By Erika Lynne Silver, Ph.D.
From the first time that Chad Michael Hall saw renowned Israeli choreographer Idan Cohen’s work, he knew he wanted to choreograph something with Cohen. Hall, who is Associate Professor of Dance at the University of California Irvine (UCI), explained “I love the dance coming from Israel. It has a lot of heart and a lot of immediacy.”
Hall first experienced Cohen’s artistry in 2012 through a new partnership launched by the Rose Project of Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS) and the UCI Dance Department, working with the Israel Institute and the Schusterman Foundation’s Visiting Israeli Artists program. Cohen and soloist Noa Shiloh later returned to UCI for an eight-week residency in 2013 through the same collaboration.
“For seven years leading up to this partnership, the JFFS Rose Project had been cultivating academic and cultural exchanges between UCI and Israel,” shared Lisa Armony, Director of the Rose Project. “This was part of our work to create a more civil campus climate with regard to Israel, as well as to provide robust Israel education and experiences for UCI students, faculty, and administrators.”
Inspired by the opportunity to combine all the things he loves—Israel, adventure, and dance—Hall called Cohen in 2015 and the two discussed opportunities to collaborate. Cohen invited Hall to create a new work for his company, and Hall invited Cohen’s company to come to UCI and work together. By bringing JFFS into the mix, Hall noted that “we both were able to fulfill our dream of putting on a show.”
The collaboration that JFFS enabled between UCI Dance and Israel was so successful that it motivated Hall to create an exchange program he could share with his students at UCI. “When I pitched the idea to Lisa Armony and Kathleen Mellon (Senior Director of Community Partnerships at JFFS), they were eager to support the project in any way they could,” Hall said. “That’s how ‘International Exchange: Project Israel’ (aka Summer Dance Jerusalem) came about.”
The program brought together Israeli dance artists and institutions with UCI student dancers and the Orange County community in 2018 for shared teaching and creative opportunities both in the U.S. and in Israel. In May 2018, UCI hosted Israeli choreographer Nitzan Lederman as artist-in-residence for two weeks*, during which time she taught contemporary dance technique. At the end of Lederman’s residency, the cast performed her work-in-progress.
Then, in the summer of 2018, the Summer Dance Jerusalem group traveled to Israel with Professors Chad Michael Hall and Kelli Sharp for three weeks of intensive dance study and immersion in Israeli culture.** In Jerusalem, the students worked with Israeli choreographers Noa Wertheim, Amir Kolben, and Nitzan Lederman, then visited Vertigo Dance Company’s Ecological Arts Village to take classes and workshops. They ended the experience in Tel Aviv, taking workshops with the Batsheva Dance Company. The program culminated in a performance of all of the works-in-progress at a public showcase, hosting guests from the Israeli arts community.
“Summer Dance Jerusalem was a truly remarkable experience!” said Jacob Boarnet, a third year UC Irvine dance student who participated in Summer Dance Jerusalem, “Not only did we learn about Israeli dance style, but we learned it in Israel.”
Lexie DeMark, another student participant, felt that “dancing for seven hours a day and REALLY understanding what life as a dancer is like in Israel was absolutely great!”
“It was something really special,” Boarnet continued, “to get to work with these amazing companies with our small cohort. That kind of intimate experience can’t be duplicated. We are all so fortunate to have been a part of Summer Dance Jerusalem.”
On April 7 of this year, a follow-up performance took place at UCI featuring works the students performed in Tel Aviv. JFFS and UCI are currently discussing a future collaboration around dance in Israel.
- Underwritten by the Rose Project of Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS) **Made possible by major funding from the Leon Ninburg Israel Legacy Fund through JFFS and support from Blossom Siegel, the Samueli Foundation, and an anonymous donor