"Do I dare disturb the universe?"
~T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Foster the Dancers

I started working at a brand-new studio in Evanston called Foster Dance Studios, founded by Ronn Stewart and Sarah Goldstone.  I'm doing a work-study program, working the front desk/cleaning in exchange for classes.  I feel really lucky to have this opportunity, and it's really fun to be at the forefront of this studio's opening.  By spreading the word to other dance friends, and making the connection between AthletiCo and Foster Studios (I put flyers for the other organization at each location, respectively), I feel like I'm really a part of something important exciting.

The studio has classes in ballet, creative dance, modern, jazz, lyrical, hiphop, MoPed technique (about which I've written here), and Gyrotonics, for young beginners through professionals.  It's a treat to be able to take whatever classes I want, experiencing amazing teachers and making new connections.  The teachers are former Giordano, Hubbard Street, or Joffrey dancers, or are currently dancing with other contemporary companies, and they teach at the highest level of professionalism.

I even discovered I actually enjoy mopping marley (one of my cleaning tasks).  If I can hook up my music to the speakers and rock out while making the floors sparkling clean....it's a pretty good deal (Please tell me that using the handle of a swiffer as a microphone is not solely an embarrassing confession of mine, but of dance-studio employees everywhere...?).

So if you're in the Chicago area....come one, come all, come dance!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago

There were anxious whispers in the hallway, rumors, confusion. But we started school as if it were a normal day. Normal. That's almost laughable now. I was in the band room, about halfway through first period freshman Concert Band, when there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that not only two planes it World Trade Center towers in New York, but a third had crashed into the Pentagon. "It sounds like it's pretty bad. Let's end class here today," my band director said. So we packed up our instruments early, as every TV in the school was turned on to broadcast the most shocking live images I had ever seen. My brother was a senior advisor for band, and as we parted, I felt alone and scared.

My second period class was Treble Ensemble, the freshman girl's chorus. I remember walking down the short hallway of the fine arts wing to the next classroom over; I walked like it was a dream, or a nightmare rather. First period hadn't ended yet, technically, so the hall was practically silent. Everything had a hazy quality about it, but maybe that was the confusion in my head, or my eyes misting over. As I entered the dark room, I stood for a moment looking up at the TV in the choir room, practically alone. My choir director joined me, as my fellow students and friends started filing, almost silent in their shock, into the room. Nobody turned the lights on. Was that to better see the TV, or was it because everyone else was similarly in such a deep, dark place that a light would be piercing?

We took our seats and watched in horror as the south, and half another later, the north tower fell. I don't remember crying, but I must have been, or even nearly hysterical, because my choir director somehow figured out what class my brother was in, and got the message to him that I was especially upset.

I frantically used school phone (I didn't have a cell yet) to call my parents, but nobody answered. I was panicking because my dad was supposed to fly that day, and I knew his flight wasn't until the afternoon, but who knows? But then I saw my brother in the hallway between classes, and he told me everyone was all right. He had gotten a copy of my class schedule so he could try to check up on me throughout the day.

The rest of the day was spent in front of the TVs, glued, mesmerized in the horror, or trying to learn something, though concentration was futile.

I got home and was relieved to curl up in our family room with my parents. I was supposed to have ballet class that night. I figured it would be canceled. But class was on, and I didn't want to be counted absent. I didn't want to go, but I pulled myself away from the warmth and comfort. What I found at my studio, took me by surprise. The class was not only full, but even more students than usual had shown up to take class. It was amazing. We had all come for the same reason....to take our minds off, even for a moment, those terrible images, and to live in the world of pliés and arabesque. For an hour and a half, we danced. It was beautiful.


Here I am, ten years later, at age 24, still remembering these images as if they were yesterday. I had a long conversation with a friend yesterday about the importance, or lack thereof, of remembering. When are we genuinely honoring those who lost or sacrificed their lives, and when does it become a tacky show of patriotism (or worse, vengeance, hate, and justification for war?)? When should we remember, and when should we move on? And what the heck is up with the idea that if we don't come out with our flags waving and our "Never Forget" T-shirts, that the terrorists have won?

I recognized that people are affected differently by September 11th. Some people, like myself, are sensitive to the images, and remember the day with disturbing vividness, and feel it is right to take the day to mourn and remember. Others think it is best to move on. Regardless, we must move forward to create a better world.

There were a couple sudden and awful terror attacks when I was in Israel. We were told that we do not know what was going to happen, but we must keep living our lives, and keep dancing. Israelis are true masters of resilience. (You can read my post on these attacks, and how I thought of 9/11, here: http://artinmotionblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/no-ones-laughing-at-g-d.html)

I know that for me, there was something beautiful and comforting of being in my music classes when the towers went down. Music, is something that has to power to make us aware of our humanity. Being with those people, my closest friends, provided the best comfort I could find. In dance class that night, we clung to our art like it was holy.

"We must admit there will be music despite everything."-poet Jack Gilbert

Monday, August 15, 2011

?למה ככה Lama Kacah?

Hello again, from the other side of the pond! I haven't written in a while, mostly because it seems whatever to say lately pales to my adventures abroad.  But here I am, fresh to the States again, and I find myself a little lost.  More driven and determined than ever, but unsure of what I'm driving at.  I have more choices than ever, and while that's a good thing, it's a bit overwhelming.

Auditions has been my focus over the past few weeks, but the economy is struggling, and so are us dancers. The few companies that are looking to hire new dancers are often not hiring women at this time, and if they are, are barely paying.  It's really too bad, because I feel like if the economic situation were not so desperate, I would have a dance job by now.  When I graduated from school in 2009, my classmates and I made jokes like "Good luck in the worst economy the country has seen in decades!" and "Way to add to the unemployment rate!"  But it's not exactly a joke anymore....However, I feel SO incredibly lucky that AthletiCo, the physical therapy clinic at which I worked prior to moving to Israel, has welcomed me back with open arms.  It's an excellent job, and my knowledge I gained from working there was really what kept me relatively injury-free in Israel.  I'm also so lucky I got my dancing feet in the door of my former high school, and now have the good fortune to be the go-to-dance-sub, have already been asked to teach master classes, and will hopefully continue doing after school programming.  Last year, I really found myself loving teaching, and I'm really excited to continue working with high school students.  They are enthusiastic about dancing, receptive to learning, and overall really great kids.

With these two main part-time gigs though--working in the field of physical therapy, and teaching--I've been confronted with my long-time questions of going back to school.  I've been interested in PT for a long time, but all PT programs are now Doctorate programs now (MPTs have become obsolete).  Without many (or any) prerequisites done, and a full 3 years of school, becoming a full-fledged physical therapist is a tough row to hoe.  I am now starting to consider PT Assistant (PTA) programs, which are 2 years and with fewer prereqs.  At least at AthletiCo, PTAs do pretty much everything that PTs do except they can't make initial evaluations.  I know I also would like to get a teaching certificate at some point (probably in English, because so few programs certify in Dance), so that I could actually be hired at a school rather than just sub and do after school programming.  ::sigh::  I wish I could *snap* my fingers and have these degrees.  (But alas, even Hermione didn't have a spell for instant graduation.) I think that I have figured out my dream post-dancing job.  I would love to work at a high school acting as a liason between the fine arts (and dance teacher) and athletic department (and athletic trainer) as a dance teacher/PTA.  Sounds like a dream.  What school will have the money to hire me?  I'll have to show them that my skills are valuable, versatile, and completely worth it. :-)

Anyway, that's in the future.  I'm in the now.  Or rather, should be.  My heart is still in Israel, and I miss Kibbutz Gaaton more than ever.  I miss the studio, with its tall, wide windows that looked out to the Galilee.  The birds that would fly inside and temporarily distract us all from our pliés and tendus.  The goofy pianist who transitioned from Mendelsohn to Led Zeppelin to Disney.  The garden outside my doorstep, where lemongrass, lemon verbena, and sage grew.  Asking my neighbor if I could borrow a cup of sugar (yes, literally).  Or a fruit squeezer.  Or a spatula.  Sipping a frozen coffee at the café, while shyly flirting with the guy who worked there (for whom I harbored a secret...or perhaps not-so-secret...crush), our words getting lost in translation.  Listening to Mika's inspirational speeches about dancing and life.  Buying salted cashews, fresh mint, and dripping strawberries from a market.  Floating in the Mediterranean.

