w o r k s h o p T e l A v i v
Lisi Estaras, choreographer and dancer at les ballets C de la B, was invited to give a dance workshop in August 2010 in Israel, the country where she has some of her roots and where a part of her family lives. Lisi kept a diary and wrote about her decision to accept the invitation, in spite of the cultural boycott of Israel by les ballets C de la B. The report also tells about the different visions she was confronted with in Tel Aviv, and about her workshop.
d i a r y
(by Lisi Estaras)
When I received the invitation to go to Israel to give a dance workshop, I was totally excited. The organizers of the event had seen my production primero-erscht. Of course it is always very touching to be "back" somewhere where you belonged. It had been 14 years since I left and part of my life had stayed over there.
But my problem was: How could I cope with what Israel represents? Would it mean that I agree with the political situation? Or that I simply don't care, because anyway it's just a dance workshop? I couldn't accept that excuse. How would I explain the position of les ballets C de la B over there? How would I tell my family and friends that now I belong to another family which culturally boycotts Israel?
Of course everything means something when you take a decision.
I know that the people who invited me disagree completely with Israel politics (and they feel there is nothing they can do to change the situation) and that those dancers who will join the workshop, simply want to dance like in any other country.
I simply couldn't live with the fact of not going. It wasn't a rational decision. I decided that the only thing I could do is to work in both sides. I would go to Israel and then I would do the Gaza Mono-Logues, a project based on diary excerpts by Palestinian teenagers. Maybe then I will feel better about my decisions.
Saturday 7 August 2010
Arriving in BenGurionAirport. The building is modern and new. On the walls, posters for every year of independence since 1948: people in boats with flags from all over the world arriving finally in the promised land, the survivors of the war, the Zionists, the beginning of the kibbutz, Tel Aviv becoming a cosmopolitan city, the Israelian army…
Israel, only 62 years! I will hear that often in the coming days.
Going through passport control I doubt which language I should speak. Hebrew? She may ask where I learnt it, she will see on her computer that I used to be an Israelian citizen, she will ask why I don’t have my Israelian passport anymore. I will explain that I changed my Israelian citizenship for a Dutch one. She will look at me badly…
I think of the letter with a stamp saying that I just come to give a dance workshop from this day to that day and I want to make my entrance to the country as smooth as possible.
I should answer in English.
My turn. She looks at my passport and doesn’t ask anything.
Going out, there is Claudio, my Argentinean friend, waiting for me. We see each other once in a while, when he comes to Europe. He is the artistic director of Suzanne Dellal Centre, a place for arts in Tel Aviv.
The streets of Tel Aviv are empty. Shabbat in August. Most of the people are at home or at the seaside. 5 pm and 38 degrees.
At 7 pm they pick me up. We go to the house of Rivka, a volunteer and dance lover, who offers her house for the reunion of all the teachers and organizers of the Bridge Choreographic Meeting.
Rivka is 78 years old and has Yemenite origins. She was a dancer and a teacher. Her family is also there: her two sons and daughter sitting in the living room with the air conditioning full on. They look at me with curiosity since my Hebrew is pretty good. We talk about the weather while I’m freezing.
I meet Barak Marshall, the person who invited me to come to Israel. He is a choreographer and the artistic director of the Bridge Choreographic Meeting. There are dancers, teachers and people from the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv organization who are supporting this event. Of course the American-Israeli link, I think.
I meet some of my old teachers from the times that I was dancing for the Ensemble Batsheva. The ballet teacher doesn’t remember me. He used to call me ‘submarine’, because I could not jump very well, ‘always going down’. Even with this anecdote he still cannot remember me.
We talk about les ballets C de la B and the boycott to Israel.
- “We understand, we don’t watch the same news! Why the Belgian people don’t they fix the mess they made in Congo?”
I mention our trip with pitié! to Kinshasa, the work of Alain Platel in Ramallah and that it was a pity that the organization in Ramallah didn’t answer my invitation to send five of their dancers to come over the border and follow the workshop.
- “They have been invited in many occasions but they don’t want to come, they feel as if it is charity. The Europeans don’t understand that we also dislike our government, but we love our country.”
Claudio is a real Zionist, from the Shomer a Tzahir Movement. They recruit youngsters in Argentina and convince them of making ‘Aliah’, meaning immigrating to Israel, the heaven of the Jews, where all the Jews in the world should be reunited. I remember my time in the Shomer a Tzahir as a happy time full of ideals.
Back to the hotel.
