Emily K. Alhadeff Associate Editor, The Jewish Sound
Two powerful dance performances by noted Israeli choreographers sashay onto Seattle stages in April.
Although “sashay” is too balletic word to describe and Emanuel Gat’s “Preludes et Fugues” and Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16.”
Both Gat and Naharin are contemporary dancers trained in Israel with international reputations. Gat, a resident with the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève (Geneva Ballet), got his start dancing at the ripe age of 23 with the Liat Dror Nir Ben Gal Company. Naharin was picked up by modern dance matriarch Martha Graham and went on to pioneer the popular “Gaga” school of dance, a sort of freestyle movement philosophy that connects dancers to their bodies.
Gat’s “Preludes et Fugues” is the Geneva Ballet’s Seattle debut. It hits the stage at Meany Hall April 3-5 as part of the University of Washington World Series. Naharin’s “Minus 16” appears as part of the lineup with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle April 11-13.
Michelle Witt, executive director of Meany Hall and artistic director of the UW World Series, is excited to bring the Geneva Ballet to Seattle for the first time. When presented with the option of “Preludes” or “Sleeping Beauty,” Witt went for the former. Gat’s piece, set to J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” is described as a “hypnotic reflection on human interaction.”
“There is a lot of beautiful weight sharing, winding and unwinding of bodies,” Witt said of Gat’s complex choreography. “They are classical ballet dancers, but it doesn’t have ballet mannerisms, per se.”
The Geneva Ballet was also willing to work with live music, which was important to Witt. Rather than performing to a recording, UW pianist and doctoral student Brooks Tran will perform Bach’s piece live.
“The company was surprisingly flexible,” Witt said.
Despite coming from the same small country, Gat’s work stands in contrast to Naharin’s. Naharin steers dancers away from performance and back toward themselves. His studios are notoriously mirror-free.
“It’s something very unique, significant, and doesn’t look like anything else,” said Danielle Agami, one of Naharin’s dancers. Agami staged the Alvin Ailey production, but is currently in Atlanta working with another company. She considers herself an ambassador to Naharin’s approach.
“Dancers should be trying [Gaga] because it brings a lot of pleasure,” she said. “It just supports your life because it brings joy.”
“Minus 16” (the title has no meaning, if you’re wondering) is a compilation of seven dances set to an eclectic playlist, including “Hava Nagilah,” Vivaldi’s “Nisi Dominis,” “Over the Rainbow,” and a pounding version of the Passover learning chant “Echad Mi Yodea?” by Israeli rock group Tractor’s Revenge.
Training the Alvin Ailey dancers in Naharin’s Gaga style was a challenge, said Agami.
“It was new for me to teach a company that’s so well established, but actually never touched something like that,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how tradition shifts to accommodate a new medium.”
Naharin has said that he doesn’t believe a dance culture has yet emerged out of Israel, but to an outsider familiar with the country (and its ubiquitous dance parties) the fluid, constant, introspective movements of Gaga appear uniquely Israeli.
“The pressure and undoing the pressure…to feel that you constantly need more room to contain more information and to forgive…I think that’s definitely our passion to yield, and our passion to forgive, and to continue and create a future,” Agami said.
“It’s very much in the now and about innovation,” she said. “Gaga’s relevant everywhere.”
On the other hand, “[‘Preludes et Fugues’] is more contemporary and modern,” said UW’s Witt. “It’s very visceral and contemporary aesthetic.”
But to put dance into words is to defeat the purpose, some might say. It’s meant to be seen, felt, interpreted.
In a video interview, Gat articulates this.
“If you try to verbalize it falls apart, it doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “If you just take it as it is it makes sense. You don’t have to go further.”