All of that is behind me now, but I conjure the images in moments when I know I'm losing touch.  I came out of the program so confident, so strong (physically and mentally), a quicker and more focused learner, and with a renewed passion for dance.  My title of this entry says "Lama kacha?" which translates to "Why like this?"  We made fun of this common Israeli phrase, because it sounds silly, translated, but it's used to contemplate an unfortunate situation.  So I'm finding myself asking, now that I've returned, why is it like this, and not like this?  Because times are still tough.  Because, as I said in another post, I have never had anything just handed to me.  Because I knew I would have to fight.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

And in the end...

I am writing this entry from Italy, as I decided to meet up with a friend and travel there for a bit after my Israel adventure.  It's been crazy busy, full of amazing things to see....and I am currently sans computer (UGH...I'll save that for another entry)....so it's been hard to write.  But I must some up the feelings of goodbyes and partings that were so surreal and sad during my last couple days on Kibbutz Gaaton.

The show was excellent, and slightly insane  It was almost two hours of high-energy physicality, and it was exhausting.  I can't imagine what it was like to perform in even more pieces...because as I wrote before, I wasn't dancing quite as much as I wished (I never got to perform the "mattresses" which was too bad.  But I learned a lot from working on it up until the very end.  I know that you can fight for something that you really want, and maybe things still won't change.  Maybe the casting is set, or maybe the mildly injured people keep on dancing so that the understudies never have a chance.  But it meant something to understand that the meaning behind a dance lies not in whom it's performed for, but in the performer them self.  A friend told me that "Every run is a performance, and every performance is just another run."  That's such a great way to think about it, and it helped me to make the most of all of my pieces.)  I truly enjoyed every moment of performing....Sharon Vaisvaser's piece, which I admit I had grown really tired of, I was able to find meaning in, in the moment.  Dori's floor work piece, which was the most fun, where I found smiling was easy.  All of the KCDC rep, from the "Send in the Clowns" gestural and internal, to the very physical sections from Naked City and others.  I really truly enjoyed dancing the section from Matz Ek's Gizelle, in which we were able to use some acting skills and character/story development.

The goodbyes to my friends were incredibly difficult and emotional.  I grew very close with a good few of my classmates.  We danced, lived, ate, laughed and cried together, for a whole five months, and now it feels truly surreal to be gone.  I wrote this last week, right after parting...

"I just left the kibbutz..Left the green trees of so many varieties, the incredibly bright stars, the view of Yechiam Fortress...Mika's inspirational speeches, dancing so hard I can't breathe, hearing friends laugh over Skype, giggling at the most random moments, tea nights, going to the cafe--half to enjoy delicious coffee--half to flirt with [one of the guys who works there], journeying to Tel Aviv to be inspired by Batsheva, and the waves, and the white sand...even grocery-shopping adventures to Nahariya.  All of this I will miss, and though I left it all behind me in a physical sense, it will always be here, a part of me now."

If any of you read this entry, thank you for making my experience complete.  I could not have gotten through MASA without you, and if I could have, it would not have been worth it.  To my teachers, you are amazing, inspiring, and taught me to know dance's place in my heart and in the world again.  Shalom, until the next adventure....L'hitraot!

Friday, June 24, 2011

"This is why we fight.."

This is our last weekend, here at the kibbutz. My feelings are so bittersweet. I had a rough week of dancing (explanation below), so in some ways I am SO ready for a little break. In other ways, I am so sad to leave this amazing, beautiful place. I have also just begun to grow closer with certain friends here, and am so frustrated and sad to leave when friendships are just blooming.
We decided to dress silly for our last modern class...
So, this post has a bit of a different vibe to it, but this past week was really hard for me. I'll explain why...I've realized some things about dance; if ever I said things were hard here, it was not the hardest. This past week I woke up to many things, but also faced even harder challenges than ever before. My emotions go up and down like I'm a teenager again, and one minute I feel confident, and the next, my ego truly lacking.

I won't go into too many specifics, but mostly all these thoughts and feelings are coming from casting choices....what I'm dancing in or not dancing in for the final show, which is in just a few days. I hate drama that comes out of these experiences...You never know what directors are looking for when they cast various parts. I am currently understudying or in the "second cast" for a couple parts that I'd really like to be able to perform more. Specifically, I am referring to the what we call the "mattress" section of the piece called "Screen Saver." I'm pretty sure I wrote about learning this piece before. It is the most physically challenging piece of choreography I have ever learned, and it's incredibly exhausting to do. Ever since we learned it though, I've had this strong desire to conquer this, and to be able to not just get all the way through it, stamina-wise, but to perform it. I had been rehearsing with a couple fellow dancers as a kind of second cast, but I still don't know if I'll get put in the final show or not (though I know I shouldn't fixate on it so much, it really shouldn't matter if I perform or not...). It's frustrating, still, because I've worked so hard and have given this truly all I have. An incredibly wonderful classmate let me run the piece in her place during tech the other day. Mika has told me how far I've come with it, and that I should be proud at how it has transformed in just a few weeks. Still, the second half is a bit weak, and I let my exhaustion show through, which I can understand to be true.

We recently had final conferences about our progress, and so much of what I heard was positive, encouraging about my growth and where I'm going from here, and positive about what I high note I'm finishing on. I was so happy to hear all this, but the casting seems incongruous. Some of my best friends here and I have shared mutual feelings, and we sometimes wonder why we chose the arts as our field, when it lends itself to so much emotional and personal exhaustion. Things like casting should not be personal, but of course we cannot take every decision as a compliment or blow. Everyone says to think of large experiences like these five months as a journey of opportunities, learning, and successes, and not think of the final performance as a culmination of everything we've learned, but just a small piece of it. Abra, my friend from home who did the last program told me that casting really doesn't matter so much as that I should give my parts that I am performing everything that I have; even if it's less stage time than I wish, I can make every moment count. (For example, I have this solo I love in the piece of Matz Ek Gizelle we are doing, where I get to share a long hug with Albert, then wake up to what a womanizer he is, push him away and grand-battement kick him. It's split-cast, but I'll be doing this part in two shows--It's just a really fun applause-moment, and I savor it every time.) I am trying to think this way, but, it's hard. I really wanted to able to conquer the "mattresses," and by that I mean, getting all the way through the piece without collapsing because of lack of cardio stamina, or my quads giving out. Because of all the work I have put into rehearsing, inside and outside of scheduled rehearsal time, I have been able to accomplish this. It's been really amazing, when I think about it, to consider my journey of progress, and realize how I can actually DO this thing now, when I couldn't get through it before. But somehow, that's not enough for me. I feel like I haven't truly conquered it unless my director will put me on stage....So this battle is what I've been fighting all week. It's tough, and it's taken a toll on me. In some ways I wish I could let it all go, and just enjoy these last few days. In other ways, I know that I am a fighter, and that nothing has ever just been handed to me. This battle is something I was meant to fight, whatever the outcome may be. (My theme song lately has been The Decemberists' "This is Why We Fight." SUCH a powerful, amazing song!

Today at the beach
On a happier note, I have been able to take my mind off this and my aching muscles by hanging out with great friends this weekend. Last night I had a BBQ/picnic with some friends, then watched Harry Potter 6, and continued to laugh the night away until we were giddy. Tonight I revisited the classic Center Stage with a friend. I also went into Nahariya and spent time lounging at the beach, closing my eyes and listening to the waves. I also swam for a few minutes, though the waves were choppy and the shore rocky. Nature, relaxation time, memorable experiences with friends...it reminded me to take a step back from this show that it is not the end-all-be-all of my time here, and that what I've learned goes beyond the stage.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

To read, write, dance or sleep, that is the question...

