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Performing Arts

Orit Wolf performing in Ashdod. Photo by D. Miller

Orit Wolf performing in Ashdod. Photo by D. Miller

Award-winning Israeli musician Orit Wolf believes that to survive in the 21st century business world, ‘you have to be amazing, just like a performer.’

By Abigail Klein Leichman

Israeli concert pianist Orit Wolf was barely out of her teens when disaster struck 12 minutes into a live recording and concert in Jerusalem: She blanked out and froze.

“I was always told ‘the show must go on’ but nobody told me how to do that, how to turn a mistake into an opportunity and how to improvise. I stopped the music and it was such a shameful occasion,” recalls Wolf.

Today, the poised pianist performs across the world and leads internationally sought-after workshops using music to teach businesses innovation, problem-solving, management, public speaking, coping with change, the power of persuasion and the art of disruption.

“I realized that if I want to be on stage I’ve got to have the right tools to turn any mistake into something beautiful. So I started to learn composition and improvisation and it was like buying an insurance policy that no matter what happens I can go on and do a lovely performance even if I don’t have my notes or forgot the music or the piano is really bad, or my hands are sweaty or the audience is noisy,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

Her research following that ruined concert convinced her that “there was something in music-making that could give insights to so many professions on how to go on no matter what happens.”

Wolf was only 23 when an executive from Israeli pharma giant Teva audited one of her classes at Tel Aviv University about music and innovation, and persuaded her to start lecturing to businesses.

Over the past decade, she’s worked with banks, insurance companies, colleges and firms such as Verint, Matrix, Check Point, Strauss, Coca-Cola, HP, IBM, Bayer, Lilly, FedEx and Netafim. Her concert lectures have taken her to countries including Holland, Switzerland, England, Germany, Spain and Austria. This fall she’s returned to her alma mater, the Royal Academy of Music in London, to teach a course called “Leadership for Stage Performers.”

Below is a presentation Wolf gave at the UK Marketing Society’s 2014 annual conference.

“I don’t teach strategies you can read in a book,” Wolf says. “I give tools to create disruptions, to improvise and deliver your message in a more experienced and inspiring way. To survive in the 21st century you have to be amazing, just like a performer. It’s easy to show on the piano how you can take the same text or score and transform it.”

In one exercise, Wolf asks participants to write on paper for three minutes and to make intentional spelling mistakes. She then analyzes results in a 45-minute presentation.

“What we learn is that the average person makes 20 mistakes in 40 words. People who make more mistakes than words, say 20 words with 40 mistakes, are less afraid to break paradigms. And what kind of mistakes they make shows different ways of breaking the paradigm. It’s very interesting for me to see how far people are allowing themselves to go.”

Another exercise has the group telling an improvised story passed from one to the next, in which every other word must be spoken in a different language. For example, instead of “good morning” you might say “good boker.”

“I have about 80 different exercises like those to break your paradigms on emotional, mental and cognitive levels. We create a situation where you will not be afraid to be cognitively embarrassed. This trains you to have the courage and self-confidence to deliver your next presentation beautifully even if you have technical problems.”

Born leader

Orit Wolf persuaded her parents to send her for piano lessons when she was six. Gifted in many areas, she finished high school at 16 and by age 23 had acquired a bachelor’s degree from Boston University on full scholarship, a master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Music and a PhD from Bar-Ilan University, along with numerous piano awards.

She then taught innovation through music at Tel Aviv University for eight years despite never having studied leadership, marketing or business management.

“I’m dedicating my life to showing people things they can do to become more creative and how to leave an unforgettable mark in whatever it is they do.”

Orit Wolf in duet with opera singer Assaf Kacholi. Photo: courtesy

Orit Wolf in duet with opera singer Assaf Kacholi. Photo: courtesy

When the university discontinued her award-winning course for budgetary reasons, she was jolted out of one of her own paradigms – the false sense of job security – and turned her disappointment into an opportunity to do concert lectures.

“I started in a small Jaffa museum with 60 subscribers in 2006. Now I have over 4,000 annual subscribers for eight series I perform at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Haifa Auditorium, Rehovot, Ashdod and Ra’anana,” says Wolf, who encourages audiences to record, photograph, share and tweet her performance as long as their phones are in silent mode.

