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Back onstage, dance troupes work out the anxieties of the last year

Fresco and Batsheva dance companies premiere new works after a long period of quiet creativity

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

From ON by Adi Salant for the Fresco Dance Company, premiering in Tel Aviv on May 11, 2021 (Courtesy Efrat Mazor)
From ON by Adi Salant for the Fresco Dance Company, premiering in Tel Aviv on May 11, 2021 (Courtesy Efrat Mazor)

Dance is among the artistic mediums that fared poorly during the pandemic, in terms of performances.

Videos felt slow and sluggish, and live feeds weren’t always worth the trouble.

Creativity in the field, however, wasn’t impaired.

“It was a very artistic year,” said Yoram Karmi, lead choreographer and founder of the Fresco Dance Company. “We immersed ourselves in artistic activity.”

From ‘Kapow,’ a new dance work by Eyal Dadon for the Fresco Dance Company, premiering May 11, 2021 in Tel Aviv (Courtesy Efrat Mazor)

All that pent-up energy is finally coming to fruition, as Fresco, a contemporary dance company with studios in Tel Aviv’s main bus station, will stage “O.K-19,” comprising two works, “Kapow” by Eyal Dadon and “ON” by Adi Salant, on May 11 through June 30 at the Inbal Theater in the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater.

Named for the initials of the two works, and with 19 for COVID-19, the premiere was initially set for May 2020, but the coronavirus upstaged that plan.

There have been changes in the troupe’s dancers over the course of the year, and a new set of rehearsals, creating works that are ultimately “very related” to the state of the world right now, said Karmi.

Both pieces are about inner strength, society and power, as well as ambition. Both refer to the self, and how individuals deal with stress, anxieties and the hardships of daily life.

Dadon’s piece, “Kapow,” referring to that superhero punch often delineated in bright colors and exclamations, is about the strengths and weaknesses of humans, and their superhuman abilities. On the flip side is Salant’s work about stress and optimism in persistence, despite personal loss and tragedy.

They’re exhausting pieces to perform, said Karmi. The dancers perform each one for 30 minutes, with a 15-minute break to “wipe their sweat off” and change costumes while audience members stretch their legs.

The troupe’s nine dancers are ready to be back onstage, though, said Karmi, who worked hard to pay his dancers for the entire year through donations. He let go of some of his administrative staff and didn’t take his own salary for nearly an entire year.

It did receive much of its usual budget from the Ministry of Culture and Sport and the Tel Aviv Municipality. And despite the tightened belt, Karmi feels pleased to have remained standing.

“We couldn’t afford for their spirits to be broken,” he said. “I think we did well and they repaid us by being in the zone.”

They worked throughout the year, and the choreographers suddenly had time to think and create.

“It’s super exciting to emerge again but very scary,” said Karmi. “We don’t know who the audiences will be.”

It’s unclear if the usual audiences will return, if they can afford tickets, if those who attended performances twice a month can still do so.

“I think we have to show ourselves,” he said. “We were working hard to be ready after the coronavirus ended.”

Tickets for O.K-19 cost NIS 140 apiece and are available for purchase online.

For some dancers, like Landiwe Khoza, a trained ballet dancer from South Africa who officially joined the Batsheva ensemble in 2020, an upcoming premiere is her first opportunity to be onstage as a full dancer in the troupe.

Landiwe Khoza performing in ‘Sadeh,’ a classic Batsheva Dance Company work (Courtesy Ascaf)

Khoza will perform in “Summer Snow,” a new work by choreographer Ella Rothschild created for Batsheva, produced in cooperation with the Mart Foundation, and going on May 4-6, 28-31, and June 1, 10-12, 17-19 at Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Center.

The work consists of a series of surrealist scenes through which the audience discovers the story of one character intertwined with the stories of others. It raises questions about objects, memories, aspirations, and disappointments that stir people and ask what is left when life is shaken to the core.

“It’s almost like a film, but live, with a lot of elements, a lot of moving parts,” said Khoza. “Ella has a very specific story and every dancer has their own characterization which also adds a different layer to it. You really feel everyone will walk away with a different interpretation but will still be moved or touched by it.”

From ‘Summer Snow,’ a new Batsheva Dance work premiering May 4 at Suzanne Dellal (Courtesy Mart Festival)

Those varying interpretations in one dance are an element of being a Batsheva dancer that Khoza has learned to appreciate in her five years with the company. Most of the works for Batsheva are 30 percent improvised, with each dancer doing their own improvisation.

“You do it yourself, but everyone does it at the same time,” said Khoza.

Khoza, a classically trained ballet dancer, came to Batsheva for an apprenticeship with Batsheva lead choreographer Ohad Naharin, but ended up staying for an entire year. She then — unexpectedly for herself — auditioned for and was accepted to the Batsheva ensemble in 2017 and promoted to the company in 2020.

“I still really love ballet and I love watching it and I love the idea of it,” she said. “I love that I have that experience to draw on when I need it,”

From ‘Summer Snow,’ premiering with the Batsheva Dance Company on May 4, 2021 (Courtesy Batsheva)

Now Khoza has spent five years with Batsheva. At the start, she told her mother that she felt like she was a baby again.

“I felt like I was learning how to walk again, down to how I was breathing or how I was holding my face,” said Khoza. “I had to learn a whole new set of tools and then learn how to mesh the two of them together.”

Now 27, Khoza spent the last year in Israel, taking some time off to heal from an injury and feeling very fortunate to receive a salary from Batsheva.

“I think I was really lucky to be in right place at the right time. It’s such a unique place and it does give you a lot of freedom,” said Khoza.

Tickets for Summer Snow are available through the Suzanne Dellal Center website.

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