SO much going on here at the Dance Village on Kibbutz Ga'aton!

My parents came to visit last week, which was awesome.  The couple times I've seen people from home it feels almost strange (great, of course, but strange) to see them here...like they've just rocked my little MASA-dance world, and it's a bit mind-boggling.  Having my parents here though, didn't seem strange at all, even though I expected it to be a clash of worlds.  It was almost as i had been imagining their presence all along, or perhaps, with regular Skyping, it was as if they actually were here.

They spent some time in Jerusalem, and then came to visit me at the Kibbutz.  The class they observed was a good one to see, because there was lots of action--It was a Rep rehearsal, putting together a section from "360." They seemed to enjoy wandering around the kibbutz and enjoying the beautiful, flowering, sweet-smelling scenery (Can scenery be sweet-smelling?).  And I think found the cafe as wonderful and delicious as I do. :-)

We went to Tzfat that afternoon, which is probably my favorite city in Northern Israel.  It is home of Jewish mysticism, the center for jewelers and artists, and the location of beautiful old synagogues.  The covered, cobblestone ally where the artists sell their work reminds me a bit of the Old City of Jerusalem, and I absolutely love the atmosphere and the picturesque view of the Galilee.  From the first time I was here on Birthright, I fell in love with this city!  I’m so happy I got to share it with my parents.
Ally in Tzfat
My dad’s birthday was actually that day, and we celebrated that night at Café Café in Nahariya.  What a great place.  Delicious as always.

View from cafe in Tzfat
We then drove to Tel Aviv along the coast, getting a bit lost while trying to find our way around the handle of Haifa.  But everything eventually worked out, and we arrived in Tel Aviv in time to walk through Shuk HaCarmel (the main market in central TLV) to end up at Nachlat Binyamin (one of the main streets that hosts an arts/crafts/jewelry fair, created by local artists, every Tuesday and Friday).  Wandering through the market, grabbing a bite to eat, and browsing the art fair is one of my absolute favorite things to do in the world, and I'm glad my parents experienced it as well.

Our hotel, the Hilton, had a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean.  My dad and I took a walk along the coast, north to the Port after dinner; it was fun to see everyone out and about, even on a Friday night here (which is Shabbat, but Tel Aviv is a pretty secular city, so tons of cafes/restaurants/bars are still open).

View from the Hilton Hotel
The next day, I took them to my favorite places around the city....my favorite cafe (called Zorik, on Yehuda Maccabi a little east of Ibn Gvirol), which has a fun, lively atmosphere, comfy chairs/couches, friendly service, and taim maod (delicious) coffee, lemonade, and all kinds of food.  We traveled south to Rabin Square, which I thought my dad especially would like to see.  I think my mom was a little underwhelmed with the memorial.  I never really thought about it, that he deserved more than a corner dedicated to him, which a plaque, some stones, a flag....I don't know though, for some reason it seems fitting to me.  There is a wall with preserved graffiti and newspaper clippings...pictures of Rabin and Arafat shaking hands, with Clinton in the middle.  The feel of the whole corner is informal, ordinary, or even run-down in a sense.  But it seems to fit the fact that he was fighting for the common man, the ordinary Tel Avivan, to live in peace, and it also fits the irony of those dreams having been shot down, right there in that spot.

We also (of course) went to Neve Tzedek, the beautiful, artsy area in south Tel Aviv where Suzanne Dellal is located.  I showed them the studios where I take Gaga class, where Batsheva rehearses, and the shops...I love this area so much.  The residential area is so picturesque, and the theatre area is just beautiful.  Most of the shops were closed, because it was Saturday, but the theatre area was still bustling, and the famous ice cream shop, of course, was open for business.  Well, that about sums up their visit!

I absolutely need to write about the book series I just finished which I became...well...pretty much obsessed with over the last 6 weeks or so. It's the trilogy, the Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  I brought the first book with me, and started it around the time that we went on our trip to the south.  Literally, I could not put it down.  I love reading, but seriously, I have not been so fully captivated and all-consumed by a book, probably since I became enthralled with the world of Harry Potter (circa age 14).  Anyway, I was so drawn to this book that we were hiking Masada and I was honestly thinking..."I wish I was reading right now..."  I ordered the second and third books online, and literally, when I finished the second, immediately picked up the third.  I don't know how to categorize them; think 1984 meets Enders' Game meets Harry Potter.  The premise of the books is: in a dystopian future-North America, the government imposes it's power over the people by creating an annual lottery, where the "winners"--all children between 12 and 18--must participate in a fight to the death.

It's technically Young Adult series, but honestly, they are so dark and disturbing at parts, I don't agree with that categorization. But they really resonated with me in the present time and place.  I was reading the second one around the time of Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day; the books seemed to speak directly about my life here and now, about survival, retaining our humanity, the will to sacrifice, embracing love, and choosing life.  I finished the 3rd book just last week.  My roommate had gone to bed, and I was starting to get choked up, so I finished the final pages outside my apartment door.  Then I took a 1am walk around the kibbutz because I was crying my eyes out and couldn't shake it.  I won't give anything away, but it's clearly a very bittersweet ending.  Very fitting though, in my opinion. Anyway....very powerful...read it!

Much of this entry was written in a dark theatre, as we are in tech for Nizotzot ("sparkles"), which is our choreographer's showcase.  After many technical difficulties involving making a projection of screen captures of Skype conversations, and some complex editing of music, I think I've thoroughly been a pain to the people running my lights and sound....There were still a few lights/sound/movement cues that weren't in synch today, but I hope it goes better during our dress tomorrow.  We had our last studio rehearsal last night, though, and my dancers made me very happy!  Dance-wise, I think it's really come together, and I hope that the final product will prove that as well.

In general, we are just dancing harder than ever.  At the beginning of last week, we started working intensely on a section from "Screensaver."  I kid you not, it's the most physically challenging piece of choreography I have ever encountered.  In this section, we are dancing (rather, jumping, pas de bourreeing, arching, flinging, and falling) on mattresses.  The mattresses absorb all of your weight, so you sink down as you land, and finding the momentum to jump again is the most difficult thing, muscularly and cardiovascularly.  The piece is essentially about war--We were given the image of being shot to hold in our mind, as we struggle to keep going.  "People keep pushing you down, but you want to live," Mika told us.  The emotion of the piece, combined with my will power to want to prove that I can do it, that I can beat my body's limitations, is what keeps me going.  Still, it's so incredibly hard, and I haven't been able to get all the way through yet.  After the last run-through of the day, I went up to Mika to explain my frustrations--I want to do it so badly (and for me, being so physically strong, it's weird to find myself in a situation where I really can't do something), but no matter how much I tell myself to keep going, my body doesn't obey.  It kills the quads the most.  And about 3/4 of the way through, I get to the point where my muscles literally stop firing.  Of course, I ended up tearing up as I explained how frustrated I am, but I was comforted by the fact that it's difficult for everyone, even all the company members who have done this part before.  It will get easier, I was told, and I hope it's true.  I really want to be able to do this part, if only just to accomplish it for myself.

So after the Nizotzot show in a few days, this is what I'll be faced with...sore quads and a stiff back. But I'm ready...bring it on. :-)

So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So goodnight, dear void. -From You've Got Mail

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Holidays in Israel, Gaga and fun in Tel Aviv

My time to write is suddenly diminishing, it seems, amidst an increase of rehearsals, holidays, and trips...I'll write first about the holidays.  About a week ago, following on the heels of Holocaust Remembrance Day by a week, was Memorial Day in Israel.  The very next day is Independence Day.  I wasn't sure how this would play out...I understood that the mourning for the fallen soldiers turns to joy and celebration, but to me it seemed strange to have them so close together.  But being here, living through it, made me understand.

The evening before Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, there was a ceremony on the kibbutz to remember and honor the soldiers from Kibbutz Ga'aton that have been killed in action.  It was a beautiful, but also emotional ceremony, as the images of the four soldiers' lives were captured in photo montages.  I danced in a little piece we were asked to put together.  It wasn't much, but the kibbutz members thanked us and seemed very grateful for our contribution.

