Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company does soul, not politics, in Ekodoom

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      Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s Ekodoom is full of startling, intense imagery: a body tries to fight its way out of a small box, soldiers march fiercely to German electro-punk, and dancers collide in deadly struggle. The pummelling sequences, and the fact that KCDC hails from strife-ridden Israel, might lead you to jump to conclusions about the meaning of the fervently lauded work when the company makes its Vancouver debut here at the Chutzpah! festival. But artistic director Rami Be’er stresses he doesn’t intend Ekodoom to be taken quite so literally.

      “It’s a piece that, between the lines, is trying to say something about ourselves as a society. And perhaps between the lines it also carries a message against racism, against violence,” the choreographer begins, speaking to the Straight over the phone from the Kibbutz Ga’aton, where he was raised and where the company is based. It is located in Western Galilee, near the border with Lebanon.

      “I was born here in Israel, and as a mature person I choose to live in Israel in the kibbutz, and of course it’s part of my life and my existence,” he continues thoughtfully. “The tensions I experience in a country—of course I’m going to express them, but not in a direct way. The answer is in the eyes of the spectator. In the end, what I search for is the art, the soul, the form, the composition, the aesthetics—the artistic value. I am not a politician.”

      Whatever the motivation, Be’er has, from his little-known corner of Israel, carved out a major reputation on the international dance scene. He joined the dance company in 1983, under its founding director Yehudit Arnon, and then took it over when she retired in 1996. Since then, the troupe has been touring the world with Be’er’s muscular, visually theatrical works.

      Fifteen dancers will take the stage at the Chutzpah! festival, and they will throw themselves into the full, flailing movement that sets the company apart. “It’s a total way of expression of the human body,” Be’er explains. “It’s very physical, but at the same time I search for the natural way of moving—like the body is one organism. And the music is a strong influence.”

      Be’er takes a similarly holistic approach to the music and production design, which he crafts himself or collaborates closely on with other artists. Small wonder: before he got into dance, he trained as a cellist and comes from a family of musicians. He also studied painting and sculpture, and his father (a Holocaust survivor) is an architect. The result, he says, is that when he choreographs a dance, it starts in his head with a piece of music or visual imagery before he heads into the studio. In the epic Ekodoom, his aesthetic genius plays out in everything from the stark pillars of light he beams onto the dancers to dreamlike props and sets. Dance, Be’er tells the Straight, is the perfect culmination of all his varied interests.

      It’s also a way for him to reach out with something deeper. “For me, dance and music and visual art are a way of creating communication between human beings, between different backgrounds and different religions,” he says. “This is a modest contribution to make a better world to live in—not that I am so naive that I believe that dance can change the world, but I believe it can, for that audience, on one night.”

      So while Be’er doesn’t necessarily want his work seen as a literal commentary on the Israel that surrounds him, he does relish the thought of bringing his country’s perspective—and talent—to the rest of the world. “It’s important that we arrive from Israel and it’s not just the Israel you see in the news with crisis and bombing—that there is another side to it,” he says with heartfelt conviction. “There’s a lot of creativity and activity here, and I believe we can create communication—we can create a bridge.”

      Ekodoom is at the Norman Rothstein Theatre from Tuesday to next Thursday (February 22 to 24).