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Conn College goes ‘gaga’ for Israeli artist-in-residence

Batsheva Dance Company alum teaches a unique movement language in New London

By Cindy Mindell

NEW LONDON – Every year since 2008, a group of Israeli artists-in-residence fan out across North America to bring a taste of Israel to college campuses and cultural organizations, courtesy of the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artist Program, an initiative of the Washington, D.C.-based Israel Institute, which works to enhance the study of modern Israel.

Among the 14 artists selected for the 2016-17 academic year – the largest cohort to date – is Yaara Moses, a visiting instructor in the Connecticut College Dance Department during the fall semester. A dance and choreography alumna of Israel’s world-renowned Batsheva Dance Company and the Batsheva Ensemble, Moses is also a co-founding member of the Maria Kong Dance Company, and a co-founder and artistic director of Hasadna’a, a dance workshop for professional dancers from all over the world, both based in Tel Aviv.

A Jerusalem native, Moses began studying ballet and modern dance at age six. As a teenager, she danced in the Jerusalem Hora Dance Group and went on to study professionally at the Harel High School dance department in Mevaseret, outside Jerusalem. Moses joined the Batsheva Ensemble at age 18 and was later invited to join the Batsheva Dance Company, where she both performed and gained experience in rehearsal management.

Since 2003, Moses has taught Gaga, a movement language created for dancers and non-dancers alike by Batsheva’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin. She has worked throughout Israel and with many dance companies around the world, including the Saitama Arts Theater in Japan and the Ballet de Monte Carlo.

Moses learned of the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artist Program through friends and fellow dancers who had been selected in the past.

“They were truly happy and said it was like a dream – to stay in one place and work with the same dancers for a whole semester,” she says. At Connecticut College, Moses teaches a Gaga class three times a week; among her 25 students is David Dorfman, head of the dance department that is hosting her. She is also training 15 students to perform a Naharin work in the dance department’s recital later this month (see below for details).

“It’s been really great and people are open and excited,” Moses says of her semester-long experience. “David Dorfman is an amazing person and has been welcoming and I am honored to have him as a student. I’m really happy about my visit.”

Gaga is popular in Israel among non-dancers, and is used by Batsheva as daily training.

Moses describes the movement language as “a toolbox for a dancer.”

“It’s a warmup but it also develops creativity, virtuosity, and physical training so you get to improve flexibility, rhythm, and speed,” she says. “It is always done without mirrors in the studio, which is very different from any other method because you’re not looking at yourself; you’re not judging or loving what you do. It’s more about sensing it and focusing on the sensations and pleasure. You don’t have to look something; you create it from the inside out and not from the outside in.”

Today, there are some 20 Gaga teachers working throughout the world.

“I’m really proud and happy to share it with dancers here,” Moses says. “It’s also beautiful to see the process that they’re going through because they’re really changing.”

Moses has also led a Gaga class at the on-campus Hillel house and performed at the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut’s “JCC Without Walls & Day of Learning” event last month.

She will conclude her residency with a restaging of “Echad Mi Yodea” at the Connecticut College Dance Department Concert on Dec. 9 and 10. The dance is part of Anaphase, a work created by Ohad Naharin in 1998 for Batsheva that involves 22 dancers and two musicians and combines elements of theater, opera, film, and rock music with dance. In the last movement of the work, dancers are accompanied by a contemporary version of the traditional Passover-seder song, played by the Israeli rock group, “Nikmat HaTraktor” (“Tractor’s Revenge”).

“Anaphase takes up half an evening and I had to come up with something that is 12 minutes long, and I think this piece is really strong and beautiful and a great experience for the dancers,” Moses says. “Coming from Israel, I feel that this is something related to our culture, something meaningful. It’s one of the best pieces to stand on its own, and a combination of a strong piece and something that brings Israel to the studio.”

Moses is in New London with her husband, Amit Sidess, a film director and editor, and their 2½-year-old daughter. Over the course of their stay, the couple has been producing short videos of Moses dancing in various locations, including the local Target and a farm in Mystic, which can be viewed at facebook.com/yaara.moses.1/posts/10153802432991852.

Created by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artist Program is meant to foster interactions between the artists and their communities, exposing a broader audience to contemporary Israeli culture. Over the last eight years, the program has funded 68 residencies featuring 78 artists, among them, a recipient of the Israel Prize, Israel’s most prestigious award; an Emmy-Award nominee; recipients of Israel’s highest literary awards; and many winners of multiple Israeli Ophir Awards (“Israeli Oscars”).

“What makes The Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artist Program unique and so effective is that it allows members of the host community and the visiting artists to connect in a variety of settings, from formal to informal, over a significant period of time, rather than the more traditional one-off experience,” says program director Marge Goldwater. “As we look back on the last eight years, we see that the success of the residencies has prompted host institutions to find ways to bring Israeli cultural leaders to their communities after the Schusterman artist has left.”

Connecticut College Dance Department Concert: Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10, 7:30 p.m., in Palmer Auditorium. Featuring choreography by Ohad Naharin, re-staged by guest artist Yaara Moses; guest faculty Gabriel Kwikstep Dionisio, Megan Williams; Connecticut College faculty David Dorfman, Heidi Henderson; and selected student works. Tickets: $12/adult; $6/student/senior. For information and tickets: (860) 439-2787 or conncoll.edu/dance-tickets.

CAP: Yaara Moses teaches Connecticut College students.

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