She also has a new series for English-speakers, Music and Muse, at Weil Auditorium in Kfar Shmaryahu.

Wolf confides that on occasion she takes her seven- and nine-year-old children to her concerts instead of school.

“The idea of obeying rules all the time, I think, is wrong. Breaking rules sometimes helps people think more clearly and changes how they look at things.”

For more information, click here.

Award-winning Israeli concert pianist teaches managers to disrupt and innovate

Archeologist Joe Uziel in the newly discovered Roman theater near the Western Wall. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

Archeologist Joe Uziel in the newly discovered Roman theater near the Western Wall. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

After 1,700 years, dramatic discovery changes archaeologists’ entire understanding of Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple.

By Brian Blum

Jewish historian Josephus Flavius told of a small Roman-era theater built in the vicinity of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. But no one had seen it for nearly two millennia. Archaeologists beginning with Charles William Wilson have been searching for that theater for 150 years to no avail.

Because the theater is located under a roofed space, the archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority note that the theater was probably an odeon for acoustic performances.

Now it seems they’ve found it.

As happens so often in archaeology, the theater’s discovery was by accident. Diggers were excavating a known Second Temple road under Wilson’s Arch (named for the British archaeologist) when they ran into flat stones placed unusually in a circle. It wasn’t an ancient traffic circle but a Roman theater which, when it was finally uncovered, changed archaeologists’ entire understanding of Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple.

“We saw there was leisure, entertainment under Wilson’s Arch,” explained archaeologist Tehilla Lieberman, who described the discovery as “unbelievable” and “a real drama.”

Because the theater is located under a roofed space, the archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority note that the theater was probably an odeon for acoustic performances. (Or it may have been a “bouleuterion,” a building where the city council met.)

That said, the theater was probably never used. The stairs are not fully hewn and there are rocks that have guide marks but weren’t fully carved, explained archaeologist Joe Uziel during a press conference earlier this week.

What could have interrupted the theater’s construction? Uziel speculates perhaps it was the Bar Kochba Revolt, which resulted in the banning of Jews entirely from Jerusalem around 136 CE.

Archeologist Tehilla Lieberman in the newly discovered Roman theater near the Western Wall. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

Archeologist Tehilla Lieberman in the newly discovered Roman theater near the Western Wall. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

The theater’s placement also suggests the theater may have been built as an insult to the former Jewish presence on the Temple Mount: its seats were arranged so that audience members would have their backs to the former center of Jewish worship and power.

It also appears that the paving stones from the Second Temple road the archaeologists were excavating were repurposed for benches in the theater, and a drainage duct was lowered to make way for the seating.

The theater’s discovery, while important, still doesn’t shed light on the ongoing mystery of what was happening on the Temple Mount in the period between the destruction of the Second Temple and Muslim rule. For example, was a Temple of Jupiter built on the mount?

No evidence has been found, in part because excavations are not permitted on the Temple Mount itself. (The archaeologists stressed that the dig did not extend under the Temple Mount.)

The theater is relatively small compared to other Roman theaters in the Holy Land, such as those at Caesarea, Beit She’an and Beit Guvrin.

The theater remained elusive for so many years because it was buried eight meters under the current ground level of the Western Wall. Following a massive earthquake in 360 CE, Jerusalem residents – concerned that the arch would collapse – filled in the area with dirt and debris.

The theater will eventually be opened to the public as part of the Western Wall Tunnel Tour. Excavation work will continue for another six months. The archaeologists hope to connect the water drainage system in the area of the theater to the one in the nearby City of David, creating a new attraction for visitors.

The archaeologists’ findings will be presented at the “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region” conference this week at the Hebrew University.

Article courtesy of  www.Israel21c.org

Article courtesy of www.Israel21c.org

Ancient Roman Theater Uncovered Next to Western Wall

The Batsheva Dance Company performing Ohad Naharin's "Last Work", "Virus" and "Yag" . Photos by Gadi Dagon, courtesy Batsheva Dance Company

 The Batsheva Dance Company was founded in 1964 by Batsheva de Rothschild and the revered American dancer Martha Graham, whose brilliant innovations in choreography set the tone for the troupe’s fearlessly experimental work. Today, Batsheva performs around the world, but the company’s home is in the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theater in Tel Aviv. If you are lucky enough to be in the city during their performance season, you may have the opportunity to experience a truly electrifying production. As Mikhail Baryshnikov says of Batsheva: “This group . . . my jaw is on the floor. I never saw the combination of that kind of beauty and energy and technique.”

