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Rami Be’er, House Choreographer and Artistic Director of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC), has crafted a movement aesthetic that draws on both European modern dance idioms and contemporary American influences. Unapologetically Israeli, his movement is fiercely unbridled, with a spirit of experimentation and a commitment to forging community, while maintaining subtle and not so subtle political and social messages in his choreography. The company is presented by KMP.
Dance ICONS: Let’s start with the idea of place because you live and work here in Kibbutz Ga’aton. It is the place where you were born, grew up and became a dancer and choreographer. How important is place, particularly Kibbutz Ga’aton, to you as an artist and to your artistic vision?
Rami Be’er: I was born in the kibbutz and I grew up in the kibbutz and the founder of the company, Yehudit Arnon, who was a founding member of the kibbutz, was my teacher. She recognized my ability and my potential when I was very young and knew how to guide and encourage it.I chose to stay in the kibbutz and develop a unique company – the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company – because I need total artistic freedom. I have that here. Here I can develop my vision. For me the most natural way to work and search is at Ga’aton.
Every artist is influenced by the place where he works. I’ve always felt that this is my place. It is where I belong. Of course, I went out, studied and worked with different companies. But as a base, as a home, I’m always connected here. My personality exists here. Would I create differently in another place? I don’t know the answer. My identity though comes from this place.
ICONS: You began choreographing shortly after you joined the company, right after your army service. Can you share something about your creative development?
R.B.: I remember creating movement, little dances when I was a child, while I was waiting for Yehudit’s classes. I didn’t know yet how to analyze it, but I felt that when she put on the music just so we could move, that was something special that I connected to. Today I would use the word creativity; then it was something very basic in my makeup – simply to move.
ICONS: What inspires you to make a dance?
R.B.: When I’m in the process of creating a new piece … in the beginning, it’s unclear. I have absolutely no idea how the piece will look when I begin a process. I like to get lost. I like to get to the forest and not know the way out. Then I begin to try to search for the way out. Music is a very strong source of inspiration and I have a musical background – I played cello since I was 12 years old. Until last year, when my father passed away, my sister and I used to play chamber music with him. Music is the landscape that takes me to other worlds. I find movement and see pictures by listening to music.
The other source of inspiration, of course, is the body and the way it moves. Watching human beings on the street and noticing how they move, and also nature – how animals move. My dancers obviously are also a major source of inspiration for me. And then there’s architecture, painting, sculptures, poems that I read, or articles and books. Then there are moments: The way the sun hits a certain object can be a source of inspiration, or different sounds. My children are a source of inspiration.
I’m like a big sponge soaking in everything. And then I see what comes out during a process of creation and [these ideas] come out through a certain prism. I don’t know how to explain it, but something happens and things start to connect. It’s all there; I just have to recognize it and know how to choose it and how to connect what I have and find a reason for it.That’s why in my work I also create not just the choreography and movement with my dancers. I design my lighting, the costumes and the soundtrack. It’s a whole vision that I see as I try to create one unit. And this unit has to serve a certain idea, to say something that I want to express.
Dance is not an art of words, numbers, or facts. It’s beyond all that. So I cannot try to put everything in words or in the moment. If I put things in words, it becomes limited. That’s why in my work I am not telling a story; there is no clear plot that you can follow in my work. I prefer to bring to the spectator options and invite him to the journey, to sit and see when the light comes on and the curtain opens where it will take him. I give a certain route and lead the spectators to a certain point. Then I leave them by themselves and I invite them to connect with the piece, to find their own associations, memories, feelings, and interpretations.
As the creator, I have my reason why I choose something, but it’s not about what I’m interested in. I want the spectators to create their own little stories and I give them the freedom to connect with the work in their own way. I compare it to listening to classical music: It’s about a different kind of understanding. So it’s okay if two people sit next to each other and one sees one thing and one sees another.
My goal is to say something through the piece about our existence and maybe give the spectator some questions to think about, but not answers. I’m not trying to educate; I want to open their point of view, and open their hearts and their minds. Then they can take some ideas or feelings with them after they leave the theater. It’s not entertainment to simply sit and watch.
ICONS: When you begin a new piece, what do you walk into studio with? Prepared movement phrases, ideas, music, sketches, all of that or none of it?
