Renana Raz celebrates 20 years of choreography
Dancing with the Scars

Renana Raz celebrates 20 years of choreography

War is us and them, while art stands for working together, says dancer and actress

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

Renana Raz sat on the studio floor, stretching her legs out in front of her, preparing to rehearse one of her works being performed this Thursday.

Raz, known for her acting work (“Fill the Void,” “Munich”) but primarily for her choreography, is celebrating 20 years of her eponymous troupe with three days of performances, February 6-8, at Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater.

It’s been two decades since she began choreographing, something she finds hard to believe.

“When I was 20, people used to ask me until age I would dance, and I had no clue,” she said. “At 40, I can understand what is going to happen to the body. It’s a process that can’t be avoided.”

Actress Renana Raz. March 17, 2013 (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

For the 20th anniversary, she could have put on the first dance she choreographed, but didn’t want to be sentimental or nostalgic. Instead, the works performed will include “WART,” “YouMake Remake,” “16 Meters and One Body,” “TzuraTarbut” and “Shaboogie.”

Raz, a mother of two who began dancing when she was five, was rehearsing the opening of “WART,” which stands for War and Art, and which she created after the 2014 Operation Protective Edge.

She remembers, during that Israel-Gaza war when her oldest was still a baby,  heading to her Tel Aviv apartment stairwell to wait out the rocket sirens. But she thinks of those times spent with her neighbors in relative safety as “cozy,” not necessarily frightening.

It was only later that she saw it differently, concluding that everyone, soldier or civilian, suffers some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder from times of unrest.

From Renana Raz’s ‘Tzuratarbut’ (Courtesy Doron Adar)

Raz had a major performance canceled during that intensive summer, and while it was eventually rescheduled, she afterwards began to process the experience differently and consider the role of art during war.

“War is black and white, life and death, borders, them and us — as opposed to art, which stands for critical thinking, working together. And when there’s war, I need to go on and fight for art so that people won’t forget that this, culture, dance, exists too,” said Raz. “Art has a task, and you can show that creation of art to the world, to show its place in the world.”

Renana Raz (far right) rehearsing ‘WART’ on January 28, 2020 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

For the first minutes of “WART,” Raz and two other dancers enacted whirling helicopters and the aftermath of war — dragging bodies and cowering from the explosive sounds that were part of the dance soundtrack playing in the background.

It’s not an easy work, but it’s one that she considers elemental to her development as a dancer. It’s a potent example of how she deals with the world around her, and how dance helps her figure out life.

Another performance of Renana Raz’s ‘Tzuratarbut’ (Courtesy Aharon Barak)

For Raz, art is a way to connect with people, and she seeks that in her body of work. She doesn’t believe her dances have to be performed onstage, but rather welcomes having them performed in any format, for any audience.

“I love when people who don’t normally see dance see it and relate to it,” said Raz.

“YouMake Remake” is one of Raz’s works that’s been performed in numerous settings and for a wide variety of audiences, particularly kids, offering the opportunity to think of dance as a medium about movement that can happen anywhere and be used as a form of communication.

“When I start to perform a piece, it begins to live, which is no less important than creating the work,” she said.  “I always give a lot of time and energy to make a work continue on, so that it keeps on living without me.”

A Weekend of Renana Raz, Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater, tickets available online.

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