It’s what we share, what we have in common, that is very important to encourage and to develop.
— Ohad Naharin

Ohad Naharin, artistic director of Batsheva, has the ageless presence of a lifelong mover. Although his mother was a dance teacher, Naharin did not begin dancing himself until the age of twenty-two (ancient in dance years). He joined the Batsheva company and within a year was recruited by Martha Graham for her troupe in New York. Naharin remained in the United States for more than a decade, returning to Israel in 1991 when he was invited to become Batsheva’s director. 

Naharin’s name is often associated with an approach to dance called “Gaga.” Naharin refers to it as a “movement language”: it’s not a dance technique but a “toolbox”; not something he invented, but something that was discovered. “It was there,” he says, “like the North Pole was there before someone discovered it.” The term (coined long before the appearance of Lady Gaga, he points out) stems from a kind of primal utterance or gibberish—baby talk—in keeping with the Gaga tenet of letting go, not thinking too much. Is it a philosophy, or a movement technique, or a larger approach to life? His response:

All of the above. It has a lot to do with the way I reflect about dance, which I am trying to share with other people. Also with the belief that it’s not about how different we are from each other—I take that for granted. But it’s what we share, what we have in common, that is very important to encourage and to develop. . . .

Gaga is a very particular toolbox that we’re building that has to do with the sense of discovery. It’s a lot about giving dancers and people keys to open up something that exists in them. That’s the beauty of it. This action of opening something is very quick. You can have amazing results if you have the right key. . . . That’s something that happens a lot in Gaga, people with those keys.

The documentary film "In the mind of Ohad Naharin: Mr. Gaga" by Tomer Heymann, debuted this year inspiring viewers "to escape the gravity of the every day life," according to one reviewer.

Choreographer Ohad Naharin and the Discovery of Gaga

Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre's Instagram Feed

Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre is a crucial catalyst in the Israeli performing-arts world. A complex of theater and dance spaces, halls, and classrooms, it is an anchor point in the colorful Neve Tzedek neighborhood, and a pioneer in the area’s recent renovation. Its campus was originally constructed in the late 1800s as a school, in the very earliest days of Tel Aviv’s history, and its airy courtyards and calm cafés today offer a pleasant break from the busy shopping area just outside its walls. The Centre is home to the Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, the Orna Porat youth theater, and—perhaps its most celebrated component—the Batsheva Dance Company, under the direction of choreographer Ohad Naharin.

A complex of theater and dance spaces, halls, classrooms, an anchor point in the colorful Neve Tzedek neighborhood.

Superstars from all over the world have performed at the Dellal Centre—from French ballet troupes and Spanish flamenco masters to Mikhail Baryshnikov, who wowed audiences with an all-Russian production titled In Paris in 2011. As Baryshnikov notes: “You walk around Suzanne Dellal and there are hundreds of dancers and choreographers . . . from Germany, and England, and France and the United States. . . . what’s great is that there’s support, and this enthusiasm.”

Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theater > 

Suzanne Dellal Center Instagram Feed > 

Batsheva Dance Company > 

Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollack Dance Company >

Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth >

 

The Suzanne Della Centre: Performance in Tel Aviv’s Hipster Hub

Gaga dancers with Ohad Naharin. Photo by Gadi Dagon, courtesy Batsheva Dance Company

Gaga is not a dance technique but a way of life, according to choreographer Ohad Naharin. His mission, he says, “even more than giving [Gaga] to dancers, is to give it to people. You don’t have to have an ambition to be onstage. You don’t have to have dance training. It’s about finding a connection between effort and pleasure, and places of atrophy, groove, the ability to laugh at oneself, the scope of sensations. Isolation. Recognizing flesh, bones. Movement patterns. Enjoying it!”

Gaga is about finding a connection between effort and pleasure, and places of atrophy, groove, the ability to laugh at oneself.
— Ohad Naharin

Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre offers Gaga classes for nonprofessionals—studios filled with men and women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. Before the session starts, some of them limber up impressively, stretching or balancing yogically; others move more gingerly, simply attuning themselves. There are no mirrors on the walls. (“Not allowed,” Naharin explains. “Actually, dancers without mirrors learn much more about the form, and they become much more efficient about the movement than people who work with mirrors.”) One of the Gaga mandates is “Listen to the body”: be aware of sensations and abilities and limitations. “Go to places where the pleasure in movement is awakened.”                  

