Dance on Film: The Moderni Series
Israel's rich modern dance scene is made more accessible and endurable through another of Israel's renowned art forms-- its film industry.
Israeli film has experienced significant growth over the last few decades-- the first Israeli film to be nominated for an Oscar was "Sallah" in 1964. This was followed by many more nominations, including "The Policeman" in 1971, "I Love You Rosa" in 1972, "The House on Chelouche Street" in 1973, "Operation Thunderbolt" in 1977, "Beyond the Walls" in 1984, "Beaufort" in 2007, "Waltz with Bashir" in 2008, "Ajami" in 2009, "The Human Resources Manager" in 2010, and "Footnote" in 2011.
Israeli dance has seen a similar rise in recognition. Contemporary dance companies have cropped up all over Israel and are recognized among the top international dance companies. Batsheva, perhaps the most famous Israeli contemporary dance company, was founded in 1964 in Tel Aviv by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva De Rothschild. Batsheva is recognized for its distinct energetic and fluid style. This style was trademarked by choreographer Ohad Naharin, who introduced the "Gaga" method of training dancers. This method removes the mirror from the dance studio, and allows the dancers to explore their capacity for movement. Other well-known Israeli dance companies include the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, founded in 1973 in Kibbutz Ga'aton, and the Vertigo Dance Company, founded in 1992 in Jerusalem. These companies have won many awards worldwide, from the Ministry of Culture Dance Award to New York Dance and Performance Awards.
Using film as a medium for dance is a relatively new phenomenon. The seemingly limited aspects of the medium of film as opposed to the openness of a stage are gracefully incorporated into the choreographies of many dance films. They use the edges of the screen, the perspective of the camera, and freedom of set choice to create an interesting new perspective on modern dance. Even the boundaries of gravity are no longer an issue.
Not only are these pieces mesmerizing to watch, but they also tell a story. Somehow, these films silently communicate a message to the audience through movement, whether it's about everyday life in Israel or about something more generally human. This is a fresh method of storytelling for film, and a new way of expanding the audience for modern dance in Israel.
"Private I's" is a short dance film directed by Oren Shkedy and choreographed by Dana Ruttenberg in 2012. Ruttenberg has choreographed not only for the Batsheva Dance Ensemble, but also for festivals such as OtherDance, IntimaDance, and Dance Arena. The film stars two male dancers who begin as silhouettes, then attempt to fill out their identities by practicing conventions of masculinity. The men compare themselves to each other through collaborative and imitative movement, all throughout various vast landscapes.
"Home Alone," another short dance film directed by Adi Halfin in 2013, features the Batsheva Dance Company ensemble. The dancers fill an abandoned building, incorporating the architecture as well as the screen into their choreography. They emerge through windows, from behind columns, and from all edges of the screen with uninhibited movement. The unsupervised implications of title are echoed in the instinctive, experimental mood of the dancers.
The Israel Film Center at JCC Manhattan will be screening a series of short dance films such as these on October 7th as part of a two-day series entitled Moderni. The films range from artistic to documentary, and include work by acclaimed dance group Batsheva, and by the choreographer Dana Ruttenberg and the director Stacy Menchel Kussell. Kussell is a journalist who writes about dance, Jewish history, and international affairs. She has been published in The Forward, Dance Magazine, The Jerusalem Post, and Tablet Magazine.
The Moderni series features films which seamlessly combine the two mediums of Israeli contemporary dance and film. Tickets can be purchased here.