The next day, on Memorial Day itself, there is a siren at 11am for 2 minutes.  We had class that day and were in the middle of ballet class.  My teacher wanted us all to be able to observe the siren, so we stopped after adagio, collected ourselves, and many of us went outside.  This siren is twice as long as the one for the Holocaust Remembrance Day, and standing there for the full two minutes felt simultaneously strange but right.  Anyway, the siren was nice to observe, but I didn't realize how much it jostled my thoughts until we reentered the studio and it was suddenly time for pirouettes.  I had no balance anymore.  I couldn't turn.  And I barely knew what the combination was.  I think it was during petite allegro that I actually left the studio....Since the siren, I really wasn't "there" anymore.  I took a few minutes for myself on a bench outside before returning for the rest of our classes that day, finally feeling somewhat collected again.

I don't know why most of us don't observe Memorial Day this sincerely in the US.  I guess it really shouldn't be a day for BBQs...It's really a day that we should remember, appreciate, and honor those who have fought and died for their country's right to exist...(regardless of political affiliation!)  Especially here in Israel, sovereignty is something that many people still question, and there are rockets and terror attacks to prove it; people here are still fighting and still dying.  The memories are fresh, and I see and understand that level of observance here.

Later that night, there was to be a ceremony/celebration to ring in Independence Day.  This is what I was wary about, because I wasn't sure what to expect, and I couldn't believe that casting off the mourning attitude and changing so rapidly to celebrating would be....respectful.  Well, I was proved wrong, because the ceremony was amazing and explained...everything.  Bonfires burned underneath structures that seemed to spell out words and shapes.  After some speeches, the ends of the metal words were lit afire by torchbearers, and the shapes burned and blazed...a star of David, a menorah, and Hebrew celebratory phrases...also a plea for Gilad Shalit to return home (kidnapped and held by Hamas for 5 years), a wish on which it seems nearly all Israelis are united.  It was truly moving.  Later in the ceremony, candles were lit by pairs of people, each couple representing a different group of kibbutz member (the older generation, the new soldiers entering the army, different groups of workers, and of course....two MASA dancers representing KCDC and the Dance Village!!).  We cheered so loudly, and the mood began to turn to celebration.  At the end, we sang Hatikva (the national anthem), and I felt proud to be one of the dancers who knew the song...so many thoughts and emotions at this moment!  And so we continued the night with much celebrating...The next day was a full day off of class, and we were invited by Roni, our program administrative director, to her beautiful house for a delicious BBQ.  I won't be home for the 4th of July, so this totally fulfilled my yearly quota for a fantastic Independence Day. :-)

View of the Mediterranean from one of the Batsheva studios
So...fast forwarding again to this past weekend, which I spent in Tel Aviv...I ventured out of the Galilee region for the first time in many weeks, for an almost vacation-like, much-needed break.  I took two back-to-back Gaga classes, which was wonderful.  The first class was a Gaga-People class I took with my friend Eldar, which was a great warmup to Gaga-Dancers, which directly followed.  In the first class, the teacher used a considerable about of Hebrew--most was translated into English, but I was really excited because often I could figure out what he was talking about even before the translation--I know body parts, directions, and certain adjectives.  So that was fun.  This class was a great way for my spine to start to feel mobile, my body awake and alive, and to remember how wonderful it is to be moving and grooving, in Tel Aviv of all places.  The Gaga-Dancers class didn't differ from a People-class as much as I would have expected...it just used some ballet terminology, and was a bit more physically rigorous by the end.  Regardless, both felt excellent.

Corner of Nachlat Binyamin, Shuk Hacarmel, and Allenby, central Tel Aviv
The remainder of the weekend was spent with good friends...Eldar who I met in Gaga class in 2008, my dear friend Abra from home who did the MASA program last fall and is now living in TA, a friend/very distant relative who I stayed with when I lived in TA three years ago, another good friend, fairly recently released from his Intelligence Officer duties who I briefly dated, when I lived in TA, and many fellow dancers who also ventured to the city.  Besides running around, being a little crazy trying to see everyone, I also made time for relaxing on the beach, reading at a cafes (one had live jazz), drinking a lot of delicious iced coffee, going out for sushi and thai food, and walking my favorite parts of the city (the shuk (market) and arts/crafts fair).  ::Sigh:: My favorite city!

I am so excited because my parents will be here in a WEEK!  And I will take them around Tel Aviv and show them all my favorite spots. :-)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dancing in Memoriam

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, called Yom Hashoah.  We had a day off of classes, but I woke up in time for the siren that sounds at 10am.  Even though we were up late the previous night in tech for our performance until 11, I wanted to observe the siren properly (i.e. not in bed), since this would probably be my only time to experience something quite like this.

So I walked to the front gate, passing only a few people along the way (though the kibbutzniks that I did pass seemed to be outside their houses or places of work, perhaps also preparing for the siren).  The sound went off just as I was approaching the gate, and I stood for the remaining of the 60 seconds (that represents the 6 million) at the road junction.  It was so strange...I saw nobody, heard nothing but the siren expect for one truck that probably couldn't hear it go off.  After it ended, I heard the echoes of other sirens dying down, the sound slightly distorted, from other towns.  And then--silence--and chirping birds.  Next, I saw a few cars pass that probably had been stopped on the highway where I couldn't see.  And then the day proceeds...

It would have been a totally different experience if I had been in Jerusalem, or some place where traffic comes to a standstill and everyone comes out of their houses/cars and observes that minute.  I was a bit disappointed I couldn't have had this experience, but at the same time, it was special to observe in my own quite kibbutz-like way.  I also reflected, after the 60 seconds, that here in Israel, we always talk about the 6 millions.  I feel like it's crucial to remember that there were 5 million others....gypsies, homosexuals, dark-skinned, handicapped, etc. that were also killed, not for any reason at all, and killed by other humans....ugh...I can learn about it so many times and it never gets any easier.

Then, last night, we also had a performance at the kibbutz called Lochmei Hagetaot, which means "Ghetto Fighters' House."  It is a kibbutz that was founded by Jewish resistance fighters during the war, and every year, there is a large ceremony on Yom Hashoah (perhaps one of the biggest ceremonies, second to in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem).  We performed a section of Aide Memoire, KCDC's famous Holocaust memorial piece by Rami Be'er.  The experience ended up being truly moving for me, one of the most meaningful performances I've ever been a part of.

I admit I was possibly more nervous beforehand that I have ever been in my life, before a show.  There were so many crazy factors to this performance that made it quite...interesting...and the tech the night before a little terrifying.  The stage setup, mostly, is what made it so crazy.  In this piece, a train of walking dancers that we call the "snake" weaves around while highlighted dancers exit out of this snake to dance combinations.  The snake, for this show, was walking on elevated boards, that were at times a bit shaky.  The dance combinations happened off of the planks, on the main stage, which was actually just made out of stone or at times was vaguely gravel-like.  There were also art pieces dotting the stage, constructions of wood that cross liked a twisted cage or something.  We performed in gym shoes so as to not get hurt, and we also had to make numerous last-minute alterations due to the space.  To add on top of this, the lighting was a bit intense, with lots of colors and strobes that were pretty distracting to me.  I asked Mika if she could talk to the lighting people to tone it down, but she said she already did and the lighting cues were programmed to the music and apparently couldn't be changed...

Anyway, I went into the show feeling pretty nervous about how it would all go down (on Israeli national  television).  I also was feeling pretty emotional, in the spirit of the Holocaust--the stage backdrop constructions were all reminiscent of cages and fences--and the screens were displaying scenes of trains to the death camps.  What really hit me was the night before at tech, Mika told us when we run (and there is a lot of running in the piece), to "run like there is no tomorrow, like you are heading to the gas chambers."  I gave an involuntary shudder when she said that, and it really drew home the meaning of the piece for me.  In fact, Mika is generally full of inspirational quotes that I attempt to remember.  Right before going on, she said, "There are a lot of young people in the audience, they are the next generation that needs to remember what happened.  Everyone is speaking with their words, but we are speaking with our bodies....showing that we are here and we are here to stay."