Teachers lead sessions with calm energy. Participants follow the gentle instructions: Float around in your skin . . . then remove the skin to feel the bones . . . then put the flesh back on until you are very “juicy” . . . fill yourselves with more and more juice until you are completely swollen with it . . . now squeeze yourselves out until you are rags on bones. Use the “traveling silliness” in your bodies to dance, just a little. It might feel something like real grace.

 “It is a lot about yielding,” Naharin explains. “A lot about the idea of the advantage of letting go, which can actually make you more available and more sensual, more dangerous, more animal . . . more ready to snap.”

Batsheva Dance Company > 

Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theater > 

Gaga: A Way of Living (and Dancing)

Crowds near a Crusader-period fortress during Akko’s Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre 

Every fall during the holiday of Sukkot, a remarkable gathering takes place in the seaside city of Akko: the Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre.

Audiences flock in the thousands to see open-air theatrical shows as well as concerts, street performances, crafts workshops, acrobatics, and dance.

The old city of Akko is one of Israel’s more heterogeneously populated urban areas, a 70–30 percent mix of Jews to Arabs (coexisting for the most part harmoniously but sometimes—perhaps it goes without saying—in friction). It is a fascinating architectural and cultural hodgepodge, and its long history offers a humbling lesson in the transitory nature of power and dominion. The city provides a stunning physical setting for a gathering of artists.

Akko’s performing-arts festival, founded in 1980, every year features a competition for original plays, along with local and foreign theater productions and open-air theatrical shows as well as concerts, street performances, crafts workshops, acrobatics, and dance. Audiences flock in the thousands from all parts of Israel. The going, of course, is not always easy: funding is scarce, and in 2008 the festival was postponed by two months due to the threat of violent clashes. In general, though, the gathering has become a symbol of coexistence between the city’s Jewish and Arab inhabitants. Each year’s program showcases works by Arab playwrights and troupes, along with performances by music ensembles. Projects led by theater professionals provide training for local Arab and Jewish teens, including immigrant youth.

The Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre has served as an eye-opener to many about the provocative world of edgy performance and the potentials of collaboration.

Acco Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre >

 

Akko: The Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre

Poster for Israeli Jazz & World Music Festival.

The Israeli jazz scene has received much international notice recently, with such stars as bassist Omer Avital, trombonist Avi Lebovich, pianist Omer Klein, and the three brilliant Cohen siblings Anat (clarinet), Avishai (trumpet), and Yuval (saxophone)—all graduates of Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts.

Israel has produced and exported so many serious young musicians that the jazz landscape is hard to picture without their influence.
— Nate Chinen, New York Times

Ramat HaSharon is home to the influential Rimon School of  Music (which partners with Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music), and Tel Aviv’s Israel Conservatory of Music has a thriving Center for Jazz Studies. Jazz can be heard in nightclubs and concert halls in every major Israeli city, and at annual gatherings such as the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, which has been drawing crowds of music lovers to this southernmost point in the country since 1987. 

In recent years, the United States has been catching on to the potential of jazz from this region: Chicago hosts the annual Israeli Jazz and World Music Festival, and New York was the site of the Jazzrael festival in 2012, as well as of 2016’s Israeli Jazz Spotlight Festival. As New York Times jazz critic Nate Chinen has observed: “Over the last fifteen years, Israel has produced and exported so many serious young musicians that the jazz landscape is hard to picture without their influence.”

Israel Conservatory of Music >

Israeli Jazz and World Music Festival (in Chicago) >

Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music >

 

Israeli Jazz on the World Scene

Elstein Music and Arts Center Instagram

Today, a new institution, the Elstein Music and Arts Center, is a nucleus for both visual and performing arts—the brainchild of Lily Elstein, one of Israel’s most important arts patrons. The enter is part of the Elma Arts Complex, in the historic town of Zichron Ya’acov, on a ridge of Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean. The main headquarters are in a beautiful building designed by architect Yaakov Rechter, originally as the Mivtachim Sanatorium/Hotel. (Built in 1968, it earned Rechter the prestigious Israel Prize for architecture.) Long, white, and gently curved, it rests horizontally on the hillside—as Lily Elstein herself describes it, “like an instrument: like the keys of a piano or an organ.” The renovated complex, set on nearly thirty acres, includes performance spaces and halls, art galleries and studios, villas to house artists in residence, and a luxurious hotel and spa for visiting audiences.

