10 questions with Elad Shechter about Jerusalem’s fourth annual contemporary dance festival, “From Jaffa to Agripas”
We sat down with co-artistic director, Elad Shechter, and asked him some questions about Jerusalem’s upcoming contemporary dance festival, “From Jaffa to Agripas,” taking place October 22-24 in Mahane Yehuda:
1. Can you tell me a little more about the festival? How does it work?
The event was first started in 2014. We wanted to extract contemporary dance from theaters and galleries and put it on a platform where a larger audience could see the performances and works. At the same time, we saw this festival as an opportunity to challenge the choreographers and artists themselves in a less orthodox manner. We decided to take Mahane Yehuda market (the center of Jerusalem, housing so many different cultures, foods, artists, poetry slams, and graffiti art) and add an element of dance to all of that culture. This is the main idea that spearheaded the whole festival.
The crowd and musicality that helped us create and fund this event all loved the pilot year so we decided to repeat “From Jaffa to Agripas” in 2015 and 2016. This is the fourth year that the festival is happening. This year, I must admit that I think we have our best pieces yet. We decided to add on one evening at the Alliance house, just outside the market, to explore the action that exists within proximity to the market.
2. What sorts of performances should people expect?
This year, especially, we concentrated on bringing a variety of styles to the market. Starting from very traditional contemporary dance (i.e. set to choreography and created for a stage—even if the stage is the size of a bar corner), all the way to Flamenco and performance acts that are less "dancy." The pieces are incredible this year; we even have a solo piece by a choreographer from Ramallah.
3. What do you hope to achieve with this event?
I strongly believe that the most important thing at this event is bringing body culture into the public sphere of Jerusalem. As we all know, Jerusalem is a very traditional city with a lot of issues due to the many cultures that inhabit it. Mahane Yehuda is an enabling place to facilitate this mixture and actually present the human body and movement by the human body in the public sphere of Jerusalem, rejecting those who may believe it to be eccentric or unacceptable.
4. How much do tickets cost?
NOTHING. Since Jerusalem is a diverse and complex city, its citizens may not all be able to come and pay tickets to see contemporary dance in the traditional manner, which creates a problem for choreographers that want to present their work because shows are expensive. Our main idea was to create this platform where choreographers could use the business owners as hosting bars and create a piece that not only is presented in bars, but also connects to the idea and atmosphere of the bar itself. The bar scene in the market is already such an interesting collage of cultures. I wanted to utilize that and add an additional layer.
5. So you mentioned just now that the performances take place in bars in Mahane Yehuda. Can you tell me more about this process? Do the choreographers choose which bar to perform in?
Yes. Before they create their pieces, we invite choreographers we like for a location tour in the market. They then choose the location that inspires them most, whether it be the bar owner, the vibes, the cultural backdrop, anything. By matching each dancer with a bar, we aim to create a link between the artistic community and bar owners. We do not impose, but rather ask the bar if they would like to host and if so, they benefit greatly from publicity.
On top of the bar setting layer, our one other guideline for the choreographers in regards to their site specific performances is that they choose a Jerusalem-based artist (from a discipline other than dance) to collaborate with. This could be a musician, a slam poet, a graffiti artist, anyone. Now, we have created a link between Jerusalem, businesses, dance, arts and culture, all tied in an explosive package.
6. Can you give me some examples of pieces from the past?
Of course. Firstly, there was my piece, Urfa (meaning “lifted up” in Arabic, it is also a slang word used to describe the action of trying to make someone happy). I presented the piece in a bar dedicated to oriental culture. I drew inspiration from the culture, creating a piece that connected the neighbors that we have around Israel. We borrowed music from musicians all over the Middle East, and the entire atmosphere was like a festive Arabic party. The piece was very successful and following the festival, it made its mark with international audiences (after going on tour to four states in the U.S.) and was presented about forty times in Israel itself.
In another work, the choreographer was inspired by the bar owner herself and crafted a riveting piece whereby she plays the role of the bar owner and explores the challenges of following your dreams through the eyes of this colorful character. I, and the C.A.T.A.M.O.N. dance group, believe that dance can bridge the gap between cultures because we don’t need words to understand the performances. Dance is its own universal language.
7. Who funds the festival?
This year, we’ve gained the support of Jerusalem Municipality, the Ministry of Culture, The Natan foundation, the Choreographers Associations, the Jerusalem foundation, Leichtag family foundation, and we consider the bars as part of our funders as well. Most of the funds we receive are public and it's a privilege to take these funds and help artists and business owners in the market, while also spreading the word about the different cultures that exist in Jerusalem. We give them a way to show themselves and present material from all over the world.
8. Who should we expect? Are the choreographers independent? Israeli? International?
Half are Jerusalem-based, the rest are from other areas in the country. As co-artistic director along with Tom Lev Dekel, we handpick every choreographer. We requested applications for the first time this year and we received more than 30 propositions last July. We had to choose only 6 of them and I believe we made some wonderful choices. We are very involved in the dance community and active members of the Choreographers Association so we are quite familiar with the talent that we have here. We don't necessarily look for the “best” choreographers, but rather the choreographers that we feel will present the most interesting works.
9. What was your greatest challenge with this event?
This is quite an easy question to answer. Two years ago, we were supposed to host our first event of the year on October 12. A few days before, the stabbing and security situation in Jerusalem occurred and we had to postpone the event and eventually create one mega event in December as opposed to two separate ones. So, our biggest challenge will always be working in this unpredictable environment. I can handle the rain. If it snows, now that’s a different story. Weather we can cope with, but with security events that we experience in Jerusalem, every time they happen, we have to be ready to rearrange our whole event. This is heartbreaking because there are more than one hundred people involved in “From Jaffa to Agripas” (set designers, dancers, musicians, graphic artists, video artists, costume designers, makeup designers, etc.). To say to them, “Listen, we have to postpone the event because of the security situation,” was a huge challenge for me and I pray that in the next two weeks, the sort of quiet we've been having in the last year will continue.
10. Anything else you’d like the world to know about the festival?
I would love for the audience to come with an open mind and just enjoy and experience the different kinds of performances that are happening. They should feel free to create their own routes through the market because each of the performances takes place three times in the evening. I encourage people to come. It’s free, you can talk to friends, come with family, drink, smoke, do whatever you want, all while enjoying the high quality content being presented to you. The mixture between Mahane Yehuda, this high quality content and the fact that it’s free is a winning combination in my eyes.
"From Jaffa to Agripas" will take place in Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem from October 22-24