R.B.: I work a lot beforehand. I prepare music material that I would like to work with. I search for the DNA of the specific piece that will become the world that I want to create on stage, movement-wise, music-wise, design-wise, costumes and text. This is my starting point before I begin to work with the dancers.
I create at least one full-length piece every year – and I like to be enthusiastic about the process. Sometimes I demonstrate parts for the dancers and sometimes I put music on and they move. Sometimes I ask my dancers to move and follow me. Either I or someone else videos the dancers; then I can see what I did.
As I develop the piece, I involve the dancers in the creative process and see what comes from them. Then I develop the material with them. Sometimes it begins with movement; sometimes it’s the music; sometimes it begins with certain limitations that I give to the dancers. For example, they have to move with certain restrictions. As the work develops, it becomes clearer where I need to focus, so every shape will fit the world I want to create on stage.
ICONS: What still surprises you about your process?
R.B.: Because I’ve been doing it for more than 30 years, I like to visit places that I haven’t been to before and try to discover new experiences. That’s why in the studio I’m very open to the unexpected – the things that come from a mistake. I am within the frame and yet open and flexible enough to leave the frame. This is fascinating to me. I like to be in the place where I don’t know the answer, I don’t know the way out; I don’t know what it will become. Then something happens and the dance is there.
ICONS: We can’t talk to an Israeli choreographer without mentioning politics. Are you drawn to making political statements in your work?
R.B.: I believe that dance can comment on our existing human condition and not just on aesthetics, movement or composition. With art we can say something. We can put a question mark or point to issues. We might not find solutions, but we can make the audience think. I did a piece in 1989, Reservist’s Diary, that deals with an army reservist. He has to serve and follow orders, but at the same time he is a human being with a soul and conflicting feelings about his role.
My piece Aide Memoire takes the point of view of the second generation of Holocaust survivors. A piece I created two years ago, Horses in the Sky, uses text that reflects on issues that are relevant to our current situation. In the piece, there’s a sentence that says violence brings more violence, brings more lies.
Dance cannot change the political reality, but it can influence individuals who are sitting together in the theater. I hope when they leave, they can take something with them and speak about it with family and friends.
ICONS: Tell us more about your newest upcoming dance work "Asylum."
R.B.: The piece is staged to a collage of multiple music selections and it is 18 dances. I have been working for several months to develop this full evening-length work. We're very excited to enter the last stage of this creation. And I definitely have to mention something about the concept of the work and my interpretation of asylum.
As a family member of Holocaust survivors, I'm deeply connected with the concept of "asylum." However, in my latest dance work I do not intend to relate to asylum as a location of refugee gathering, or a shelter for poor people, or a medical facility. I see asylum not as a "place," but as a "space." For me, asylum is a protected zone and an intimate spiritual state where people can find home, hope, belonging and identity.
After all, as humans we strive to find an asylum -- a safe space where we can be ourselves as artists and as people.
More About Rami Be’er:
Born in 1957 to a family of Holocaust survivors, Choreographer and Director Rami Be’er still lives and works on Kibbutz Ga’aton, which his parents helped found in 1948 after emigrating from Hungary. He grew up in a home filled with culture, literature, architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry and music.
Educated in the collective system of the kibbutz, he was first introduced to dance as a young child in the children’s quarter by his first teacher, Yehudit Arnon, who founded KCDC in 1970. In 1980, after completing mandatory army service, Be’er served as a reserve combat soldier participating in military operations, including the First Lebanon War, while also dancing with the company.
In 1987 he was appointed as House Choreographer and Assistant Artistic Director of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Seven years later, in 1994, he created the second company KCDC 2, with the goal of bringing high-level dance experiences to children, teens, and families, while nurturing the future dancers of KCDC’s main company. Be’er’s works for youths have become classics over the years, and tens of thousands of children and young people have been exposed to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and other pieces over recent decades.
Be’er’s multi-disciplinary language draws as much on his movement invention as on his creative stage design, lighting and costumes. A holistic creative artist, Be’er deals with all aspects of each piece he creates – content, form, composition and design, including his recent Horses in the Sky and Mother’s Milk.
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Interviewer & ICONS affiliate journalist: Lisa Traiger
Photography courtesy of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company ©
Images by Eyal Hirsch © and Uri Nevo ©
Content Editor: Camilla Acquista
Dance ICONS, Inc., All Rights Reserved © May 2018