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Israeli choreographer Hillel Kogan brings his award-winning work, We Love Arabs to Vancouver as part of our Global Dance Connections series April 13-15. Our Executive Director Mirna provides some insights into his unique work.
Who is Hillel Kogan?
Hillel is one of Israel’s most noted dance artists: a choreographer, dancer, dramaturge, and teacher. He has been creating since 1996, and in addition to his independent work, he has been Ohad Naharin’s assistant at Batsheva Dance and also teaches Gaga Technique around the world. His works are at the crossroads between dance and theatre, combining physically charged movement and text, and using multilayered visual language as well as found objects as props; he weaves these intelligently into whimsical commentaries on the world of dance, popular culture, politics, and society in general. Nothing is off limits really!
How did you first come across Hillel’s work?
I have been a regular attender of the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem-based showcases of Israeli dance for many years, so I am very familiar with that scene, and encountered Hillel and his work there. And his work certainly stands out! The piece we are presenting, We Love Arabs, premiered in 2013 to critical acclaim, and has toured internationally ever since.
What kind of show is We Love Arabs?
The premise is that somewhere in Tel Aviv, a Jewish choreographer enlists an Arab dancer to help create a work that will overcome fears and carry a message of peace: but as the work progresses, power struggles ensue, and it evolves as a very funny takedown of politics, ethnic stereotypes, and contemporary dance itself.
The use of humour and irony is a significant part of Hillel’s artistic fingerprint. In We Love Arabs, humour underscores the tensions between Israel’s Arabs and Jews. The Jerusalem Post described it as “witty, provocative, political and hilarious”. Hillel set out to create a parody of political art, and he also wanted to speak out against racism in Israel. Although this is not something specific to Israel, we simply have to look in our own back yards – unfortunately. Being able to talk about complex issues and laugh at the context does not ridicule the situation, but opens the door to conversation and reflection.
In We Love Arabs, he deals with misplaced good intentions and political correctness in a very politically incorrect way; he dispels with the cliches about identity and power-games between choreographer and dancer. In this work, so beautifully danced by himself and Arab dancer Mourad Bouayad, he looks at reconciliation without beating about the bush. In the piece he sets out to carry out this noble project of finding an elusive peace between Israeli and Arab – something that has a universal appeal at this very moment, in so many contexts. At the same time the two artists are very clear that it is not their job to resolve world peace, but that art can offer a sort of bonding experience and help bridge differences.
This performance is a partnership with Théâtre la Seizième, how did that come about?
The Dance Centre often partners with other arts organizations to amplify the impact of our work and to provide Vancouverites with unique artistic experiences. I was very happy to find out that Theatre la Seizieme’s (now outgoing) director, Esther Duquette, also enjoyed Hillel’s work. We Love Arabs is, amazingly, performed in four languages – English, French, Spanish and Hebrew – so we decided in 2018 to bring it to Vancouver, with performances for our anglophone and francophone audiences. Unfortunately schedules and COVID got in the way, but we are thrilled we get to do it now!
The show may have started as a noble effort to highlight the elusive peace process in the region, but now more than ever we can see why the work has a universal appeal. It speaks of co-existence, and tries to deal with prejudice of all sorts. The comedic approach enables the artists to examine questions that often come with elevated emotions that do not contribute to dialogue, offering a space where we can laugh at our ourselves and our own shortcomings. We only have to look around us at other opposing factions in the world where the concept of the ‘other’ is being politicized.
Anything else we need to know?
Hillel was Ohan Naharin’s assistant at the world-renowned Batsheva Dance Company for over a decade, and has received many prizes and awards for his choreography. He works internationally and collaborates with acclaimed companies such as Norway’s Carte Blanche, and German’s Gauthier Dance among others in addition to teaching engagements.
Hillel openly states that as an artist he does not aim to please, he does not wish the audience to be passive, and while he loves beautiful things, and to dance, he is not in pursuit of creating beautiful dancing. His interest is how to use the body to tell a story, and to engage in and prompt conversations about challenging issues.
The Dance Centre presents the Global Dance Connections Series
Hillel Kogan-We Love Arabs
April 13-15, 2023 | 8pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Presented with Presented with Théâtre la Seizième
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Photos: Eli Katz