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

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!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

First Weekend at Ga'aton

After a long, physically intense, but extremely fulfilling week filled with dancing on Kibbutz Ga'aton, we celebrated with the arrival of the first weekend as MASA dance journey participants.  Weekends here are Friday and Saturday, due to the observance of Shabbat in Israel, so it was a strange feeling to be done for the week come Thursday afternoon....Much appreciated though, as I've been feeling massive choreography overload lately!

Friday was just a much-needed lazy day, filled with reading and journal-writing.  I've been finding myself spending a good deal of time at the "Cafe in Motion," which has amazing coffee and delicious pastries...Oy, I know I will spend too much money here, but coffee shops are a favorite haven of mine, and this one is excellent.

Today, Saturday, we attended a performance of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company's Second Company, which was amazing.  Their talent, endurance, and physicality blew me away, and it was hard for me to believe that they were not even the first company.  They performed "Transform," which is where some of our Rep is from, so that was cool to see it performed live.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on a walk/hike with three other friends to the nearby Kibbutz of Yehiam, where there is a crusader fortress ruin (you can see the castle from Ga'aton, and from first seeing i, I knew I wanted to check it out).  The walk was beautiful, and when we got to Yehiam, there was a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean, and you could make out a misty Haifa in the background.  By the castle was an artist's area, and there was a mosaic studio and another painting and sculpture studio.

When we finally arrived at the fortress, the gates were closed to visitors....So we will have to return another time.  But I feel the walk was worth it. :)  There was hike on a downwards slope past the castle that opened up into a gorge.  There were so many thousands of trees, and farther down than you could see, and they almost looked light and fluffy in the hazy late afternoon setting sun.

Both evenings of the weekend we had the opportunity to get to know our fellow dancers at a potluck Shabbat dinner, and outings at the local kibbutz pub.  I'm really enjoying everyone's company and talking to my new friends about their backgrounds.  Each person is so vastly different from the next.  Some come from small towns, others large cities.  I know I already said this in another post, but I am still constantly amazed by those getting around without knowing much English and virtually no Hebrew!  Many of us are Jewish but may not be observant at all, and some friends are Christian or grew up secular.  All are interested and fascinated by Israel's spiritual and historical significance, and everyone is so excited for our upcoming trip to Jerusalem, coming up in a couple weeks.  I feel lucky that this is my fourth trip here (!), so I can share my insight with everyone, but at the same time feel equal excitement about new encounters.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Upon arrival on the Dance Village...

I have arrived in Israel for my program with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, here on Kibbutz Ga'aton in northern Israel!  It's only been a few days, but I can already tell it's going to be an incredible, multi-cultural, physically intense, mentally challenging, totally unique, and illuminating experience.  The main attraction of the Kibbutz is the "Dance Village," and is a beautiful mix of international cultures and languages, green fresh nature, and moving bodies and spirits.

I knew that we would be from all over the world, but until I arrived here, I didn't realize what a truly diverse group we would be, or from what drastically different backgrounds we would come from.  We are from...Australia, England, France, Portugal, Hungary, Russia, Lithuania, Norway, Denmark Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and the United States.  It's amazing hearing all of these different languages and accents, and people speaking in their third or fourth languages in order to communicate.  I feel like my English, decent-but-not-fluent-Spanish, and extremely limited Hebrew are inadequate compared to some of the Europeans who are so versed in multiple languages (though I had a neat moment in the train station in Tel Aviv...The girl at the coffee shop didn't speak English, so I tried Hebrew and didn't do so well, but ordered my latte in Spanish to a man who translated it to Hebrew :-) ).

The dance studios are beautiful.  The main big studio ("Big Raya") has full glass windows that overlook the northern Israeli countryside.  There is so much green surrounding me, I feel supported by natural beauty and the elements.  We have only had two days so far and the first day was introductory.  But thus far, the ballet classes have been challenging, motivating, and truly fun.  Sometimes I forget that ballet is such a beautiful art, and I get caught in the struggle and effort.  In these classes I've found the two (work and pleasure) can coexist.  The first piece of Rep we started learning (from "Naked City") is incredibly physical and demanding.  It's fun but it's also proving hard for me to get through.  I feel like I'm eating and drinking enough, but I need to change it up to figure out what the right things are...maybe more protein...to get me through the day.  I'm already feeling sore tonight!  It will be a long week...We also learned a second piece of Rep that was about two minutes of all gestures.  This was difficult for me to follow along, and I have a really hard time memorizing these patterns.  By the end, we added music for one run-through, which really helped me ("Send in the Clowns").  Music really informs my movement and stimulates my brain in the way that I work.  I know I will work better when we rehearse again with the music.  Finally, we had improv class, which was incredibly fun.  Partially simple scores, a bit of contact, and a long open jam at the end.  I was reminded of the amazing contact classes we had with Kirstie Simson at school, and here I felt alive and energized.

Backing it up a bit...Before I arrived at the kibbutz, I spend a few days in Tel Aviv.  I was able to take Gaga class at the Susanne Dellal Center, the home of Batsheva as well as other Israeli dance companies.  I went to class with my friend Eldar, who I met in Gaga class 2 1/2 years ago, so it seems like coming full circle.  I'm so grateful to have started my dance journey by taking this class.  I took Gaga in New York once, but for some reason, taking it here in Tel Aviv, where the whole movement began, seemed so much more of an authentic experience for me.  I love the physical and emotional release it provides by allowing us to really feel pure movement with nothing else affecting or layered on top of it.

Tel Aviv is such a fantastic city as a whole.  The cafes and restaurants are all so delicious ("taim maod"...I am learning), and all the food is so fresh and fantastic.

Well, enough writing for now, time to rest my tired body and mind.  Check back soon for more writings from the Dance Village in the Galilee...