Celebrated Israeli modern dance choreographer Idan Cohen partnered with 29 students of UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of Dance on May 31, interpreting his life philosophy with songs from Gustav Mahler and Wolfgang Mozart. He has been hailed by the Jerusalem Post as “one of the more talented representatives of today’s young independent choreographers.”
Creating a discussion with video excerpts of his life and work, the troupe, including Idan Cohen Dance Company soloist Noa Shiloh, presented modern dance interpretations of his creation entitled “Mad Siren.” Set to “Songs of the Wayfarer” by Gustav Mahler and Wolfgang Mozart’s solo piano sonatas, the dances focus on imagery and the resemblance to a concept of home: Cohen’s “bird’s nest” philosophy of life.
Cohen describes the choreography, music and vocal to Mozart’s sonatas as a theme and cultural landscape. “The siren represents both the mythological mermaid singing and seducing sailors to their death at sea, and the very relevant siren alarm that is unfortunately familiar to me as an Israeli. Under personal, social and political contexts,” he continues, “madness or insanity also gets a significant part in the work through body language that is torn, fractured, ecstatic and restless.” His style has been described as “rooted in a distinctly Israeli genre, a much earthier style of dance.”
The presentation has been characterized as depicting “nesting and immigration, while raising questions of the nature of fear and our lack of understanding toward what is different.”
His appearance at the Claire Trevor, one of the top ten rated dance programs in the country, was at the invitation of Lisa Naugle, professor of dance and department chair, in partnership with Hillel and the Schusterman Family Foundation and its visiting artists program, which offers “unprecedented opportunities for Americans to experience Israeli culture.”
Cohen describes his philosophy thusly: “Home is what birds build when they migrate to different lands. They collect objects from within the new-found land. They build a home out of these objects. I am thinking of a bird’s nest in a cultural manner. In other words, ‘What is our cultural home’ that we take with us when we immigrate and what does that say about our present home and about our history that we carry with us in our hearts?”
Growing up in the socialist Kibbutz Mizra in Israel, Cohen is very sensitive to both the personal identity of the individual and to the social context of personal identities. He lived in a kids’ communal home (which closed in 1992). This way of living, he states, influenced his artistic agenda, a balance both personal and social.
“My talk about immigrating has to do with my own family story,” he continues. “Both Mahler and Mozart were Viennese composers. Going back to my family tree, when my grandmother fled Vienna in 1938, she took that culture with her when she settled in Palestine. My life as an artist, touring intensively, has created a state of mind as a society that is formed by immigrating and the struggles over the concept of home and applying territorial borders. In a way, the kibbutz has helped me create a way of thinking about art and life.
“I often get inspired by nature. When I picture a bird’s nest, I think of being surrounded by nature as a child on the kibbutz. Living in the metropolis of Tel Aviv has created versatile points of view of an art that I try to present in my work.”
Cohen is currently based at Amherst College, sharing residency with Noa Shiloh. He will be teaching in Seattle, while participating in the Seattle International Dance Festival. At present he is also creating a major project for a company of six dancers, inspired by feminists and punk music from the 1980s. “It presents,” he explains, “the image of masculinity with feminists, utilizing as a source comic books from Israel’s 1980s and the punk underground of music in New York.” In addition, he has commissions to create an opera on Bellini’s “Montenegro” and, in progress is a commission to create original dances for Poland, Cracow and Singapore.
The Schusterman Foundation provides Israeli artists from various disciplines with residencies of two to four months at some of the nation’s most esteemed universities, museums and other cultural organizations. The program has a special focus on fostering high levels of interaction between the artists and the local communities where they are based.
Professor Naugle also believes that “it is important to have guest artists teach improvisation at the graduate level, especially international artists with different cultural backgrounds to teach different cultures to students to prepare them for the world they will be entering. It is an example of how scholarship and arts can open up a conversation into culture and identity that appeals to people of all ages.”
Naugle has performed with many dance companies in the United States and Canada, including Alwin Nikolais, Merce Cunningham, Hanya Holm and Eric Hawkins. A recipient of the Cecil and Ida Green Honors Professor’s Award, her current research and creative activity center on computer-based applications for dance, including motion capture, telematic performance and interactive technology. She has performed and choreographed in London, Amsterdam, Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Canada and throughout the US.
With John Crawford as director, her “The Sacre Project” will be performed at the Orange County Music Center’s Samueli Theatre June 6, 7 and 8 at 7 and 10:15 p.m.. Part media installation and part dance concert, “Sacre” re-envisions the “Rite of Spring” as a radically deconstructed performance event, featuring the work of three choreographers — Lisa Naugle, Chad Michael Hall and Jodie Gates. Audiences will have the opportunity to interact with performers at this two-segment event of 30 minutes each before and after the program of the Pacific Symphony. UCI Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts is joining with Pacific Symphony, who will be performing the full orchestral version of Stravinsky”s “Rite of Spring” in the Segerstrom Hall each evening.
Admission to The Sacre Project is included in the ticket for Pacific Symphony’s “Rite of Spring” concert. For more information, call the box office phone at (714) 755-5799 or go online to www.pacificsymphony.org/main.