It was hard not to be curious about a cluster of performers moving around a giant mound of crumpled white paper as disembodied voices emerged periodically from said mound, some using Hebrew expletives.

“Mother f***er.”

“C**t.”

“S**t.”

They eventually fell silent, which led their choreographer, Dean Moss, to urge them on. “More cursing,” he said, even though, as an American, he didn’t understand a word they were saying.

And then, one by one, they began reciting the lines from the Broadway musical, “A Chorus Line,” most of them in heavily accented English.

“One, singular sensation,” said one. “Every little step you take,” continued another.

At the end, with great glee, they tore up the paper.

The performers were mostly women, all students at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the School of Visual Theater, who had the opportunity to work with Moss, a New York-based director, choreographer and media artist who spent the last 10 weeks in Jerusalem as an American Academy fellow.

Established by the Foundation for Jewish Culture, the 10-week fellowship is designed for distinguished artists, architects, and planners from abroad to work with Jerusalemites on projects that help strengthen the city as a center for arts and culture.

Moss, who creates works that explore identity and perception, often engages in a multidisciplinary practice that includes performance, dance, video, audio and visual design, most of which were used in Tuesday’s improvisational piece. But what was perhaps most striking about the performance was how it came together.

The paper, for instance, was brought by one of the students one day (Moss had wanted to use skin, but that was a more difficult challenge to meet), and became the landscape, Moss said, with the performers acting in relation to the landscape. Another movement, that of running their fingers through their hair, was brought by another student, after she had spent some time that morning staring in the mirror, making the same movement at home.

Choreographer Dean Moss sits and watches his students during the performance of their improvisational piece (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Choreographer Dean Moss sits and watches his students during the performance of their improvisational piece (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“There are cliches I like to explore,” said Moss, sprawled on the floor after the performance, speaking to both the students and the audience. “It takes me a long time to do a project, around two, two-and-a-half years. This is just 10 rehearsals.”

This particular piece explored devotion, obsession and isolation, concepts discussed by Moss and the students and worked on through the performance.

“It’s like a recipe,” explained Moss. “A list comes together and it’s an incomplete list. The idea of making a product is far down in the research.”

The Tuesday afternoon performance was an improvisation of those terms and definitions, an ensemble “building an experience,” he said, “looking at ideas, creating a theatrical arc.”

For the students, the opportunity to work with Moss was invaluable, an “opportunity to have a work space, and a different kind of work pace,” said Keren Jospe, one of the students.

Moss, who spoke about wanting to return to Israel and work on the some of the ideas garnered during his fellowship, said he’s doing what “I love, love, love every day. I have the life, I’m having a great time, and working with great people. That’s the aha, the constant aha.”

The final event of Works in Progress: Reflection on a Residency will take place Wednesday, December 11, 7:30 p.m. at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, as American Academy fellow Susan Korda offers an editor’s retrospective on the screening of her film, “First Cousin Once Removed”, followed by a discussion and reception.