Dancing from Poland to Israel

Restrooms in the dance room of Seminar Hakibutzim in Tel Aviv are marked not with “Ladies” and “Gents,” but by the word “Pioneer.”  This is one small reminder that the school, and those who enroll there, see themselves as a bold avant-garde, trailblazing new paths in education and the arts.

Their dance project  – 360 Screen Stage – was created by the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv and has been running for eight years now, involving Polish students of the AST Bytom Academy of Dance Theater and Israeli students led by Sharon Reshef Armoni, coordinator of the Dance Theater department at Seminar Hakibutzim.

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This year the focus of the collaboration was the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence and the 100th anniversary to Polish independence after the country’s recreation following the end of World War I.

“We came to Bytom in February,” says Israeli dancer Ofek Cohen, “It was intensely cold and of course we all had to explain how our names are pronounced and if they mean anything.”

“We didn’t expect to start right away” says Polish dancer Magdalena Malik. “We … thought we’ll spend the first meeting just talking and getting to know each other, but the Israelis just came with open bodies and we caught up.”

The project, which took place last week, was not only a meeting of Poles and Israelis, Jews and Catholics, but also a meeting of two disciplines; dance and acting.

“It’s true that as an actor I can play a being that is unreal, like a magic genie,” says Polish actor Mateusz Wroblewski with a laugh, “but I can [also] present truth on the stage. If I believe I am really a magic genie you will see it in my eyes, or the eyes of any other actor.”

Ofek and dancer Noam Shamir are part of a Polish-Israeli group that created a show dealing with intimacy, while Magda and Mateusz are part of a similar Israeli-Polish group that chose to deal with communication. The discipline of dance theater, explains Reshef-Armoni, is “about breaking the boundaries of the stage to express the idea that everything is possible.”

Which means, explains Noam, that the audience is asked to help in reaching real intimacy.

“We explore the option that there is such a thing as fake intimacy,” she explains, “but if you bring all that you have, it works.”

“When you talk you can be shallow, but when you bring the body it’s real,” she says. “Not what I want to pretend but what I really am.”

Magda nods and says that “body language is beyond Polish and Hebrew.”

Intimacy and communication seem to be two important things that are missing in the current climate of Polish-Israeli relations.

New Polish laws seeking to defend the reputation of the Polish nation led many in Israel to feel that Poland is slowly leaning toward whitewashing its wartime history, whereas the Israeli embassy in Poland got hate mail claiming that the Jews are simply ignorant and hostile to Poles and their suffering.

In such a climate, suggests Ofek, “working together is the project.”

As a diverse group they each offer their own unique perspective on trauma and memory. When asked about the memory of
Socialist Poland, which was a repressive regime that expelled its Jewish citizens in 1968, Matteusz pauses and says that he was born after socialism so he has no experience of it, but “as far as I can see in my school people might carry traumas, but they are also very open minded.”

“Everyone has a trauma,” says Noam. “We actually didn’t talk about the big things. It was hard to talk about the Holocaust there [in Poland] as it is a past that also effects the present.”

“Death and agony exist,” says Ofek, “but it’s important to be able to put it outside and not to carry it all the time. Dance should not be politicized and history should not prevent us from working together.”

The Polish-Israeli dance project was created by the Polish institute to build bridges between Israelis and Poles using art.

Director of the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv Joanna Hofman summed up the project, saying “through art, we want to show we speak a common language, dance.”