I didn't even have to try to channel all this emotion into my dancing.  It was already there.

Many of us ran off stage feeling that we messed up, lost the counts, or were thrown off by other unexpected occurrences (a man walking on stage and reading a speech in the middle of our dance while our audio was turned down...).  Most of us felt like it was a "big balagan" (big mess)....But when we saw the video, we realized how together it actually was, and how, despite technical issues, we really were feeling each other in the spirit and in the movements.  I really feel honored to have been a part of something so special and important, in Israel.

Here is the video (sorry, poor resolution)...

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides."
~Elie Wiesel

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Batsheva workshop, traveling, Pesach in Israel

I haven't written in a while, because I've been so busy but some good things have happened.  We had an all-day workshop on Sunday with Batsheva Ensemble member Lotem Regev, and from the moment I stood to wake up my body in the Gaga warmup, I remembered how much I enjoy Gaga; I loved every moment of floating, shaking, quaking, and "connecting to the passion and pleasure" of moving.  As opposed to when I lived in Tel Aviv three years ago, and the Gaga-Dancers classes hadn't been built up as a program yet (I was taking Gaga-People classes, which was open to the general public/non-dancers as well), this class was designed for us--for dancers.  I have loved all the general Gaga classes I have taken, and I'm grateful I've have a solid base of pure Gaga before mixing it with plies and tendus. However, there was something that felt so good about this Gaga/modern/contact hybrid class, and I felt more awake and alive than in quite a while.

We did a bit of partner-work in the beginning part of the class, and Lotem was the closest person to me, so we grabbed each other as partners.  Normally I would be nervous to be the one to work with the teacher, but he put me at ease, and I felt I was working with a peer.  The work we did was like a mini-massage, which felt amazing...really, just what I needed right now with my body feeling so tired.

After Gaga, we had two long classes of learning Batsheva first.  First we learned the unison section from Kamuyot; it is a beautiful section of slow but precise movement interrupted by pauses every four counts or so.  I felt that the choreography was so simple in some ways, but very beautiful in its clarity and energy.  During the holds, (there was a musical cue to go on to the next movement) it was interesting for me to practice having a line of energy and still feeling the movement as alive, even in what seems to be a static pose.

The second bit of rep we learned was from MAX, and it was....crazy.  It look us over an hour to learn the first 4 counts of eight!  This section is a type of language he devised so that each count represents a movement (more like large gestures).  We learned three sections (each 4 counts of eight); In each section each block of 8 counts we would either perform the corresponding movement, or hold.  Each count of eight there were different counts that were either emphasized or held, so it was so difficult to remember what we were doing for each of the four sets of eight.  Anyway, it was really intense learning, but we were also laughing through it all.  None of us were geniuses at it, but it renewed my appreciation for the genius of Batsheva dancers for being able to master this!

Stream in the Judean Desert
Hmmm well I know that many things have happened since I last wrote....we had a trip earlier in the month to the south of Israel, where we did a workshop with Kamea Dance Company in Beersheva, at the famous Bat-Dor school, hiked in the Judean desert, climbed down (and partway up) Masada, swam twice in the Dead Sea, and spent a beautiful evening at wonderful Bedouin accommodations.  Everything was invigorating and the weather was excellent.  I was especially amazed with the Bedouin rest spot.  In contrast to the place we went on Birthright (which was beautiful, but just one big tent with mattresses all around), this was more like a whole campsite.  We had tents for about 5 people each that were more like cozy cabins with bunk beds and hammocks outside.  It was amazing, and the food (sweet tea, pita, hummus, tahini, many kinds of vegetables, and chicken) was delicious.

Bedouin tent

Last week, my brother Jason came to visit!  He squeezed Israel into the middle of a Europe trip, so he was only here less than three days, but we had a really awesome time.  He came to classes with me, and I was actually surprised he seemed really interested in watching what we were doing.  We took an evening adventure to Haifa, where we saw the Bahai temple/gardens and had an amazing pita/hummus/pasta/cheesy dinner.  It was so awesome to spend time with him here, I feel like it's so hard to describe this life I live here, so you really just need to come and see it to understand.  Also, I realized that I live in such a rural, woodsy, green place, whereas he lives in the financial district of Manhattan.  Pretty much polar opposites.  I know I explained the nature of where I live, being on the outskirts of the country, but I think it still surprised him--the first thing he said to me was "Wow, you REALLY live in the middle of nowhere!"  :-) It's also funny, in a good way though, seeing people from home here.  It's like two worlds of mine collided...
Bahai garden/temple in Haifa

Last night marked the beginning of Pesach, or Passover here.  We were all placed with host-families with whom to celebrate a seder and traditional dinner.  A number of us went to the neighboring kibbutz of Yehiam.  We met at a family's house (Brazilian/Israeli dad, Tunisian/Israeli mom, son who is an Army officer, and musician daughter) and then went to the community dinner in the big kibbutz dining hall.  (This was the first time I really felt the community spirit of a kibbutz, in this large festive seder--What used to be the community's large dining hall on Ga'aton is now our dance studio...I know they have another one somewhere, but I've never been there.) I mostly loved singing "Echad Mi Yodea" with a huge group of people...each table was assigned a number, and we stood up and twirled napkins when we got to our turn (ugh, I only wish we could have learned the Batsheva choreography during our workshop!).  The haggadah was all in Hebrew, but I was able to generally follow along, and I was explaining the story along the way to one of my fellow non-Jewish dancers sitting next to me.

We went back to our host-family's for tea afterwards, which was amaaaazing.  Oh my gosh.  I love tea, but I need to learn how to make it like this.  It was three herbs combined--"Nana," which is Mediterranean mint, which is very poplar here, plus "Louisa" and "Melissa," neither of which I was familiar with.  It was minty and naturally very sweet and refreshing.  We listened to the daughter of the family sing and her boyfriend play guitar.  After a couple hours of this very chill and wonderful time, we went to the pub to ring in Passover.  L'chaim!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Inspiration in Tel Aviv, fatigue, and emotions

Two days ago, we had day-trip to Tel Aviv, which was amazing--It was wonderful to get out of the kibbutz for a bit, wander the streets of the city I love so much, and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of Shuk HaCarmel again (the main market).  We came primarily for a MASA event that evening, which was an "arts and culture" night.  We got to pick one of three activities to attend; (one of which was seeing KCDC perform "Transform."  I've already seen the 2nd Company perform this twice though, so I chose a different activity) I decided to see a duo performance of novelist Eshkol Nevo and musician Shlomi Shaban.  They were fantastic--both of them being talented artists, it was inspiring to be surrounded by fresh art.  Eshkol read sections from one of his novels and also some short stories, mainly regarding youth, moving to a new home, and rekindling friendship.  Shlomi Shaban, who I had only vaguely heard of before, is a really talented, classically-trained pianist turned....I don't know, rock/jazz/singer-songwriter.  I'm definitely going to look up his music on itunes now.  His songs (though in Hebrew, so I had to extrapolate from the brief English introductions he'd give us) seemed also to often be about the challenges and excitements of starting a new life, family, and separating from/reuniting with friends.  Since I am lucky enough to be able to hear a lot of live music at home, and haven't as much here, it was really nice to see this live performance.  During the question and answer section, they spoke about the importance of keeping art alive, staying inspired, and allowing your changing surroundings to inform your creativity.

