Deborah Friedes Galli runs the website www.danceinisrael.com, an English website which has all you need to know about dance in Israel. She is also my teacher who inspires me every week with her knowledge of not just dance in Israel but dance in general. Here is an interview with my inspirer: Deborah Friedes Galli.
Please explain a bit about yourself.
When I was doing my undergraduate degree at Brown University, I started studying American dance history and learned that many American choreographers had worked in Israel with companies like Inbal Dance Theater, Batsheva Dance Company, and Bat-Dor Dance Company. Martha Graham was an especially influential figure in the development of Israeli dance; her technique was adopted by many dancers here in the 1950s-1960s, and Graham served as artistic adviser for Batsheva upon the company's founding in 1964. When I finally saw Batsheva perform for the first time during a visit to Israel in 2001, I was blown away. I decided then that I wanted to study dance in Israel at some point, but it took a while for that to happen. Only after finishing my MFA at The Ohio State University did I apply for a Fulbright grant to research the development of concert dance in Israel. I received the fellowship and arrived in Israel in 2007, and after nearly a year of research, I realized I had much more to learn and decided to stay.
How do you feel Israel dance scene has developed since you have been here?
One significant development is the recent trend of having established Israeli choreographers serve as mentors to younger choreographers and as curators of dance festivals like Curtain Up. Another recent change is Sharon Eyal's departure from Batsheva Dance Company, where she had served as House Choreographer since 2005. She and her partner Gai Behar just founded their own company, L-E-V. It will be interesting to watch their independent endeavor grow and to see how the programming of Batsheva will change now that Eyal is no longer there.
There have been some developments in dance training over the last few years, with new long-term programs that provide a framework for intensive study. The Maslool at Bikurei Haitim in Tel Aviv has become a hotspot for serious dancers aged 18-24 who aim to join major companies like Batsheva, and there are other training opportunities such as courses at Yasmeen Godder's studio in Jaffa and Shlombal, a course led by Shlomit Fundaminsky and Inbal Aloni. The Israeli dance scene has also opened up a variety of training opportunities for dancers from abroad since I first moved here. I remember when the Gaga Intensive - a seasonal 1-2 week workshop for dancers - was first held in the summer of 2008; now it draws hundreds of dancers from around the world to Tel Aviv each year.
What do you feel is the signature of either Israeli dancer or choreographer?
All the dancers and choreographers here are individuals, and so each one will have some unique personal signature in how he/she moves or creates work. I will say, though, that there is something very powerful about the stage presence and physicality that I have seen here.
If you was to sell a Gaga class to a dancer who had not yet taken a class, how would you encourage them to take the class?
First and foremost, I would tell dancers that the Gaga class offers an opportunity to connect to their passion to move at a fundamental and meaningful level. I think most dancers are in this field because they love to move, and Gaga so wonderfully cultivates our awareness of how we experience the physical pleasure of movement. I would add that Gaga will help dancers become more aware of their physical sensations and movement preferences, and it offers valuable tools to broaden their horizons and enrich their dancing.
What developments do you feel Israel needs to develop dance further?
I would like to see more funding for dance here in Israel. Even though there is some funding from the Ministry of Culture and other sources, I get the sense that many choreographers still struggle financially (the same is true of the dancers as well). There is so much creativity here, and if more resources were made available, I think that more artists would be able to realize their visions.
How does the Israel dance scene differ to America?
There are many differences between Israel's dance scene and what is happening in the US Given the size of the U.S., I would venture that there are multiple dance scenes there, each with its own character - but still, there are some overarching differences that we can talk about. For instance, the funding structure for dance in the two countries is very different: in Israel it is mostly public with very little tradition of private giving, and in the US, a very significant proportion of the funding for dance comes from private donors, whether they are institutions or individuals. The channels for training to become a professional dancer are also quite different. In the US, many professional dancers - at least within the modern and contemporary scenes - have a BFA or BA degree in dance (and many have MFAs as well). There is a huge network of university dance departments stretching across the country.
Dance does not have the same established place in higher education in Israel, and so a lot of professional dancers here have studied in high school dance departments and then in supplementary programs at various studios and schools, including some of the more intensive programs I mentioned in a previous answer. This structural difference no doubt has an influence on the type of training and education that dancers receive in each of the countries. Another major difference - and one that I think is related to my last point about educational systems - has to do with how dance history is viewed, both literally and figuratively. Reconstructions of older works, for example, are frequently staged in the US in school settings and by professional companies, but it is relatively rare to see reconstructions in Israel.
Who is your favourite dancer/choreographer/company in the UK?
I haven't seen enough to know! I do remember being taken with Matthew Bourne's work when I first saw his bold version of Swan Lake in high school, while just a few months ago, Talia Paz and Mike Winter's performance of Nigel Charnock's Haunted by the Future left a great impression on me. I have also been exposed to the work of several Israeli-born choreographers now based in the UK - specifically Yael Flexer, Jasmin Vardimon, and Hofesh Shechter - and have enjoyed their productions.