Mention “Israeli dance” and most people imagine a chain of elderly relatives stumbling awkwardly through the hora at some wedding or bar mitzvah. But dance in Israel has a much edgier face today. Even folk dance here, once an important tool for building national identity, refuses to be stuck in the past. On Saturday mornings, next to the beach, hundreds gather for dance sessions set to classic Hebrew tunes, as well as the latest pop hits.
Folk aside, it’s the contemporary dance onstage that has made Israel an international innovator in the form. For its modest size, Israel has an impressive concentration of companies and independent choreographers who have generated disproportionate interest and excitement in the worldwide dance community in the last few decades.
The buzz begins with Ohad Naharin, artistic director and chief choreographer of Batsheva Dance Company, Israel’s premier contemporary dance troupe, cofounded in 1964 by American modern dance matron saint Martha Graham and widely considered among the world’s best. Since taking the helm in 1990, Naharin has infused the company with his singular brand of dark sensuality and physical wit, wrapping an aggressive militarism around a fragile emotional core.
Black Fairytale, the latest work from Israeli choreographers Yossi Berg and Oded Graf, is a “dance manifesto for utopia” set in a “beautiful, creepy world that nourishes love and hope.” Characteristically, the dance exemplifies the duo’s clever exploration of identity mixed with biting humor embedded in a whimsical, often surreal environment. Berg, 36, a Batsheva alumnus, and Graf, 33, a former dancer with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, have been collaborating artistically since 2005, but the real-life partners have been together even longer — they will soon celebrate their 10th anniversary. “I like the combination of work and love,” Graf says, adding that, with their rigorous schedules, any other relationship could have been impossible to maintain.