Archive for October, 2014

ZVIDANCE COMES TO CINCINNATI

October 29, 2014

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CULTURAL TRADITIONS INSPIRE STORY OF COMMUNITY

reprinted from Cincinnati CityBeat

– by Kathy Valin

“I was born and raised in northern Israel,” says ZviDance’s founder Zvi Gotheiner, whose modern dance company, presented by Contemporary Dance Theater, appears this weekend for the second time in Cincinnati, this time in ZviDance/Dabke. The 2012 work for four couples, which premiered to strong reviews from prominent critics, draws from the rich dance and music traditions of the Levant.

“Dabke is [essentially] a line dance,” Zvi (everyone seems to call him Zvi) explained two weeks ago by phone, from New York City, where he has lived, danced and choreographed since 1988.

He first learned to do the energetic community dance on a kibbutz, one of the traditional Israeli settlements organized under collectivist principles, where he was brought up. “It’s done mainly in a circle, holding hands or shoulders. The group is performing simple patterns of steps, while the dance leaders are doing improvisation, with fancy footwork. Traditionally it’s done by men.”

Nobody knows where the original dance came from. “Scholars say it arrived through the Turks, through centuries, but it is different. It reminds you a bit of Greek or Irish dancing,” says Zvi. Today it’s common all over the broader Middle Eastern world, and often performed at weddings.

Zvi says that being brought up on a kibbutz seemed nothing special at the time. “We had no idea we were living differently,” he says. “We were raised separate from our parents. We had dormitories. Kids my age lived together.

“We were all provided with as much as we wanted, nothing was forced on us, we lived very close to nature and we celebrated the holidays with culture and folk dancing.

“I remember I could not wait for Friday nights, when we usually danced for hours. Later I saw my first dance concert, with Batsheva Dance Company, and I knew I had to dance. I never looked back.”

Much later, the choreographer first thought of making his own version of Dabke in Stockholm, when he and his partner were taken to a restaurant. “In no time, my partner and the Lebanese owner of the restaurant became friendly, and started dancing dabke between the tables.”

The idea was intriguing. “I was seeing my own network of culture, Israeli, blended with Lebanese culture – and in Stockholm,” he remembers.

But Zvi/Dance’s Dabke is no attempt to meticulously recreate the folk dance, according to Zvi, who feels deeply connected to American modern and contemporary dance. “My sensibility is Israeli,” he says. “I connect my work to that tormented country – whether I want it or not, it is always there.”

Company member Todd Allen also spoke with me by phone about helping create the work. “Zvi invited me and another dancer to spend time in upstate New York with him for three weeks. We worked from a collection of YouTube videos he had collected. Some were quite intricate and fascinating. It might take us three rehearsal days to learn them.”

According to Allen, it took the cast a long time to not look like “dancers from New York.” “It was not how we normally move – it was in the way your foot hits the floor, the way your knees bend, the way your hips move.”

After the dancers learned the steps, Zvi suggested that they turn them into their own movement phrase, in the style of Hip Hop or Modern, for instance, from which he crafted Dabke.

“This piece is overtly connected to the Middle East,” says Zvi. “I wanted to do a piece that put a light on the wonderful culture, specifically coming from Israel. Most of the Middle East narrative is seen through the prism of terrorism. I hope Dabke will generate a discussion that will bring people closer. In the end, we are all doing similar things.”

When Zvi first thought of the dance it was during the so-called “Arab Spring.” He’s not sure if the celebratory roots of the dance survive that euphoria. “In a way, the dance was inspired by fun, but other issues came into play. One dancer had Muslim women friends, struggling with equality, and that seeped into the piece.

“It’s up to the viewer to decide. The piece is getting darker as things change. It’s not necessarily a happy point. In a way, it reflects grim reality.”

“I don’t know if there is a linear narrative,” says Allen. “To me, Dabke feels contemporary. It’s not in the past, or a specific place. There are hints of female oppression and female independence in a male dominated society.”

