By Henrik Eger, Ph.D. for The Dance Journal
Auschwitz. Christmas 1944. The SS orders Yehudit Arnon, an 18-year-old Jewish dancer, to perform for them in the barracks. She refuses. As punishment, she has to stand in the snow, barefoot, for the whole night. She promised herself that if she survived, she would dedicate her life to dance education. Miraculously, she lived. In 1948, she moved to Palestine and later founded Mateh Asher Dance Studio in Israel. In the 1970s, it became known as the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC).
In 1980, Rami Be’er, a dancer and a Kibbutz Ga’aton native, joined the company. In 1996, Arnon appointed him as the company’s Artistic Director. Dance critics around the world praise Be’er’s choreography and his productions.
Henrik Eger: You are a member of one of the dance world’s most exclusive clubs: multi-talented choreographers like Gene Kelly, Geoffrey Holder, or Rosie Herrera. In addition to choreographing and teaching, you design costumes, lighting, and create cinematic soundscapes.
Rami Be’er: As a child, I felt a special magic toward the expression of movement in dance. Yehudit Arnon, recognized my talent, potential, and ability at an early age. She taught me movement and dance from the age of three.
I was raised by a family of musicians—I played the cello. Whenever I heard music, I saw music and dance, movement and pictures. Music has the power to take me to different dimensions. Today, I bring together dance and movement to which she [Arnon] introduced me.
Eger: One piece in particular from your most recent performance in Cleveland moved dance critic, Steve Sucato: A female dancer “burst onto the stage being held back by a group of male dancers like a captured animal. She aggressively tried to break free from the men holding her arms and torso, her long black hair whipping the air around them. Just as jarring: as she and the men tore onto the stage, they faded away, to be replaced by another scene conveying a very different kind of emotion and beauty.” Is this scene perhaps symbolic for the torn soul of Israel and her hostile neighbors?
Be’er: It’s perfectly understandable to interpret the performance this way. When individuals take their seats in the theater, I’m inviting them on a journey. I cast them a rope and leave the viewers a space to create their own associations and memories. When the lights go up, each person can walk away with a newly-found question.
I invite all art enthusiasts and people in general to be part of this wonderful project, so they may see us on stage, whether it’s abroad or when they come to us in Israel.
Eger: Throughout your 2014 International Tour, you experienced protestors in Turin, Italy; Cleveland; and now Philadelphia. The Philadelphia chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine claim that: “As part of ‘Brand Israel,’ the [KCDC] has to sign a contract stating: ‘The service provider [KCDC] is aware that the purpose [. . .] is to promote the policy interests of the state of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel . . . The service provider will not present himself as [. . .] a representative of the Ministry [of Foreign Affairs].” The protesters concluded, “We view this dance company as an extension of Israeli governmental policy, which sets them apart from a dance company simply based in Israel.”
Be’er: [KCBC] is a cultural entity built from individuals. We do not have an opinion about political issues. We live in the State of Israel and we create [art] in the State of Israel. However, in our artistic process, we don’t ask ourselves, “How do we present or represent the State of Israel?” This isn’t the basis for our artistic creation.
Eger: Some of your performances, after an intense build-up, end abruptly. The dancers. Freeze. Stare into the audience. The audience might sense that you are carrying the spirit of Yehudit Arnon, the dancer at Auschwitz, into our time, marred by the deadly Israeli-Palestinian conflict—perhaps inviting us to work toward solutions for a better tomorrow for all.
A sheyner dank*, Rami Be’er. Toda raba, KCDC. Shalom and Salam. **
Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company
Thursday, November 13 @ 7:30 PM
Friday, November 14 @ 8 PM
Saturday, November 15 @ 2 PM and 8 PM
Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
*Yiddish, literally: A beautiful thank you
**Hebrew: Many thanks