From State-Building to Art: ‘As the Fireflies Disappear’ and the Inbal Dance Theater’s Transformation

June 4, 2018

3 min read

As Israel celebrates its 70th birthday, so too does the Inbal Dance Theater, marking their anniversary with a performance at the 2018 internationally-renowned interdisciplinary festival, Israel Festival Jerusalem.

This year, the festival, which started May 23 and runs until June 9, has a unique focus on dance, bringing to the stage dancers from across the genres to explore the then, now and future of the State of Israel. The performances, according to Israel Festival CEO Eyal Sher, are part of how the festival will celebrate and explore Israel at 70 years.

What Sher is calling the “triangle of Israeli dancers” is comprised of three performances, including the Inbal Dance Theater’s “As the Fireflies Disappear,” a contemporary work inside an original production that was given its world premiere at the festival.

The Inbal performance was presented on June 2 by the young, contemporary choreographer, Mor Shani, continuing the legacy of Inbal founder and Israel Prize laureate Sara Levi-Tanai, whose goal was to highlight local traditions, to preserve and build upon the rich cultural tradition of Yemenite Jews, who Shani says “are considered to be original Hebrew people.”

Levi-Tanai, who in the company’s early years worked with dancers of Yemenite descent, weaved together Mizrahi Jewish culture with modern dance through “authentic body movements, looking at each dancer’s body as a specific individual and finding an integrative way to use it on stage,” Shani told Breaking Israel News.

“She was not trying to make everyone look the same, but rather using characteristics of the average Yemenite person. She gathered Yemenite people who had never danced before and turned them into dancers.”

During the early years of the State of Israel and the company, Shani explained, the Inbal functioned as a national company, whose purpose was “telling stories and performing for the sake of a Zionist ethos through Israeli folk dance.

“Israeli folk dance was commissioned work to create an Israeli folklore so the people would have a feeling of togetherness. It’s a sensitive and social dance, which highlighted the ability to intuitively move together in a synchronized way. It was this art that was in service of the state, and it had a specific esthetic in the time it was needed,” Shani said.

Often, Levi-Tanai made use of Biblical tales within the dance performances.

“We don’t do that anymore,” Shani said. “Now that we already have a state, and the Biblical ethos and state-building function isn’t relevant anymore, so we make art.”

But even so, remnants of the traditions of Israeli folk dance remain as homage to the Levi-Tanai.

“We still need togetherness and we need to know how to move together, but not for the sake of the state, rather, for the sake of the people who practice it and watch it,” Shani said.

According to Shani, art is all about deconstructing past values and traditions for the purpose of constructing new traditions, both as a form of creation and a gesture towards the past.

Amidst this fascinating process of renewal for the Inbal Dance Theater, Shani invited the audience to reimagine Levi-Tanai’s legacy and distinct choreographic language in a contemporary cultural context.

The show revisited the dance and movement foundations established by Levi-Tanai, which are intrinsically linked to tradition, localism, and grassroot culture, juxtaposing them with notions that resonate with the global zeitgeist.

Through modern dance, sound and costumes that tell the story of a culture lost to the homogenizing effects of capitalism, the performance evoked a nostalgia for the traditions and unique cultures of the past.

“These dissolve in the blinding light of consumer culture, the tangible light that chases the fireflies (a metaphor for local cultures) out of our duplicated cities, and their faint light with them,” said Shani, who was influenced by Georges Didi-Huberman’s book Survival of the Fireflies while working on this piece.

While the cities are lit by capitalism and globalism, Shani explained to Breaking Israel News, the “real light” of culture disappears.

Thus, building on the company’s glorious past, Shani wishes to preserve the delicate, flickering light of the “vanishing dance traditions” while drawing on the new potentialities they hold.

“Nostalgia is driving global forces of society today,” Shani said. “For example, people wish to ‘make America great again,’ which reflects a yearning for the past.

“So we do this with dance, but in a critical way. Art is a great comfort, and especially in times like today. It offers a new ways to look at a given situation.”


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