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INNER VISION GUIDES INDIAN DANCERS

October 3, 2014

 

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BLIND DANCERS PRESENT PANOPLY OF AUTHENTIC INDIAN DANCE STYLES

– by Kathy Valin

reprinted from October 1, 2014 CityBeat

The years-long path that brought five boys studying at a the Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind Academy in Bangladore, India to the University of Cincinnati this Saturday in a free performance (reservations required) is an amazing one. From such humble beginnings, the group, today called Articulate Ability, is a veteran of over 1500 performances worldwide. Along with two sighted dancers, they perform a panorama of Indian dance styles in “Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya . . . from Darkness to Light.”

After being attracted by rhythm and melody, the five first performed folk dance during an annual school day celebration in Bangladore. Last week, I spoke with their guru, teacher and choreographer Mysore Nagaraj, by phone.

Nagaraj, himself an established dancer, described how he first met the boys well over ten years ago. “They were euphoric and happy after their first experience, and the school hired a teacher who taught them the basics of the classical dance form and readied them with a few acts.

“But after graduating from school, they felt lost. They sought me out, and my colleague and I took them under our wing.”

Soon, Nagaraj felt the performers were capable of holding an audience as fully professional dance artists, and their touring career became a reality.

Sri Mirle, a research scientist for Procter and Gamble, and also a mentor to the U.C. student group Association for India’s Development since 2002, first encountered the group during a trip to India. He immediately wanted to support them by booking them to appear in one of AID’s cross-cultural programs in Cincinnati, which have been happening since 2002.

“It’s something that resonates with our idea of sustainable development – not giving them fish, but teaching them to fish. It was the idea of teaching them to be regular dancers, in a visual art form like dance. I think it’s inspiring for everyone – you don’t have to know much about Indian dance.”

Nagaraj remembers that when he began working with the young men, there was no methodology to follow.

“However, if you are passionate about doing something it is never a pain. Both the blind and ourselves as teachers put in lots of energy and time. It was not a smooth path. It demanded courage, perseverance and a belief in a deep-rooted dream to accomplish what some people think of as impossible – to have the public accept them first as artists, and then as people with disabilities.”

Classical Indian dance is an ancient form, with eight or so different forms recognized today. It is rooted in nuanced use of expression. For instance, there can be hundreds of hand gestures. To perform it takes years of dedicated learning, like classical ballet. The Articulate Ability dancers are expert in Bharathnatyam, the classical dance of south India, but they also perform Kathak, from North Indian and folk, ritual, spiritual and tribal dances.

“Teaching the complex grammar of Barathnatyam took nearly two years,” says Nagaraj. The main method used was tactile perception, much like teaching Braille. Each detail of movement was transmitted in this manner.

“Once having mastered the various nuances of the form, it was then a smooth journey to induct them in compositions that demanded of them the ability to move across the stage in geometrically precise movement in space that they could not see. They challenged themselves to emote the lyrical compositions with expressions they have never seen. But when the dance unfolded across the stage, our dreams were fulfilled.”

Each of the blind dancers’ stories has a tragic aspect. For instance, one, born with perfect sight, got an infection from dust and was neglected by his family. Another became visually impaired from complications of typhoid. “It was the pulsating rhythms of Indian percussion instruments, the melody in the song and musical instruments, and the moral that the lyrics conveyed in combination with freedom of movement that led them to embrace dance,” says Nagaraj. “The soulful feeling when people with disabilities are motivated by their dance abilities is unfathomable.”

In fact, the group’s name, “Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya,” reflects the ancient spiritual traditions that still persist in Indian dance, says Mirle. “The expression, ‘from darkness to light,’ can also expand to mean ‘lead me from untruth to truth,’ or even ‘lead me from death to immortality.’”

“It’s almost a benediction, or a prayer – to let ourselves become more deeply cognizant of our place in the cosmos. These dancers, though they are blind, bring an inner vision of that.”