Israel: Ami Yam, Ami Ya’ar

The five hour EasyJet flight from London to Tel Aviv should have been just a hop skip and jump after all the endless flights between Australia and London that I have done. The problem was that you had to get to the wilds of Luton airport before squeezing into a very crowded plane. Nevertheless it was wonderful to arrive  in 30 degree heat at 9 o’clock at night, and to finally reach my AirBnB apartment. It was conveniently close to the Opera House and arts Centre where the Batsheva archive is housed.

Getting my bearings on the first day  I made a quick tour of the National Gallery, full of marvellous Chagalls and Picassos and much more. Then, a crowded bus down to Jaffa where I took a boat trip, along with dozens of excitable children and their equally excitable families, out into the harbour. From there you can survey the coast from the ancient Jaffa harbour along the wide beaches of modern Tel Aviv. 

Jaffa Harbour
Tel Aviv beaches

The following day I had lunch with Liora Bing-Heidecker, author of a marvellous paper, How to Dance After Auschwitz? Ethics and Aesthetics of Representation in John Cranko’s Song of My People—Forest People—Sea.  Liora seems to know everyone from the dance community, many of whom were dancers from the  Batsheva Dance Company, including some who were in Cranko’s piece in 1970. She brought Esther Nadler with her to lunch – Cranko had asked Esther to study in Stuttgart and she recalled working with him with great affection.

Most days in that short week I was able to view and re-view the 50 minute film of Song of my People at the archive. What an extraordinary work! It is based on Hebrew poetry with a few sections set to music. The reason it has never been taken up outside Israel is that Cranko insisted that the original sound track should always be used. I had seen the trio from the piece performed out of context during the Stuttgart 50th birthday celebrations in 2011, but in its proper context that dance took on a whole new meaning. The ballet – that’s the wrong word, ‘danced testament’ would be more apt –  opens with a horrifying scene, based on a poem titled To the mound of corpses in the snow.

I was able to meet the man who had worked closely with Cranko on choosing and translating the texts for Song of my People. Israel Ouval now works at the Israeli Opera (he was busy on the surtitles for a new production of Cosi fan Tutte). He had some touching stories about the collaboration, some of which I have included in the book.

As soon as the  Shabbat was over (6 pm on the Saturday) it was time for a visit to  Rena Gluck who was in the Batsheva  company when Cranko was there (although she chose not to appear in Song of my People) and has since written an authoritative history of the company. Another former dancer Nurit Stern was at the tea, and when it was time to go she showed me to the bus stop. There, while we waited in the  warm honey-like night air she showed me some steps from Song of my People.

The next day I met an amazing woman at her studio where she not only teaches but performs in her own choreography. Rina Shenfeld was the Muse figure in Song of my People. Rina kindly went to great lengths to procure a copy of the film for me.

Lastly, I met with Yair Vardi, well known in UK and elsewhere from his dancing days  at Rambert. He is now  director of the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater, an impressive complex in a beautiful shady enclave in the south of Tel Aviv.

I was sorry that my dear friend Domy Reiter was not in Israel at the time – although I was lucky enough to catch up with him  and see his latest paintings when we were both in London.