke fluent Marathi . He is the President of the Central Organisation of Indian Jews in Israel and invited me to a special get together and dinner. He introduced me to the leading lights of Indian Jews whose warmth and reception I shall remember for long. 

Located in a four building complex, comprising of four performance halls which surround a square for outdoor performances, and dotted with citrus trees, the Suzanne Dellal Centre is the cultural centre of Tel Aviv. The Dellal family of London inaugurated this centre in 1989 through the initiative and efforts of their son-in-law Ze’ev Sokolowski. It is a home for all the dance companies and dance activities in Israel. It organizes Shades in Dance, a festival for young choreographers, Dance Europe, performances of companies from Europe, Curtain Up/International Exposure for performances of established and independent choreographers, Summer Dance, two months of the best of the Israeli dance and guests from around the world, Flamenco Days and performances of well-known Batsheva Dance Company of Isreal. 

The Curtain Up event showcased more than 15 dance works/ performances and reminded me of Monte Carlo two yearly events. I also met Dominique in Tel Aviv, who has been organising the events with an interval of two years. All the invitees were staying at Cinema Hotel from where we shared taxis to go to the Centre and also returned together. The discussions about the latest trends in Israeli dance and other dance companies of Europe, Philippines, Japan, USA, France and so on were interesting. Being a Vice President of South Asia region of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific helped me a lot as we had many common friends with whose works most of us were familiar. 

From National University of Singapore Rajendran Zachery, from Manila Denisa Reyes, who had brought to India the modern Ramayana work with several dancers from different South Asian countries and which was a huge success, young Paul Moraks, a choreographer and a dancer, Aja Jung from Serbia (Belgrade), Marie Kucerova of Czechoslovakia Television were there who knew many Indian dancers and choreographers. Therefore one did not feel that Indian choreographers are not part of the international dance scene. 
Chandralekha is invited to Manila to choreograph, Daksha Sheth has been to Jakarta Festival, last year Narendra Sharma was in Tel Aviv and the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi seemed to have kept the organizers informed about the Indian dance scene. Since my latest book New Directions In Indian Dance which I have edited for Marg Publications (launched in January 2004) was already announced at the Curtain Up, I was asked several questions about the latest trends. And Talia Perlshtein, the director of Dance Library of Israel had already placed order for the book. Not only that, when I visited the Library she showed all my books on the shelf of Indian section. She had also arranged my illustrated talk at the Orot College for Women on one morning and made all arrangements for my visit to Jerusalem and dance institutions. 

On the opening night we saw Israel’s leading dance company Batsheva Dance Company’s choreographic work by Mamootot by Ohad Naharin. The dancers sat with the audience and then went to perform centre stage. Some of them moved like Butoh dancers from Japan and some seemed to move with convulsions. Then there was the frontal nudity and male dancers came forward and shook hands with the audience and stared at them and smiled. Some dancers were extremely well trained, but my own reaction was of having seen such works in America and Europe. Particularly, at Montpellier in France. Batsheva Dance Company of Israel is a renowned company and I had expected some extraordinary work. The expectations were fulfilled when we saw Love by Sharon Eyal. The company consisting of young dancers had excellent technique. It was modern in concept with superbly trained bodies of the young dancers and wonderful lighting and imaginative choreography. 

The world premier of documentary film Dance Made in Israel was informative and well made. It gave information about the cross section of works of the Israeli choreographers.   

Two Playful Pink by Yasmeen Godder, of 50 minutes duration, by two female dancers, left most of us exhausted, though they were applauded by the discerning audience from abroad. It was difficult to concentrate for 50 minutes on a choreographic piece of abstract work by two women, who danced with zest and verve but barring their physical prowess it did not seem to prove anything. After that to watch Joy by Yosi Yungman Dance Company was tiring, but it did take away the monotony of the previous work. 

Whereas to watch solos by Rina Schenfeld was extremely rewarding.  She is one of the foremost artists in Israel and was a principal dancer of the Batsheva Dance Company. Now on her own, her four pieces were expressive, reminding one of Anna Pavlova. Paloma, Swans, and Close-up showed her gifts and extraordinary technique.  

Watching performances after performances one could see how the Centre promotes Israel dance and theatre. Such showcase events help the festival directors and impresarios to select and bring the best to the international festivals. Interacting with the festival directors, the media, the organizers help one to give also information about one’s own country and the latest trends. Between India and Israel the political, diplomatic and artistic relations are happy and therefore there is a lot of goodwill between the two countries. 

At Jerusalem I attended rehearsals and classes of modern dance and classical ballet after we visited the historic Wailing Wall. Luckily it was sunny for three hours and after that it rained heavily. But we managed to reach the ballet school despite the heavy downpour. The classes were educative and also entertaining. Modern, classical ballet and folk have independent schools. The folk is being revived and looked like based on the historic work by the legendary Russian dancer/choreographer Igor Mosiyev. 

My talk on classical dance forms at the women’s college was quite an experience. I was told that it was an orthodox institution and women do not dance before men. I may illustrate the hand gestures and sitting on the chairs in the auditorium they will follow my instructions to learn the hand gestures but will not get up and dance. So my hasta mudra workshop took place by my standing on the stage and the girls sitting in the auditorium. But it was very successful as it created tremendous curiosity. They then demonstrated my sentences in hand gestures they learnt and we all parted saying Namaste with Anjali hasta! They enjoyed the screening of CDs of Kathak, Odissi and Bharata Natyam dance forms. 

The Dance Library is unique and in importance next to Dance Collection of New York Public Library.  I told the librarian about the Samudri initiative of Sruti magazine and gave them the latest copy of Sruti.  The librarian Talia expressed the hope that the Samudri dream of Pattabi will come true.