The only downside of all this was, we got back to the kibbutz at half past midnight, and had a full day of classes the next day.  Our classes were pushed back a bit later, but I still didn't sleep very well.  The next day I was exhausted and felt like I really might not be able to physically or mentally muster the energy I needed.  In Rep with Mika, we needed to run a bunch of sections we've learned, all quite physically demanding.  But more than that, it was mentally challenging for me, because these were all sections we learned a mostly while ago, and I've been going over, but was not quite confident with all of them.  After only a brief review of each segment, we needed to split into small groups and run it.  I felt so much pressure, like it was an audition (and in a way I think it might have been a bit like that, because they are going to have to delegate parts at some point...), and the exhaustion was weighing on me.  I conjured every ounce of energy and adrenaline (and had some coffee/tons of water/fruit/protein) I had, and focused harder than ever before.  And somehow, I got through....and I think I did pretty good considering how exhausted I was!  By the time our lunch break came, I felt like I was about to crash.  Too bad I still had ballet and rehearsal that evening....

I guess I learned that just as important eating and drinking well is will power.  I could not have gotten through that day without the pure will to go on, and the desire to dance as well as I could.

A couple days before all of this, most of us got together and talked about how we are feeling about the program thus far.  Surprisingly (to me), there were quite a few people with strong emotions...homesickness, overall fatigue/exhaustion, feeling stuck (rather than liberated) in the kibbutz....I am lucky--I don't really feel it like this.  While I got teary-eyed too, talking about my family and our parting two months ago (and confessing to everyone what a wreck I was when I got on that plane!), I'm actually really savoring my time here and am appreciating (or trying my best to) every moment.  As I said before, I'm clearly so exhausted and pushed to my limits too.  I get stressed easily and sometimes I feel really anxious as well, but this program is also clearly good for me mentally too, to put out of my mind anxieties about what I could be doing, or fears about the future....I just try to remind myself every day how awesome it is to be dancing this much again every day, taking part in so many workshops and master classes, and living here with these beautiful surroundings!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No one's Laughing at G-d

Today there was the largest terror attack in Jerusalem in three years.  A bomb exploded on a busy street at rush hour near the Central Bus Station--One person was killed and at least 40 injured....While we are far away from Jerusalem, up in the North of Israel, it still was a shocking reminder of the reality of this situation, and how sad it is that innocent people are maimed because of it.

We were having an especially busy day today because we were in an all-day workshop with choreographer Sharon Vaisvaser.  We heard about it when my roommate, Bec, got a text from her friend regarding the situation.  We went back to our apartments for our dinner break and I immediately texted my friends in Jerusalem, went online to make sure everyone was okay, and Skyped my dad, and later my mom.

When I went back to class, I had this weird, kindof distracted feeling at first, that was soon replaced by a sense of relief in this craft of dancing.

I was strongly reminded of a day that was over 9 years ago now, but that I remember with such clarity--September 11, 2001.  I was a freshman in high school, and I was in Band, and next, Choir, when it happened...while it was so overwhelming and shocking, I was so grateful to be surrounded my my music friends here!...after having seen the towers fall, live, from the TV in the choir room, and watched the news the rest of the day, I was home with my family, huddled around the TV, just staring at the shocking images, being played over and over again.  When I found out my regular Tuesday night ballet class was still being held as scheduled, I was amazed.  Why wouldn't class be canceled?  Why would I want to leave the comfort of my family right now?  Out of not wanting to be counted absent, I went to class.  It turned out to be incredible; not only were all of us young dancers present, but the class was even more full than usual.  Other teachers and random drop-ins came in, just to take their mind off of the crisis in New York.  While chaos still reigned not too far away, for an hour and a half, we danced.  And it was beautiful.

Tonight's experience was different because, though we are closer in vicinity to Jerusalem than Chicago is to New York, terrorism here is--so unfortunately--something Israeli's almost come to expect might happen.  We also had just barely heard about the bombing, and there are only a select few of us who even know people in Jerusalem.  However, I definitely had this on my mind as we were dancing.  In the aftermath of hearing this news, I felt lucky to be interacting with people through dance.  The Israeli-Palestinian crisis is deeply upsetting, and I really hoped I would be here during a time when peace talks were moving forward.  It upsets me to see things like this happening (and other rockets have been fired out of Gaza in the last few days, and the IDF has been bombing within Gaza as well).

There has been a lot on our mind's actually, lately, with the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan claiming so many thousands of lives...(About a year ago I wrote a post on the Haiti earthquake with similar sentiment...see post here).

We artists, however, have the power to remind people of our humanity and our ability to be compassionate people.  It is times like these that I am most strongly reminded why I do what I do...and that dance can be a catalyst for peace and comfort.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Infinite Possibilities...Forsythe and Gaga

This past week or so has been filled with exciting experiences in and out of dance.  Last weekend I went to Tel Aviv with ten or more fellow dancers; we saw the Batsheva Ensemble (the second company) perform Deca Dance.  This is my third time seeing Deca Dance, and every time I see it, it is a new experience (This piece is a collection of sections from other works of Ohad Naharin, and regularly changes).  "Echad Mi Yodea," the most-famous section from Minus 16, might actually hold a permanent spot in Deca Dance, because I have never seen the show without it.  To be honest, it wouldn't be complete without it.  In this 8-minute event, the dancers sit on chairs in a semi-circle and perform an intricate and extremely athletic accumulation to the a rock version of the children's song "Echad Mi Yodea" (Who Knows One?).  My favorite part is where they fling their arms back and arch over the back of the chair in a canon; when the light hits the white of their costumes....I don't know to explain it, but it's incredibly powerful.  This piece is what made me fall in love with Israeli dance, and is definitely one of my favorite works of art...ever.  I know I've written about it before.  It made me so happy and gave me goosebumps to see it again, live.  I have also really grown to love the section where the dancers pull members of the audience (usually of the older or non-dancer nature) on stage.  It is such a creative mixture of humor and lightheartedness and technique and grace as they ballroom-dance their way across the stage, leaving the chosen audience members amused and baffled.

At the beginning of this week, we had a three-day workshop with Eldad Ben Sasson, who is an indescribably genius choreographer/dancer.  He danced with Batsheva for many years, and his class is heavily informed by Ohad's technique.  After a Gaga-warmup (If you are new to this blog and don't know what Gaga is, see here), he then led us through movement exercises and eventually a long combination based on the principals of William Forsythe.  I have read in detail about Forsythe's ideas of space and dimensions, but I have never had a class that utilizes them.  Pretty much...it was awesome.  Eldad talked us through the combination, not by naming the movements or using ballet terminology, but in terms of the physics--the points in space we touch, the lines we create with our energy and direction, and through which dimensions (including time, and ones undiscovered) we are traveling.  He kept talking about how movement is full of infinite possibilities until one is chosen, and we should never cut a movement short, or stop in our tracks when we mess up, because then we just closed ourselves to the possibilities.  The class was so different from anything I had ever experienced before, and the movement was a completely different quality.  I really enjoyed the challenge of learning in this new way.  On Monday evening, a number of us met with him for coffee and asked questions about his experiences and philosophy.  We asked him about how he creates choreography, and he said he often starts by writing, which is influenced by books and films on quantum physics and simply observing the world around him. Well, I admit I'm a bit of a nerd about physics, and I clearly enjoy writing so....maybe I'm on track. :)

In other news, I feel like I am starting to grasp how to more quickly learn and remember this choreography.  I still feel overloaded--I have NEVER had to remember this much choreography before--but I'm starting to learn how to go about doing it, and what works for me.  I've realized I don't learn using one method, but many.  First I learn by a combination of watching and doing.  I have to physically try the movement to get it in my body, but I also need to stop and just watch the teacher (and from multiple angles) to see the details.  Each time something is added, I NEED to string the old movement to the new, so that I get the sequence and go through what I've learned, accumulation style.  I've also been taking some video clips of my rehearsals, so that at night, even if I just watch it and let my body rest, I can review it for my brain.  AND....when I really have a sequence down and nail it in rehearsal, it feels awesome, and I can actually have fun with it. :)

Oh, also, random tidbit, my favorite class thus far is definitely our floor modern class that we have once a week in the morning...what a fantastic way to warm up and get going for the day!

