From Tel Aviv with Love

Well, I am here in Israel. I arrived on Friday morning very early and, after many technology failures and general hijinks, I was picked up on the side of the road by the Azrieli shopping center in front of the HaShalom Train Station in Tel Aviv by my good friend Gady who I know from working in Hillel. After dropping my bags in the Williamsburg-trendy Florentin neighborhood (where an apartment-sitting arrangement had been made for me), I then joined him and his girlfriend Kama for a holiday weekend of traveling and being hosted for delicious meals by his family and hers.

On Sunday, the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, most stores and such were closed so I walked around to orient myself, found the Suzanne Dellal Center (the hub of contemporary dance in Tel Aviv), and went to the beach multiple times.

Monday was a great day. I spent the morning and afternoon walking around to dance studios in the area and ambling through the Shuk HaCarmel market before taking a Gaga/people class in the evening. Aaaaand, who should show up but Erik Thurmond, a friend from my dance studio days in Snellville, GA? It was pretty incredible to see him, and the class itself, taught by Idan, was fun, full, and freeing.

The entire class is guided improvisation and operates from basic Gaga principles: softness in the body (joints, flesh, skin), movement originating from the llena (this is a made-up word for some area between the navel and groin), pleasure/groove, no discomfort, and surprising oneself. I right away recognized all of the movement patterns I get into coming to the fore, and it was a fun challenge to find originality as guided by the language Idan used: “feel your flesh collapsing into water,” “feel the bubble around your llena expanding,” and “let the quaking happen.”

After class Erik and I compared notes. He has been here studying Gaga with the Batsheva company for a while and is just recently back after a quick visa run to Paris. We grabbed some frozen yogurt and chatted for an hour before curtain opened at the Suzanne Dellal Theatre on a show by Rina Scheinfeld. I’d bought tickets earlier on a whim in the balcony. And, lo and behold, when I arrived in the balcony, Leia Weil (a great friend from NYU) was sitting exactly behind me! She introduced me to her friends Yael and Dalia and we settled in for the performance.

Which was…strange. I’ve never seen such a bizarre mix of undecipherable pantomime and video projection art and plain old tricks. The most groan-worthy moment arrived when one particularly tall dancer stood in the middle of the stage, and grabbed her leg all the way up by her ear while grinning at the audience. We lauded the same dancer later, however, when she returned to the stage to do some self-serious and well-coordinated ribbon dancing.

On Tuesday I missed the morning Gaga class and so I spent the day walking around the city and down to Jaffa port where I bought a cotton tapestry from the market. I spent a lovely day ambling around, and in the evening I saw the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company perform work by Rami Be’er at Suzanne Dellal. These dancers were ferocious! The choreography was virtuosic and beautiful, but I was most struck by the fabulous lighting design. If I could decipher my program, I’d give shoutouts to the designer.

This morning I woke up and took a ballet class at Mercaz Bikurei Haitim with the first year students in the “Masloos” school (a professional training program). I was grateful that the instructor peppered a healthy dose of English into her instruction, and that the woman I spoke with at the front desk allowed me to be a guest in the class. Apparently citing “NYU Tisch” works here too – this has lent me legitimacy on more than one occasion here when I show up as an American out of the blue.

This evening I’ll take another Gaga class and then I have tickets to see a studio performance of “Batsheva Dancers Create,” featuring original work by members of the company. Excitement abounds.

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