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Empress of Israeli dance sets sights on New York

Posted By Stephanie Freid On February 5, 2006 @ 12:00 pm In | No Comments

Friedland: I take the layers from the library in my mind and when I start to work physically, they come out in stories. I’m communicating through dance.It’s the fantasy phone call or e-mail that usually doesn’t come – the Hollywood producer/venture capitalist/book publisher contacting you to give you the good news: the desired part in the show, the funds needed to get that business off the ground, the long-awaited book deal.

But the dream came true for Sally-Anne Friedland, the artistic director and choreographer of Israel’s Dance Drama Company (DDC) – and all it took was a videotape of her work.

“I stopped into the 92nd Street Y Dance offices [in New York] to drop off the tape,” Friedland told ISRAEL21c. Her hope was that someone to view the material and be impressed enough to invite her troupe to the Y’s annual dance showcase, a feather in the cap for any dance troupe. Knowing that it was a long shot, and leaning towards the practical, however, she merely asked for someone to get back to her with constructive criticism.

“I didn’t hear from her again so I didn’t think too much about it. Four months later, I get an e-mail saying we’d been short-listed for the festival and asking if we might be available. I was thrilled. It’s the break I’ve been waiting for,” Friedland enthusiastically recounts.

Founded in 2002, the five-member DDC is made up of four females and one male who appear regularly on Israel’s stages. They’ve also danced their way to France, Poland, Sweden and Lithuania and future plans include a summer South Africa debut.

The troupe has received accolades from the deans of Israeli dance criticism. “The casting is excellent,” states Ynet’s Merav Yudelevich, referring to the ensemble’s togetherness.

“Interlaced with the rich episodes touched by humor are charming duets and meaningful solos.” writes Ma’ariv’s Smadar Hirsch of Friedland’s Red.

And the buzz has reached as far as… New York. Not just any run-of-the-mill dance hoopla, the 5-week, 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival features top tier, expressionist, dance-multimedia, modern and dance drama companies hailing from the US – and now Israel. Funded by heavy hitters like Capezio, The Village Voice and The Harkness Foundation, the festival celebrates its twelfth anniversary this year by relocating to Manhattan’s prestigious Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater. The DDC will perform Friedland’s Red and Borders over six days of the festival beginning on February 15.

“It’s unbelievable,” Friedland, a rakish, spiky blonde sporting fuschia and turquoise-framed glasses exclaims.

Not completely. While her apartheid era, South African background negates the likelihood of ultra-modern dance influences, her liberal family, immersion in dance and a move to Israel, on the other hand, contributed heavily towards her current success.

“I took my first ballet class at age three. Ballet for babies. There I stood at the barre in my teacher’s Cape Town garage in borrowed ballet shoes. It wasn’t the first time: I tried to get into my mother’s shoes way before that. My mother, thank goodness, took notice and encouraged me.”

Friedland continued studying classical ballet at Cape Town’s Royal Academy of Dance throughout her youth and teen years and after graduating high school, joined Cape Town’s ballet company. Not, however, without some grumbling on the family front.

“I come from a Jewish family where it wasn?t acceptable to dance. My father was liberal but I was expected to go to university and have a career – be a doctor like all the rest of us. I was the tallest in the family and a dancer,” she sighs.

The family resigned themselves to Friedland’s career as she resigned herself to three years as the ballet company’s “sixteenth swan standing behind the tree.” Internally she yearned to kick off her pointe shoes and take up modern dance even though, as a young adult living under apartheid without television, she had no idea what modern dance looked like or entailed.

That is, until traveling to Europe at twenty-two where the first samplings of American classics – Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, a meeting with Louis Falco, classes taught by Martha Graham aficionados – left her shocked and hungry for more, in addition to being exposed to new cultural norms.

“Here was this well known, Martha Graham teacher – a black woman! I’d never seen anything like it before. A black teacher. The blacks in South Africa were servants. Here, we danced with them and ate with them,” Friedland recounts. “It was amazing.”

She returned to Cape Town for a brief stint and then made her way to Israel to audition for a modern company and to survey firsthand the country her father had fought for in 1948. “I didn’t expect culture, just lots of sand.”

Pleasantly surprised by her surroundings, Friedland settled down in Tel Aviv, started a family, carved out a name for herself as a dancer and in 2001, seamlessly transitioned to choreography and the role of dance architect.

“When I started creating, I was starting from zero,” Friedland says. “I had to go inside, dig deep and find out what my dance is. This is my thing and these are my ideas. I take the layers from the library in my mind and when I start to work physically, they come out in stories. I’m communicating through dance.”

In her current pieces, she hopes to convey the multi-faceted, complications of womanhood via Red, and the personal boundaries, lack of boundaries, country boundaries, layers of archeology and history built up over time via Borders.

Do the inherently female-centric DDC themes present a problem for the company’s sole male dancer Oren Lazovski? Au contraire. Lazovski says with each role he gains fresh perspective he can take beyond the stage.

“I go from being a manly, ancient Greek and Roman figure in Borders to acting as a man relative to women in Red. Macho, Tango, a duet, active, passive. My role varies. In general, though, it’s a nice feeling being around four beautiful girls,” Lazovski tells ISRAEL21c.

Is he excited about New York? “Of course! It’s the Big Apple. It’s one of the major dance centers in the world and the possibility and chance of performing in Alvin Ailey’s studios… it’s like a dream come true for me,” he gushes.

Friedland shares the sentiment, holding out high hopes for the DDC debut in New York. “This will really put us onto the mainstream circuit,” she confides. “New York was exactly what I needed and it gives me the opportunity to cut to the chase. I’ve always known somewhere Americans have to see my work. This is it!”

The 92nd Street Harkness Dance Festival runs from February 8th through March 12th with Dance Drama Company performances starting February 15th.


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