Sunday 8 of August 2010
After a bad night’s sleep, I go to Suzan Dellal Centre where the workshop will take place. New dance studios, coffee places and restaurants. Things have changed a lot in 14 years. They compare the vibe of this part of the city to Soho in London or NY.
In the studio I see a big poster of a piece we have done in 1995, I recognize myself in it. Most of the other dancers on the poster live in Europe.
There are around twenty people with mixed backgrounds. After a short introduction, we start with some improvisations and some repertoire of primero, one of my recent creations. They are surprised I use Klezmer music and Yiddish songs. They are very interested about the idea of using ‘states’ to develop movement and to construct their own dance phrases within physical states.
During the short break they want to know more about les ballets C de la B. Ofir asks if it’s true that Alain Platel doesn’t work with Israelis or Jews. I explain that there were Israelis in the cast in previous pieces and that I’m a Jew myself. We laugh. I explain the cultural boycott: that les ballets C de la B just doesn’t want to come and play in Israel, till Israel will change its policies and that it is to put pression on the government. I can see their disappointment, especially of those who just before had to change from their military suit to their training pants.
In the end of the day we recapitulate all the material, I’m quite surprised of the high technical abilities of some of the people. My plan is to make a short scene each day and then to choose a few of them for the showing on Thursday.
During the week I lose some of the students, some people prefer to learn fixed dance material without having to create their own. I discuss this with Barak and he encourages me not to change my plans.
After the workshop I go straight to the sea. I see people at ease, enjoying, it could be the south of France. Only the persistency of the helicopters makes the difference.
I’m going to meet Claudio; I walk on the grass next to the sea. There are some religious, covered in black with Russian hats, moving back and forward praying and sweatingfacing the sea, women in bikinis footing close to them, Muslim men and women with their family having barbecues and young moderate religious couples in their blind dates: they meet in a hotel close by and go for a walk to get to know each other away from the family pression. They look beautiful, clean and shy, not allowed to touch each other.
At the restaurant entrance they check my bag, I remember the bombs a few years ago. They used to say it was safer to sit at the back of the restaurant, usually they got the kamikazes at the door entrance, where they detonated.
In the restaurant I meet a couple; she is from Venezuela and he is Israeli. They used to have a dance company in Venezuela for almost 20 years and they lived in New York for a while. They explain they made a piece about Anne Frank and that was it! Chavez, president of Venezuela, closed their company; he is described to me as a dictator and an anti-Semitic. They had to flee the country.
I can’t believe it, don’t know what to say. I explain that in Argentina (I just was there for two months), we have a lot of sympathy for Chavez, even Maradona went to visit him. I even met some poets from Venezuela not long ago who came to my town to read their poetry and encourage new brotherhood in Latin America. And that my mother is a total Chavez fan! And the fantastic documentary of Oliver Stone…
Of course you cannot convince somebody of something when his personal tragedy is involved. The conversation shifts to Israel.
- “We feel good here, even I’m not a Jew”, she says. “Only 62 years and look: such a developed country!”
Monday 9 August 2010
Taking a taxi to Suzanne Dellal Centre, too hot to walk. In the workshop we try the idea of fairy tales, how to tell a story in movements. It gets pretty funny. To my surprise there are no signs of difficult situations or anxiety in their stories. I feel people around here want to have a normal life, to live in a normal country to forget what is happening a few kilometers away. So why should I remind them?
We work with the idea of the ‘monkey mind’: how our thoughts jump from one to another without any logic, how we can translate this into movement phrases, teach each other, copy, use the idea of a conversation. It works out pretty well, automatic choreography.
In the break I go to see the other group. They are learning phrases from Rooster from Barak Marshall, he uses Hasidic music and you can see clear signs of Jewish tradition in the movements, it’s very energetic and happy.
The dancers and Barak explain me how the Israelian dance groups tour abroad, even now that they are barely invited.
The dancers have different floors and two bodyguards each floor, to avoid what happened in the Olympics in Munich in 1972. On tour you shouldn’t talk to strangers or invite them over or tell your room number and how many of you are there or your travel schedule. I think immediately of the Jewish paranoia.
- “Once in a show in France, the audience started shouting ‘Intifada, Intifada.’ Barak’s mother happened to be in the audience; she went on stage and did the typical ululation, lalalallala (the long high pitched sound resembling the howl of a dog or wolf call) made the audience calm down.”
Jews and Arabs share (also) the use of that sound in their rituals and celebrations.
