Like every other kibbutz, Ga’aton is known for growing and cultivating — only its product is modern dancers. Sixteen of those dancers from the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company will soon showcase their work here in Philly.
Anyone interested in seeing live Israeli folk dancing should probably stay away from the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s performances at Annenberg Center beginning Nov. 13. That’s because despite its name and the fact that the kibbutzim have long been repositories of the uniquely Israeli art form, the troupe is renowned as one of the top modern dance companies in the world, according to its international director, Yoni Avital.
The company comes by its name honestly. Its founder, the late Yehudit Arnon, was also one of the founders in 1948 of Kibbutz Ga’aton, located in the Western Galilee, just south of the Lebanese border. Arnon, a Czechoslovakian Holocaust survivor and former student of the German expressionist choreographer Kurt Jooss, started her first dance company at the kibbutz in 1970, which eventually evolved into its current iteration.
Today, like every other kibbutz, Ga’aton is known for growing and cultivating, only in this case, its product is dancers and dance, not produce or livestock. In addition to the main company — which is bringing 16 dancers to Philadelphia — Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company operates what amounts to its own dance ecosystem. There is a secondary company, KCDC 2, which performs throughout Israel, as well as a third company that caters primarily to younger audiences. There is also the International Dance Village of Kibbutz Ga’aton, which hosts intense five- and 10-month “Dance Journey” programs designed to replicate the experience of being in a professional dance troupe, as well as summer programs for international students. Finally, the company engages in extensive outreach programs throughout the region.
“We focus on a few main beliefs,” Avital said. “Arts, education, reaching out to the community and working on coexistence by working with at-risk kids” and “Arabs on the periphery.”
For him, it is all of a piece to promote dance as “a language without words, something that can bring people from all over the world to the space and experience, regardless of where they are from.”
If Avital’s name sounds familiar, there is good reason: In addition to being the longtime head of music at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, the Brooklyn native and Rutgers alumnus is one of the founders of The Shuk, an Israeli band that performs in the United States on a regular basis.
“I have a very full schedule,” he acknowledged. “I developed The Shuk well before I joined the dance company” over three years ago. “I have the flexibility to do both although sometimes that means a lot of travel.”
That will be the case for him on this trip abroad, although he will be mixing some pleasure with business. After the company’s Philadelphia premiere of If at All, a full-length piece created by artistic director and former Arnon protégé Rami Be’er about the circular elements of the human condition, Avital heads to Europe to audition dancers. He will be joined by his wife, who is an instructor for both the main and secondary troupes.
Avital said that the kibbutz’s relatively remote location compared to companies located in dance hubs like Paris, London or New York is actually a help rather than a hindrance in the recruitment process.
“It’s hard to think of disadvantages,” he said. “All of the dancers, apprentices and students in the program, they’re in a village where it is just dance. They’re all focused on their trade, and personal and professional development. We have a swimming pool, a restaurant. Last night we had an improv jam — we all got together for two hours for improv movement with live music. There is a huge added value for being removed from a major city.”
For those dance aficionados who think this setup sounds like paradise, take heart: the company also has its own state-of-the-art theater at the kibbutz and is open to the public.
IF YOU GO
Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company
Nov. 13 to 15 at Zellerbach
Theatre at Annenberg Center
for the Performing Arts,
3680 Walnut St., Philadelphia