April 29, 2013, Updated April 28, 2013

Mitzpeh Ramon is known for its enormous erosion crater, desert scenery and quiet. Although 190 kilometers (118 miles) south of Tel Aviv – Israel’s culture capital – the Negev town is also gaining attention for its artistic productivity.

Israeli choreographers Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal helped put the slow-paced community on the culture map 13 years ago when they set up the Adama Dance Art Healing Center. Located in the town’s Spice Route Quarter, Adama is a multifaceted complex that offers classes and workshops, accommodations, studios and a performance venue.

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Of course, it also offers an inimitable vibe. The vastness and stillness of the surrounding landscape energize Dror and Ben Gal’s creativity.

“It’s a very unique place. The geography, the place itself, it’s very beautiful,” Dror tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s very important for us to connect the geography with the community. The atmosphere here is one of togetherness and at the same time each person can find his own way and own things to do.”

Two-room apartment

In their role as choreographers, Dror and Ben Gal have many achievements under their belt. In 1987, their work “Two Room Apartment” won Israel’s prestigious Shades of Dance competition and set them on the path to domestic and international recognition.

True to its name, Adama features mud B&B huts. Photo by Tzachor Livneh
True to its name, Adama features mud B&B huts. Photo by Tzachor Livneh

Today, that work is still hailed as a milestone of the contemporary Israeli dance scene for its poignant look at the friction and intimacy of a couple’s relationship.

Their next works also received broad interest — “Inta Omri” (a dance based on the music of Egyptian superstar Umm Kulthum) and “Dance of Nothing” (a balance of artistic expression with healing, attentiveness, and understanding) – and the husband-and-wife team quickly found themselves on the global touring circuit.

Then, at the height of their fame, they decided to leave Tel Aviv and move to Mitzpeh Ramon to find a way of originating, practicing and performing dance that was more in tune with their views on life and healing.

They turned a deserted industrial hangar into a bastion of dance, movement and harmony. And they called it Adama, which means “earth” or “land” in Hebrew.

One past participant describes Adama as life-changing. Photo by Avi Ben Zeev
One past participant describes Adama as life-changing. Photo by Avi Ben Zeev

“When we came to Mitzpeh Ramon we moved out of the mainstream world of dance,” says Dror, who with Ben Gal trained in Jerusalem at the Rubin Academy and with the Kibbutz Dance Company. “We’re not just about giving performances. We teach dance, movement and healing.”

High-tech stretch

Dror and Ben Gal feel they’ve found the connection between relaxation and expression and work hard to pass on their secrets to the rest of the world.

From their hangar they run the Liat Dror Nir Ben Gal Dance Company with seven dancers, a dance school, healing workshops, support groups, corporate seminars, a summer camp and even a B&B.

People from across Europe, the United States, South America and around Israel make the off-the-beaten-track trek to Mitzpeh Ramon to learn Adama’s language of movement.

“Our work method integrates supporting, healing movement together with the accuracy and physical skill of professional dance,” explains Dror.

Some people come independently while others take part in MASA programs or come as part of a tour or corporate fun day.

“My year at Adama was incredibly powerful and life-changing. I grew in confidence and strength, deepening my connection to my body, learning to trust more boldly my capacity to create as an artist,” writes foreign student Rebekah Hart on Adama’s website.

Founders Nir Ben Gal and Liat Dror. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Founders Nir Ben Gal and Liat Dror. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz

From its early days as a desolate hangar, today Adama is a beautiful desert oasis offering eco-friendly mud houses and teepee rooms. The couple and the company dancers cook, clean, garden and do the handy work.

They also hold festivals every Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot for up to 400 people (“We teach regular people from high school to high-tech”) and the only caveat is to come with curiosity and an open mind.

The festivals differ from other holiday events “because they’re for the young and old together. Everyone has the option to move and to be able to dance even if they’re not a dancer,” says Dror. “One gets a lot of quiet from the desert. It’s a holiday but also learning … to just be.”

Dror and Ben Gal’s latest piece, “Up Chi Down Chi,” debuted in 2012 and has already been performed on European stages.

“Up Chi Down Chi” is a play on Hebrew words. “Up Chi” is the onomatopoeic sound Israelis make when they sneeze. Chi, according to Far Eastern traditions, is life energy, causing change, reproduction, movement. The choreographers explain that “the sound that we make when we sneeze implies an uplifting of the chi.”

The work has been hailed for its unique movement language that reflects their alternative way of life. The dance company is now planning a European and North American tour with “Up Chi Down Chi” for this summer and autumn.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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