Back in the hotel I watch the news. The conflict with Turkey about the boats bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza. They say the boats were from Hamas, they had guns, the soldiers had to kill them. The TV shows a red circle where the supposed armed men were.
Claudio explained me later, that the majority of Israelians know that the soldiers got scared and made a mistake.
Tuesday 10 August 2010
We work around the idea of duets, encounters and different meetings between people. I use ‘Tumbalalaika’ an old Yiddish song that talks about a young boy falling in love in Russia, a classic Ashkenazi song. Nobody in the group recognizes it.
This remains me when I first arrived in Israel in 1990. I realize that Israelians didn’t know anything about Judaism; nor do they seem to care about it. They live in Israel; they go to the army and that seems enough.
In the evening, a part of my family is waiting for me. They live in the North. Ruth, my cousin, considered being smart by the family (MA in Latin American studies from the Jerusalem University) and her husband, Oren, a wine maker born in South Africa. And the two girls: Tzuf, around 15, hyperactive, dressed as a punk, and Peleg, in her military outfit. An officer, she tells me proudly. She supervises the soldiers without family or those with difficult backgrounds; a high rank in the army. She shows me her left shoulder with the signs of IDF (Israel Defense Forces). In Israel it’s an honor to be a soldier, there is the culture of the sexy girl with a gun, it’s hip to be good in the army, being good to your second family.
We sit in a fish restaurant in Tel Aviv; a fancy Mediterranean city in the warm evening.
- “Do you see how much it developed in only 62 years!” Oren says. “A few years ago we couldn’t sit here, we were scared of the bombs. Now with the wall and the high control, it’s much better. We didn’t have a choice.”
We talk about Ruth going to London to study. The last time she has been in Europe was last year; for my wedding.
- “France was terrible, full of Arabs and gypsies, they don’t leave you alone, always asking for money, for this and that.”
I want to remain her that our grandfather was a Rumanian partly gypsy! But I skip it.
We talk about work, the workshop and when will I come to play in Israel? I explain the policy of les ballets C de la B, the cultural boycott and that they are not the only ones who are doing it, many other people and organizations around the world are doing it too. They are surprised and I’m astonished at how unaware they are of what the world thinks about Israel.
Oren begins to patronize me with the idea that I need help, since I live in Europe and the Europeans don’t like Jews.
- “Nobody likes us, even less now that we are strong.”
Peleg is shocked, she can’t believe it.
- “We have one of the best armies in the world. For us (the IDF), human life is the most important thing. Every morning I tell our soldiers to treat our fellow Arabs the way they would like to be treated themselves; a peaceful day in the checkpoint is a peaceful day for the country. They come over to bring bread to their children! I tell my soldiers if a pregnant woman is there standing, we let her pass first, we give her water. If the air conditioner breaks, we fix it immediately. You should come ones with your company, we organize a tour in the checkpoints. We are the only army in the world who send papers from the planes to advise people to leave their houses; we are about to bomb you!”
Tzuf can feel that I’m getting nervous and she is becoming nervous too. She stands up and down, tells me that she also will go to the army.
- “If you are a good person you should go to the army to defend your country, even if you are an artist.”
She tells me about her videos in facebook singing, and that she wants to win the singing contest ‘For a dream’ and it’s like one million shekels! No! But it is not about the money, it is about the experience, she explains.
They fast cut her off:
- “Tzuf, you are going away from the topic. We need to help Lisi! We need to find a reason: Why Israel is good?”
- “We are one of the bests in science and medicine. We have one of the highest Nobel Prices percentages. (!!!) In France they have one million Arabs, most of them there having cleaning jobs or just making trouble. Europe soon will be paying the price of having such a high Muslim immigration. They don’t respect women; they put their children as human shelters! The world doesn’t like us strong, they are anti-Semitic since Jesus, and don’t forget the holocaust, the Arabs wanting to throw us into the sea, even now…”
I try to explain in a soft way that we can’t use this kind of excuses anymore, they are not good enough and boycott is not good for a country; Israel needs the rest of the world!
- “We are good Jewish boys and girls, we don’t do bad things. It’s our duty. We criticize ourselves a lot in the IDF, reports and reports to avoid any kind of abuse.”
- “We respect human life, it is the most important for us. There is a problem of communication with the world; we tell everything, we don’t have secrets.”
- “The ship, they were Hamas, they had guns. We are always the bad ones… Look at Gilad Shalit, the soldier who has been for more than three years kidnapped by Hamas. For one soldier, Israel was ready to give away a thousand prisoners. Why? Because human life is the most important. And just a simple soldier, nothing amazing or so.”
