When Amir and Daniel Kolben perform their original dance at the Israel Festival in June, they’ll also be deep-diving into their own complex father-daughter relationship.
The piece is part of Inspiring Connections, an Israel Festival event including 40 works that highlight iconic Israeli creations that inspired the participating artists. The Kolbens’ performance is on June 9, with original choreography by Amir Kolben and music by Daniel Kolben, a musician and music therapist.
In the piece, Amir Kolben dances while Daniel Kolben sings and acts out parts of the dance.
The multi-disciplinary Inspiring Connections celebrates the festival’s 60 years of existence, and will be performed over the course of four evenings.
There are 40 other Israeli artists participating in Inspiring Connections, such as hip-hop artist Shaanan Streett delving into Haim Bouzaglo’s film “Fictitious Marriage,” and veteran dancer Rina Sheinfeld on the influence of video art by Michal Rovner.
For the Kolbens, it’s an opportunity to work together on some emotional material.
“It’s our first time performing together,” said Daniel Kolben. “Art is where we meet up, and it was my father who pushed me to bring emotional and complicated material to this performance. He wanted me to deal with the wounds.”
The wounds refer to when Kolben divorced Daniel’s mother and left the family; Daniel was 21 at the time.
“That’s the story we bring,” said Daniel Kolben. “It’s my voice as a girl whose parents split. It’s healing to tell my dad things that I haven’t said until now. It’s the perspective of 20 years later, how it affected me as a woman and as a person, how I choose relationships. It’s a painful and complicated creation.”
Amir corrected Daniel, noting that it was actually the third time they’ve danced together.
“We perform something together every 20 years,” said Kolben, a veteran dancer and choreographer who has worked with the Israel Ballet, Batsheva and then founded several dance troupes before starting the Kolben Dance Company.
“It’s a dream to work together,” he said. “It’s about our great love and the complicated nature of fathers and daughters.”
An additional, emotional layer is the artwork that inspired them for this Israel Festival piece: an iconic painting by Druze artist Asad Azi “My Father is a Soldier.”
Azi’s artwork is taught in Israeli high school art classes and is based on an old photograph of his father who died during his service in Israel’s Border Police force before Azi was born.
Amir spent time contemplating Azi’s work years ago during his own master’s degree studies and hadn’t thought about it for many years.
When looking for creative inspiration for the festival performance with Daniel, the Kolbens were drawn to the parallels between Amir Kolben’s emotional disappearance from Daniel’s life 20 years earlier, and the painting’s messages about fathers who inspire but aren’t available.
“There wasn’t a soldier in my story with Daniel, but this experience of the father, the image, who disappears from the child’s life, it felt relevant,” said Amir. “It offered us an emotional reference point.”
Connecting the artwork with their own work was a process, said Daniel.
“It’s like a sculpture,” she said. “You carve it out, and we gained an understanding of what it is from this new thing that we’ve created.”
Daniel wrote the haunting, sharply worded song that accompanies the dance performance, composing the song during rehearsals. She said she wrote it with more gentle lyrics at first, until her father warned her against taking the easy route.
“He said, ‘If you don’t bring the most painful things, you haven’t done your work,'” said Daniel. “He said I needed to say it more clearly.”
Daniel tends to compose brighter, lighter music, said her father, but he urged her to give voice to her darker side.
“It’s entered my soul, so that’s a success,” he said.
In fact, the words of the song are seared into Amir’s brain, he said, waking him up in the middle of the night, haunting him daily.
“You get me, all right,” he said. “It’s full of criticisms and guilt and I soak it up.”
Amir said the experience offers a kind of therapy for the situations they’re working on in their dance.
“I’m meeting my daughter for the first time as a full partner,” he said. “I’m getting to know all kinds of sides of her and it really brings me pleasure.”
“There are no rehearsals where I don’t say, ‘Are you sure you’re okay,” said Daniel. “We’re really meeting on this stage.”
The Kolbens will perform in Inspiring Connections #2, on June 9, at 8:30 p.m.