I really belong to this place. I belong to the art and the life of art in Israel.
— Lily Elstein

Elstein is an elegant and gracious woman, with a tenacious streak. Her connection to Zichron Ya’acov is long:standing she was born there, and her late husband, Yoel Moshe Elstein, and she both descended from the town’s fathers.  When Elstein expressed an interest in buying the old Mivtachim Hotel, she encountered a number of obstacles, from developers attempting to outbid her to objections against marring the local forest areas with construction. Ultimately, Israel’s High Court of Justice was called in to decide the fate of the land and building. Elstein says: “I explained to them: ‘I am third-generation Zichron Ya’acov. My grandparents were founders, and my parents were born there. I really belong to this place. I belong to the art and the life of art in Israel.’” Ultimately, she overcame them all, and today the Zichron Ya’acov community is well aware that her project is a boon to the area—and to the arts in general in Israel.

Elstein Music and Arts Center, Elma Arts Complex >

The Elstein Music and Arts Center and the Extraordinary Woman Behind It

A still of artist Sigalit Landau welding in the film Out in the World

Out in the World is a film about four artists making an impact on the international scene: Sigalit Landau, Barry Frydlender, Micha Ullman, and Michal Rovner. These artists embrace what seems to be an ongoing theme among Israeli artists: finding inspiration even in the dark and troubling aspects of life, forging from them works of art that help us, if not to reconcile, then to begin to understand.

Four artists making an impact on the international scene.

Sigalit Landau  explores her own body and the body politic in myriad media from sculpture to striking performances captured on video. Barry Frydlender is a photographic artist who assembles painstakingly crafted image “mosaics” that comment on time and place. Micha Ullman’s multi-faceted, minimalist sculptures often make use of the orange-red sand of the Sharon area north of Tel Aviv. And Michal Rovner’s monumental stone structures are at the center of her thinking and her art.

The stills are from the film Out in the World, available with the purchase of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel

The Film: "Out in the World"

Sigalit Landau sculpting a wax casting

Sigalit Landau works in a range of media and modes, from sinewy sculptures of elongated human figures to conceptual videos and films to massive installations. A former dancer, the artist is closely attuned to corporeality: she engages the idea of the body in nearly all her work. In one of Landau’s most striking videos, Dead See (2005), her own body becomes part of a dreamlike form floating in the salt-saturated waters of the Dead Sea: a spiral raft made of watermelons, threaded together like massive green-and-red beads, and her naked self.

I like to be on the periphery…if I had to make a choice, I would choose to be here.
— Sigalit Landau

Among the artist’s enduring and elemental fixations are water, sugar, meat, earth, and in particular salt. She has long planned to build a bridge of salt between Israel and Jordan, and for her 2016 project Salt Bride, she submerged a replica of a traditional Hasidic dress in the waters of the Dead Sea—no easy feat given the mineral-dense water’s buoyancy—the garment hovers there like a specter. “Salt heals, preserves, hides, kills,” Landau has said. And of the Dead Sea, which has provided her with such inspiration, she observes, “[It] has myths and (pre)history all around its shores, stories of radicalism, Christianity, heroics, unbelievable agriculture—and it is a border as well, so the behavior of salt and the natural environment is highly metaphoric, and keeps changing direction as I experiment.”

Israel is a very small country, and the number of major art venues is limited. “Many very good Israeli artists are living abroad,” says Landau. Why does she stay? “I like to be on the periphery, for various reasons. If I had to make a choice, I would choose to be here.”

It is perhaps inevitable that an Israeli artist will make work that engages society and politics, whether obliquely or directly. Artists have an advantage over politicians, as Landau eloquently observes: “Through politics you can show bottom lines. But bottom lines are never good. Through art, you can show much more complex things.”

These stills are from the film Out in the World, available with the purchase of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel

Sigalit Landau: An Artist with Elemental Fixations