The sad truth is: What is one soldier compared to thousands of Palestinians killed? Human lives but only our lives?
At this point everybody is getting emotional. Peleg is angry and starts crying.
- “So you wouldn’t post a picture of us together in facebook in my army clothes? You are ashamed of me?”
I start seeing now, how painful this becomes. I say that we are cousins and that’s the most important, besides the politics of Israel, but I feel the damage in both sides.
We go out of the restaurant; they still feel they have to help me with my identity problem. They want to show me some videos on youtube of the army; I promise I will watch them later. I feel I need to put my head together. The safest place, my hotel room.
We say goodbye, we take some pictures, I say that I will try coming over next day…
Back in my shelter I freak out thinking I have been brain washed. I look on youtube for ‘Israeli-Arab conflict’. I see a religious Jewish woman hitting an Arab woman and how she has to live behind a fence because of the settlements aggression, the IDF mistreating Palestinian, pushing, hitting, shooting, the known images. I see the videos my cousin recommended, some IDF soldiers making a video clip, dancing in the streets of Hebron, making funky steps with their guns. ‘It’s easy to make fun of the occupation when you are the suppressor’ somebody wrote.
I call my mother and she confirms; that it is the ‘right’ part of the family, with the white supremacy flavor in it. My mother who loves Chavez, who fought the military dictatorship in Argentina, it must be even harder for her. She arrived in Israel in 1956 full of ideals to build up this country with intellectuals and socialists working the land. She always laughs when she remembers her time in the army. When she went to prison for putting flowers in the end of her rifle.
She studied in Jerusalem and couldn’t stand the Israelian arrogance. After ten years, she went back to Argentina. She arrived in the middle of the dictatorship. She was kidnapped accused of being a terrorist; while teaching philosophy at the university. Declared ‘disappeared’ for almost a year. But this is another painful story about injustice.
Conclusion of the day: family is family.
Wednesday 11 August 2010
In the morning I feel quite unstable from my experience last night. I think about my the strong points of view of my family. I talk with Barak about maybe sharing the Gaza Monologues text with the people of the workshop; he thinks it’s a really good idea. He is a very positive and encouraging person, I think he is also busy with the dilemma of belonging, we often laugh about being the true ‘wondering Jews’. He lives between Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, London…
With the group we work around the theme of ‘nightmares’ and which kind of physicality this produces. We use floor work, staccato sharp movements. Then standing up, a ‘nightmare’” being awake. There is a very young girl, Lyron, I think her English is not very good, that’s why she doesn’t follow the tasks, but I’m very surprised about her physicality and how emotional she is when she dances. Then there is Ofir and Ido, they didn’t go to the army and they have been in Europe for a while, doing little projects in Salzburg. They couldn’t cope with living in Austria.
- “People are very unfriendly, a bit Nazi.”
I agree and we laugh. This subject comes up often between Jewish people. There are also the most extreme ones that don’t even want to go visit Germany.
We improvise searching material to make short solos. Using all possible means: the clichés of each one, the movements you know to do best, movements that you always like to use. How can we combine these personal movements with the physical qualities we have been working during the week? It’s very intense and even if they look confused, they are enjoying it a lot, to use ‘their’ thing.
We work the idea of one passive body and another person manipulating it as a ‘thing’ putting all of them in a pile. The ‘body bags’ scene from vsprs. This material with the Yiddish music becomes very connotative. We go through the different scenes, how can we put them together for the showing next day? I choose some primero material and a recapitulation of what we have been working on.
Claudio and Barak come to watch; they are quite touched of seeing these young dancers doing this kind of material; ‘so human’, they say. Claudio feels that carrying the bodies, will be a bit too much for the Thursday showing at noon; ‘it’s should be a light kind of thing’. I say I will think about it. The dancers think it’s a really special moment and they want very much to do it. On Friday, last minute, I’ll take it out of the showing.
After the break, I introduce the Gaza Monologues. I’m so nervous.
People younger than 18 years old wrote these texts, about their experiences and their lives in Palestine. They send it all over the world and they will be rehearsed and presented in all the different countries.
I give the first one to read:
“The hour I hate the most is 12 at noon. I feel that the war will start again”
“Before the war I was a child…But after the war I discovered I’m not a child anymore, and that Gaza, doesn’t have children in it.”
“The Israeli army told the neighbours that they will bomb their house. I went running home to tell my parents. After that I couldn’t sleep anymore”
“Everyone died. I felt most sad for the little girls.”