"A million things we might do or might not do every day.  A million decisions that make themselves."~Copenhagen by Michael Frayne

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I go to Extremes

This week was a rough one of dancing for me.  We only had half a week last week because of our Jerusalem trip, and so this week my mental and physical stamina was lower.  I've been noticing overall that there are many ups and downs in this program.  Sometimes I get out of bed in the morning and am so incredibly excited to dance.  The day is filled with inspiring moments, and I feel alive and so lucky to be here.  Other days are harder to get up; my body is tired, and I feel like the day drags.  In a way though, I feel grateful for these less-than-enthusiastic days, because they are what make the exciting days amazing.

I've been dealing with some recurrence of back pain that began before I left for the program.  A combination of having a really hyper-flexible lumbar spine, slight scoliosis, and straining myself doing too-intense ab exercises, caused pain in my lumbar back, especially at night when lying down.  At home, I had about three physical therapists all giving me wonderful suggestions, and the pain started to go away completely when I did my exercises diligently.  Now that I've come back to dancing really intensely every day (and this choreography entails a LOT of combres/arching/layout-type things), it's been hurting again, both when sleeping and dancing.  I saw the physiotherapist (same as PT, they call it "physio" for short) here on Tuesday and he modified my exercises slightly and showed me how to better activate my transverse abdominis.  He also did massage that felt simultaneously amazing and painful.  Kindof masochistic I guess.  Anyway....I'm going to continue these exercises and hope it gets better soon.  My goal was to NOT get injured here, and it's only Week 4!  But I'm not counting this one because it's just a flare-up of an old injury. :-P

So I think this week my spirits were a little dragging because of not sleeping enough because of my back, and also dealing with a bit of drama with a couple friends at home....not quite coming through and being the friends I wish/thought they were.  I am trying to be very no-drama here, so I'm just focusing on the present and the people here who are supporting me.  I've realized people can read me like a book.  "Is everything okay?" someone asked me the other day.  I didn't even realize anything was showing on my face.  So I'm going to try letting these emotions--the bad and the good--fuel my dancing.

In happier news, I had my first rehearsal for the piece I am choreographing.  I really like the people I've chosen, and they are jiving with my ideas.  Yay!  Making dance and working with people I like really brings up my spirits.  Also, I was starting to feel really overwhelmed with all of the massive amounts of choreography we are learning and are expected to remember (and picking up choreography is not my strength).  I talked to Mika, the artistic director, about feeling a bit behind/overwhelmed.  She gave me an encouraging smile and said she saw the opposite--that I was really standing out.  Hmm...interesting.  This doesn't make much sense to me, but I'm taking it to heart.

Tomorrow, a bunch of us are heading to Tel Aviv!  We are seeing a Batsheva Ensemble show (Deca Dance--SO PSYCHED).  I am also seeing a friend from college, and going to another friend's theatre/performance-art event.  This all is sure to be inspiring, and it will be great to be back in this wonderful, vibrant city again.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

L'Yerushaliym (To Jerusalem)...

This past week was only a half-week of dancing, and then we went on a trip to Jerusalem for Wednesday and Thursday.  Though I've been there six or seven times before, I never fail to be struck with awe at the beauty and complexity of this amazing city.  The day we went to the Western Wall, it was sunny and beautiful.  I really enjoyed being there with some of my non-Jewish friends here--it seemed like they were really moved and interested, and their experience informed my own.  We also went to some holy Christian sites that I have never been to before, like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is where Jesus was crucified and is said to have been resurrected.  It was so magnificent and had many different cathedrals, alcoves, and holy objects that people were touching in a certain, ritualistic way.  Candles burned all over, and I had this feeling like I really traveled back in time thousands of years, and was walking in the shoes of some ancient person.  We also saw the view of the Old City from the Mount of Olives--I've never been this view before, because it is from the Eastern side of Jerusalem.  It's such an interesting area, because the area is primarily Arab and Muslim, but the mountain is holy to Christians (Jesus stood on the top and wept over the destruction of the temple), and it is also a famous Jewish cemetery.  This is what I love about Jerusalem...it is so many layers upon layers of faiths and history.  Of course, this can unfortunately cause disagreement and conflict, especially in the Old City, when holy sites literally sit on top of each other.  I try not to think about this conflict when admiring the amazing views though, and just take it all in.

I stayed behind the rest of the group to spend another day in Jerusalem with a friend.  On Fridays there is an art fair in the center of town, and I had to contain my excitement of seeing the array of beautiful jewelry and artwork.  I also went through the shuk (market) a few hours before Shabbat, which is INSANE.  Prices go down on Friday afternoons, and everyone is doing their last-minute shopping--slightly overwhelming.  I got a whole-wheat challah--Taim maod!

This week it's back to hard core dancing.  I am going to start rehearsing the piece I'm making for our big show that we can choreograph for.  I'm using the music from the "Atonement" soundtrack, which has a typewriter sound in the background.  My ideas have to do with communicating over long-distances and the pros and cons of technology today.  I had an informal meeting with dancers last week about my ideas, and I'm really excited to start working.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Post-Contact Improv thoughts

Here are a few quick thoughts following a two day Contact workshop with Noam Carmelli...

I haven't done much contact at all since Kirstie Simson's class at U of I, which is now quite a long time ago!  It felt amazing to feel moving bodies again and to have that sense of touch awoken.  At the end of the first day, I felt a little knot in my throat like a was close to crying, I'm not even sure why, but just such an awesome emotional and physical release.  My muscles, on the other hand, felt relaxed, like a lot of tension I've been holding these last couple weeks was let go.

At the end of both days, I had gathered a huge sense of affection for the group and being protective over everyone.  When you move and dance with someone else, you must sense them, and there is a mutual idea of understanding when you "listen" with the body.  There is a deep sense of empathy when you contact in this way.

We talked about the idea that if everyone sensed movement in the way that we (dancers) do...can we create a better world in which to live?  One of my favorite former teachers, Erika Randall, used to say, "Modern Dance for world peace!"  I believe it!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of dancing, noshing, exploring, and recharging

Two weeks now into MASA dance journey, and having experienced two eventful weekends on Kibbutz Ga'aton, I am now semi-integrated into Kibbutz-dancer life.

Last week was challenging, but I'm better figuring out how to space out my meals and snacks and what specifically to eat to give me the right amount of energy.  I have the sort of metabolism that seems to require food every couple hours, especially when dancing...which makes me feel like I am constantly either preparing food, eating, or thinking about eating.  While my meals and snacks are very healthy and wholesome, I am also totally indulging in chocolate, which is extremely popular here (the chocolate bars with pop rocks inside are a unique Israeli treat), amazing coffee drinks at the delicious cafe, and pastries.  It's quite strange, but also nice, because I feel like I can eat whatever I want and I'm still maybe even losing weight here.  Sometimes at school or at home I would get a bit too obsessed with counting calories and sugar/fat grams.  It's nice to really not worry about that at all.

Hmmm enough rambling, onto more interesting things.  We have SO much choreography to remember, it's a little insane.  We have learned a number of sections of KCDC Rep, mainly from "Transform," and a few other pieces.  I really like KCDC style.  I love dancing big, athletic movement that shows the body's physicality and of which it is capable.  We are also learning sections of the modern take on "Giselle" by Swedish choreographer Mats Ek--Our teacher, Yamit, used to dance in the Ballet Cullberg, so she has played Giselle herself.  This choreography I am not enjoying as much thus far.  It is quirky, odd, and highly theatrical.  This can be fun, at times, but really I would rather dance than stand with my mouth open in a silent scream....Anyway, parts of it, when the music gets exciting (the storm of the willis), we get to do more physical movement--jumping, turning, frenzied running--I like this better, though some of it is really hard on the body.  There a movement that requires a slide out to a second position pike on one hand and on your toes.  That's really hard to explain, but we're supposed to be up on our toes, not on the balls of our feet, and it really hurts!  I don't think my big-toe-bunions can handle it, so I might have to figure out a "cheat" for that one.

