Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company Brings 'If At All' to the Wallis

Uri Nevo

Artistic director Rami Be'er on a unique company forged in the Holocaust

He designs sets and sound, choreographs, lights, and assists with the costumes. In addition, Rami Be’er also plays the cello, and sometimes the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC), of which he is artistic director, even dances to his music. Since taking over leadership of this unique institution in 1996, Be’er has made it his own while keeping with the tradition of company founder and life-long mentor, Yehudit Arnon, who passed in 2013. This week, for three performances only, Be’er and company make a rare visit to Los Angeles to perform If At All, a 65-minute piece exploring relationships ranging from interpersonal to international, at the Wallis in Beverly Hills, Nov. 19 thru 21.

“It deals with our existing in the circles of our lives as human beings,” Be’er tells The Hollywood Reporter about a piece that features an opening solo by Olga Stetsyuk set to music by Bon Iver, followed by vast, circular ensemble work with dancers ducking as gunfire erupts and a woman screams while restrained by a group of men. All set to an eclectic mix of music by Nine Inch Nails, Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds and composer Max Richter among others.

Eight miles from the border of Lebanon, in Northern Israel’s Western Galilee, sits the Kibbutz Ga’aton, founded in 1948 by Be’er’s parents, both Holocaust survivors, and Yehudit Arnon who tragically watched her mother die at Auschwitz. At Birkenau, Arnon’s penalty for declining to perform at a Nazi Christmas party was a night spent barefoot standing in the snow. She swore if she ever survived the war she would dedicate the rest of her life to dance, which is exactly what she did, establishing a dance center that grew into the Ga’aton Dance Company in 1959, and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in 1973. Nurtured from the age of three in the company of dancers, Be’er signed on in 1980.

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“When I was very little, I felt something very special when I came to her classes and the moment that she put on the music and I danced and I felt like I was in another dimension,” recalls Be’er about his life in the Kibbutz where tobacco fields were replaced with dance studios as the community swelled over the years to accommodate some sixty Israeli and international dancers. Under Be’er the organization has become less of a repertory company, with him making new dances on numerous companies like the Gratz Opera Ballet in Austria and the New Danish Dance Theatre. “Since I took over, the company does mainly my work, so my work is the company signature in the way of artistic vision and my work and my belief,” says Be’er, adding, “but the spirit, the environment, are a big part of her influence.”

Be’er’s work holds to the expressionistic modern style of his predecessor, though he uses classical ballet technique to train his dancers. Like every good dance master, he demands strong technique and a musical ear from his performers, but emphasizes dancers who stand out from the crowd and can play a variety of characters with subtlety and nuance. “I’m very much interested in the creative side of my dancers and I guide them to give balance and expression through improvisation,” he says, adding, “It’s not a democracy, I chose what is right for the piece.”

If At All received a glowing review in The Cleveland Plain Dealer last week, as well as in Philadelphia where The Inquirer called it a “partial success” while praising the dancers’ athleticism but questioning random costume changes and ambiguous representations of violence. “The spectator will connect to himself through the piece, rather than be busy with what I meant as a creator,” explains Be’er. “Of course I have my own reason why I chose this and that but what is more interesting to me is to bring this proposal to the spectator that maybe in the end of the journey, when the lights come up, he can take with himself some questions, some points to think about.”