“I don’t know how to walk the street, I’d be walking on the right and got scared, then I’d move to the left, but I was still scared. Where am I supposed to walk – in the middle of the street?”
“ I forgot to tell you that my brother had a cup of tea in the first explosion, which fell from his hand and broke. Do you think it was because of fear?”
“There is no water…no electricity…no phones…no petrol…what are we to the world, aren’t we human?”
“I start to dress in a very clean and tidy way, so if I die, I would die a nice death. It would be a problem if I was hit by a rocket because I would become 100 pieces and I’d like to die in one piece”
They stop. I can feel the confusion and embarrassment while reading, as if all this cannot be really true. How come this be happening? Maybe they are exaggerating?
I also had this thought the first time I read it. But then you read it over and over again and you know; it’s true…
A biiiiig silence installs itself. It’s really hard and I really don’t know if it was a good idea. I justified myself saying that it is one of the projects I’m about to do next, and I want to share this with them. And that I’m not judging them or anything like that, but those youngsters are almost their age and I found it important to hear what they have to say; especially because they live just ‘around the corner’ from where we are.
We go out from the studio, we all need some fresh air. We go all together for a drink.
Back to the hotel feeling again this impotence and uncertainty about this all-entire situation. Still very excited about tomorrow.
Thursday 12 August 2010
We meet at 9 am to start rehearsing in the studio, then we go on stage and we do a run-through with all the others, a kind of general rehearsal. To be on that stage brings me back to the times I decided that I wanted to be a dancer.
The ambiance is really good and informal. The dancers are seated in the audience and they go on and off stage between the parts. There is a sequence of Damien Jalet, a dancer I met at les ballets C de la B and who gave a workshop here last week. It’s very energetic and beautiful; I like it a lot. As well as the part of Barak with Klezmer music, a mix of Israeli folklore in a Jewish wedding with contemporary dance.
I’m happy about the selection I made, but I decide to cut the part of carrying the bodies in the end; it looks too dramatic. The dancers are disappointed; but they understand my doubts. I feel what they do is totally different than the other propositions; it makes me feel a bit insecure. The dancers are totally into it, no doubts at all. It’s amazing how people can get so close to each other is such a short time.
One of my dancers has to work in the bar of the theatre at exactly the time of the showing. I go talk to his boss, but it doesn’t help. Ofir will miss the show…and we will miss him!
At 12 the audience comes in. It’s totally packed. I see lots of familiar faces. Claudio does the introduction with a special thanks to the ambassador of Belgium for coming to the event. I’m really touched that he came. I feel kind of proud to represent my country, even if it is an adopted one.
Some of the teachers make an introduction of the material. I’m too ashamed. I ask Claudio to do it for me: “material created by the dancers and some existing material from primero, the last creation by Lisi Estaras.”
While I look at it, I think it would have been amazing to read parts of the monologues in this context, but that was simply impossible, I didn’t even have the courage to ask. I know I have missed a great opportunity of really doing something, and now I am too late…
The audience is very enthusiastic, especially with the foreigner teachers, the fast dances full of energy and the dancers from Los Angeles who come to the microphone to thanks Israel the great time they had and how much they learnt these days.
My turn, I get always so stressy! I think it’s only about 5 or 6 minutes and still…they do it really good, people clap. I breath again.
The showing finishes, everybody is happy and excited by the result.
The ambassador of Belgium looks for me. A woman! She is very friendly and extremely happy that a relation between Belgium and Israel may begin, even on a small scale. Since none of the big dance companies of Belgium want to come to Israel. She tells me she was very touched by what I showed and I am pleased.
In fact I explain that I’m a dancer and choreographer of les ballets C de la B and that inside the company we support the different points of view. Even though we support the boycott, I still came to give a workshop.
I think she is a bit confused, like I am. We say goodbye and she makes clear that she is willing to help in any way in the future. I’m embarrassed of my French; the strong Spanish accent follows me in all languages.
The end. We exchange addresses, hugs, phone numbers. We take pictures. It was a strong experience for all of us.
In the airport, when they put the stamp on while asking where, with who and why, I only think that I MUST come back and it should take less than last time because it’s urgent! And that I MUST go to the territories and I can’t believe I was never over there! And that I MUST find a way to do something, to make a project with people from both sides, there in the middle of Tel Aviv…
Just telling myself over and over to remember the feeling of that precise moment.
And like Alain said to me: “Just write it all down”