Overall though, I really am enjoying all the dancing we're doing.  The teachers all have their own individual styles.  We have a floor class in what seems to be release-technique style once a week in the mornings, and it feels amazing.  What a great way to start the day, rolling around on the floor and warming up your body...I don't even realize I'm warming up and working hard, because it's so gushy and mushy and nice.  It's taught by a company member named Dori, who is so cute and sweet.  We have had about three different teachers for ballet so far, and I have really enjoyed them all.  One of them plays popular/rock songs, which is quite entertaining for ballet, and occasionally a bit distracting, but I really like the change of pace.  What a relief it is to smile and giggle during what is traditionally such a serious art!  We have also had a pianist accompanying some of our ballet classes, who is extremely talented and emotive...it makes such a difference, dancing to live music versus just recorded piano music, which always seems so bland in comparison.

Both of our main modern classes are Graham-based or influenced.  I nearly forgot that Martha Graham was such an important figure in Israel!  (She co-founded and was the first director of Batsheva!)  One class is pure Graham, which is hard for me (hip flexors...ouch), but I think it will also be really good for me posturally.  Before I left to come here, I was dealing with some back issues due to my really hyper-mobile spine and liking to collapse in my lumbar area, which has been causing a lot of pain lately...Graham is really about staying tall and long and using your core, so I think that should be good for me...The other class uses a lot of Graham and Horton exercises.  I'm having a difficult time in it so far, because the teacher noticed asymmetry in the way that I stand, and she asked me to shift.  I told her I have a slight scoliosis (also contributing to these back problems).  She wanted me to shift my rib cage over to the right so that I stand symmetrically.  I don't really agree with that, because I have a skeletal reason for not being straight (and am already over-tight on one side, so I'm not sure, this shift may result in even more tightness).  In college, my professors too noted this problem, but it was more visibly pronounced at the time--the scoliosis manifested itself in holding my arms and shoulders crooked.  I have since corrected this, so I now stand as symmetrical as I can, despite my back/hips still being a little off.  I don't agree with making a shift just so I can "appear" superficially straight.  Hmmm...the teacher seems really knowledgeable though.  I am trying very hard to come into this program without judgment, keep an open mind, and not dismiss a teacher's advice (or discard a fellow dancer as a potential friend) due to one thing they do or say.  We'll see what happens. :-)

The other day we had conferences with Mika, our KCDC rep teacher/one of the directors of this MASA program, and Roni, the coordinator/admin.  We were asked to speak about our backgrounds, both in dance and out, family life, other interests, and why we're here and what we hope to gain from the program.  It was really nice to put into words explicitly why I'm here, and to see them nodding in support of me.  In addition to various technical things, I expressed my hope to improve upon picking up combination more quickly and retaining this information.  Mika was surprised, and said that she had not noticed that that is an issue for me.  It was nice to hear that apparently my confused thought-processes are not visible and hidden behind a fascade of "confidence."  Mika and Roni were also interested and impressed when I told them of my musical background, and very supportive of my hope to choreograph for Nitzotzot, the showcase of our own work.  I arrived at the meeting apprehensive, but left feeling very supported and that this is a really good place to be for me right now....in dancing and in life.

Thursday night, some friends and I went to Nahariya, where we saw a beautiful sunset on the beach, as a full moon appeared overhead.  So beautiful!  It was my first time being at the Sea this trip; I nearly forgot how liberating and freeing it is!

My friend from home, Abra, visited the kibbutz this weekend; she did the MASA program last fall, and is now living/working in Tel Aviv.  It was so great to see her again and hear her insights about the program and teachers and hear about which boys to watch out for because they mean trouble, (and which ones are decent :-P ).  Moreso than that, when you are in a faraway country, it's a simple but wonderful thing to have someone with whom to talk about home.  We talked about people and places that are mutually important to us; and it's a bit crazy, but really awesome, talking about home so far away from home.

We also took a tour of the kibbutz, and saw some of the other industries here--Growing various vegetables, a paper/cardboard producing factory, a medical supply company, and raising poultry (a bit of a turnoff to me; being an animal-rights person, I really like to eat only humane or free range meat, and this did not seem to be this way....I'm curious if it's Kosher.  I may try to investigate this further).  We also had some time to play with Kindergarten kids and have kabbalat shabbat with them; this means welcoming the Sabbath, which involved lighting candles, blessing wine (aka grape juice), and eating absolutely delicious challah!

Friday evening, we were placed with host families for a home-cooked Shabbat dinner.  I was with my roommate, Bec (from Australia--And yes, two Rebecca's in a room!), and Abra came along too, because it was her old host family.  The food was amazing (hummus and challah, eggplant, mashed potatoes, rice, about four kinds of meat, and various pastries for dessert), and the family was so sweet.  The father knew the best English, so I mostly spoke with him, but practiced a bit of the Hebrew I've learned as well.  He also is fluent in Spanish, so I spoke a mixture to him.  He seems to be an avid history buff, spouting a wealth of knowledge about Israeli history, the linguistic history of Hebrew/Aramaic/Semitic languages, and even Chicago history that baffled Abra and me!  A truly wonderful night.

This weekend I have been able to explore the surrounding areas a bit more.  Today I ventured to the Arab shuk (market) in Tarshiha, which was an amazing sight to behold.  There's nothing like a market where many-colored fruits and vegetables are arrayed before you, smells of spiced nuts and freshly squeezed oranges are wafting in the air, and men are shouting at you in languages you can't understand.  I bought some colorful rugs for our apartment, and probably the best cashews I have ever tasted.  I hope at some point to become more adventuresome in my fruit/vegetable choices (I'm still relying on my old staples like apples, bananas, tomatoes, cucumber (my favorite word in Hebrew: melafafone!), and strawberries).  Maybe I'll make it a goal to get something I've never tried each subsequent time I go.  I will definitely be going back to this market, as it's by far the cheapest, and has an amazing selection.

My friend that I went with and I were able to "hitchhike" to the market by standing at the Kibbutz gate and getting a ride with fellow kibbutz members.  On the way home, we were a bit stuck, since hitchhiking outside of the kibbutz is far more dangerous and not allowed.  We called a taxi, which was going to be expensive, and when they arrive in Tarshiha, they couldn't understand my English very well and couldn't find where we were.  Just then, some guys from our kibbutz and a fellow dancer pulled up, and offered us a ride.  We ended up telling the cab that we were so sorry but ended up not needing the lift.  I feel absolutely terrible about it.  I'm pretty sure he was swearing at me in Hebrew as I hung up.  I know that's a really awful thing to do, but in the situation, we felt much better going with people we knew.  I guess maybe you're allowed a quota of least a couple really ****-y moves in your life.  I fulfilled my quota for this trip...

That's been my main problem here, is the lack of easy transportation.  Because we're a bit in the middle of nowhere, to get to Nahariya or the neighboring kibbutz of Yehiam (where a lot of nightlife happens), you can often get a ride there, but cannot be guaranteed a ride back.  I'm the type of person who really likes to be in control of those kinds of things.  If I am going out with friends, I like to be able to leave when I'm tired and do not want to have to depend on other people.  I don't think I will have that type of freedom here.  Some people walk half an hour or more to get home from Yehiam, but as a woman, I don't feel comfortable doing that, especially not alone and in the wee hours of the morning.  At the same time, I am getting better at figuring out buses, taxis, knowing which people have cars, and how to hitch rides safely.  I'm sure I will learn more as time goes on.  I'm definitely going to be safe about whatever I do, because I know from experience (getting into a wrong taxi-van in Jerusalem one time and being taken in the direction of East Jerusalem, a place I don't really want to go alone) to be on high alert.

Speaking about Jerusalem....we are making our first trip there on Wednesday and Thursday of next week!  I'm so excited to see this beautiful city again.  No matter how many times I go there, it will always inspire awe.  I am also exited to share insights and stories to fellow dancers who haven't been there.

Tomorrow and Monday, we also have all-afternoon contact improvisation workshops.  So psyched!

Anyway, sorry for the massive amounts of long rambling in this entry, about things that are possibly quite uninteresting...Thanks for reading and check back!