Posted by: israelembassysa | July 14, 2010

Israel – Dancing with Wolves

Israel – Dancing with Wolves

As Israel constantly strives to maintain her national security, she still succeeds in producing dancers and choreographers of the highest calibre. One such person is Dancer/choreographer Dana Ruttenberg who recently visited South Africa to be a part of The Dance Umbrella Festival.
She took some time to write about her experiences in South Africa and we have the pleasure of posting her article on our blog.

A masterclass given by Dana Ruttenberg Photograph : John Hogg.

The Innate Groove of African Dance – By Dana Ruttenberg

An Early morning landing after a night flight to Johannesburg. I knew I had 4 hours before I had to leave the guesthouse for my first master class at Tshwane University.
 On the way over I get glimpses of my surroundings only through the cab windows. The road advances quickly as we approach Pretoria. Inside the Tshwane University of Technology’s campus, I find the dance department and enter a beautifully spacious hangar with a raised dance floor in its center. There are no mirrors, which is wonderful since it allows the dancers to feel and sense what they are doing, instead of trying to reach some external goal.
 Some young dancers are practicing their choreographic work for the upcoming exam-showing, I sit and observe them with great delight. The dancers as well as Deborah, the chair of the department, are so enthusiastic and inspiring, and everyone is welcoming. I love the intense heat within the studio and I enjoy the practical simplicity of the facilities. This puts the actual act of dancing right in the center of things, spatially and mentally, just where it belongs.
 Towards the end of my stay, I was invited by Deborah to be an examiner in the university’s choreographic exam. That day, the same dance hall we worked in, transformed itself into a modest performance space. I was honored and excited to be able to allow the students a fresh, objective look on their work, and we followed the exam with a discussion and some feedback on my behalf. 
 I think the dance department at Tshwane has impressive potential for producing ready-for-primetime dancers, and could benefit from cross-pollination in the same way as Israel has had: through visiting artists, choreographers, teachers, as well as other exchange programs.
 Due to lack of funds, it would be necessary, for instance, for an international school abroad to offer a scholarship to one or more of these talented students, for them to be able to attend anything from a summer session to full academic years at those institutions and expose themselves to current methods and dance styles. I think any international connections should be used towards this goal.
 The rest of my week was actually the core of my activities. I led a workshop for South African and African students at the Dance Forum, organized by the Dance Umbrella. It was a mixed group, hailing from all parts of Africa: Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Senegal, and Tanzania, among others. Many of them were fellows of the Goethe Institute, chosen for their artistry to attend the Dance Umbrella and the workshops given by me and by Nigel Charnok of DV8.
 One of my main impressions is that artistically, the South African dance scene is in a transitional phase at the moment. It brings to mind the Israeli dance scene when it had just begun. Rooted in the traditional and folklore, and at the same time thirsty to find its voice without losing its history.  Understanding that it needs to update itself but afraid of forgetting where it came from. Daring to create contemporary dance that is “cosmopolitan” is not an easy goal, and requires courage, but it is necessary for the South African dance scene’s continued existence in today’s world.
The innate groove, grounded quality, physical rhythm and fearless athleticism that I saw in the works of the festival, will no doubt carry on, and artists should not be afraid of searching for movement vocabulary and subject matters in more distant pastures. 
 I hope this visit was one of many to come. I feel at home away from home in South Africa. I thank everyone at The Israeli Embassy for understanding the values of sharing – and supporting this important endeavour.

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