My training years.
I grew up in a village between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. As a young boy, before I started dancing, I was impossible to live with. The youngest child in a family of three, I was a difficult oddball. I lived in a fantasy world. As I was tight-lipped, people had a hard time to understand me. I was bubbling with energy which was somewhat overwhelming for everybody around me. My mom described me as a demon straight from hell. I was an insomniac. She first sent me to work in the garden to wear me out. Then I went to painting classes, piano lessons and gymnastics. All these activities were meant to exhaust me so that sleep would defeat me at night.
My relationship with gymnastics was difficult. On the one hand I liked to discover what I could do with my body. I was born with a certain flexibility, which allowed my body to do anything that required pliability and litheness such as splits and jumps – usually what girls would do. On the other hand, I could not do the boys exercises, like hold myself on the barre or the rings. Therefore I somehow felt hampered – something was missing. Then, at the age of 10, I went to see a dance show with my school. It was a very impressive play, “Aide Memoire”, with 20 dancers from the Kibbutz Contemporary Company. I was gobsmacked. I did not know anything about dancing. What the dancers managed to achieve and express with their bodies still gives me chills today, just speaking about it. It is a very arduous ballet drama, about the holocaust, and very physical and emotional. I loved everything, the costumes, the setting. It touched me immensely. Everything about the show blew me away like a tornado. I was overwhelmed, even without fully understanding it– every step, every move left a mark in my heart. It was so much more than what I had been doing as a gymnast, especially concerning coordination and the way dancers conveyed emotions.
I went back home and said to my mom “I think I am going to be a dancer. Dancing is what is best for me”. She said that as long as I was going to be busy all afternoon and do something that exhausts me, she was fine with it.
I bowed out of everything – gave up the piano playing and also quit gymnastics.
It finally dawned on me what I could really do. Gymnastics for men is mechanical and repetitive, totally emotionless. I was always looking towards the other side of the room where the girls practiced. They were dancing. I wished I would join them. But I thought it is not for men. When I discovered dancing, I felt free for the first time. Of course, I had a lot to learn, but I was allowed to use my body in a way I had never used before.
From the very day I had discovered dancing, I wanted to become a dancer and dance in this very piece I had seen. It was my dream.
I attended the dancing class of my high school and later at the age of 17 I started with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Two years later, I was on stage in “Aide Memoire”
Challenges for a boy dancing
At the time and from where I come from, dancing for boys was not common and considered as weird. But I did not care. I was so mesmerized by the dancers I saw on stage that I was totally impassive as to what society would think.
I was the only boy in the dancing class. To choose dancing meant a lot of fighting with society. I know it was badly perceived but I was indifferent as to what people would say. I knew it was what I was good at and the afternoon dancing classes were my moments of freedom.
I am lucky, as my family was very accepting of my passion. My parents never pushed me away from something I loved. At school, other children constantly bullied me. It was very hard. I was not hurt by their insults and mockeries, but wondered why they would do that. Even if I was gay, what difference did it make to them? More than anything, I was hurt by the idea society does not allow individuals to be what they want to be. I did not pay attention to what my schoolmates said, but I cared that they were cruel for no reason. I had found something in me that made me happy and could not grasp why others wanted to destroy it. I still remember the names I was called, the words that were said but I was so obsessed with dancing and sure of what I wanted to do, that it did not really bother me.
When I was on stage or in the studio, I felt very powerful. We performed a lot at school and despite mockeries throughout the shows, I felt strong. No one could hurt me there. I was in my happy zone. I had developed a skill that was mine. This gave me the confidence and motivation to continue working, to continue improving. There was not a single moment to waste. Every spare second I could find I would dance. I danced at home, at school, in the streets. I felt very vulnerable when I was not dancing. At some point, because of the harassment at school, I stopped going there. During school time, you could find me practicing somewhere in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Everyone pushed me to continue studying. I felt, as though I had found something far more precious.
Please describe memories of a performance that is especially dear to your heart (can be for any reason – reaction of the public, how close you felt to a ballet character at that specific time of your life…/….).
My first commitment as a dancer was with the Contemporary Kibbutz Company. I was lucky enough to dance in the first ballet drama I had ever seen when I was a child, “Aide Memoire”. My dream as a young dancer had come true. There is a specific moment in the piece I have a clear memory of. The stage design requires the use of six wooden walls. It is quite tricky, as part of the dancers walk on these walls which are quite high. The music is very soft at that moment, everyone concentrates not to fall, and all one can hear is this cracking noise of the wooden planks and the dancers’ laborious breathing. This comes after a quite intense scene in the choreography and all the dancers are out of breath. I can still hear the rumble of the wood we were stepping on and the panting of the other dancers. I still remember looking down at my feet, shaking, on the narrow plank I had to walk on. At that moment, I felt a strong connection amongst all the dancers. Everyone knew why we were there.
Do you feel you have a responsibility towards society as an artist?
If yes, in which sense?
There are so many topics dancing can represent: gender, holocaust, migration aso. We can “talk” about anything. How the audience perceives it and how they interpret this experience, depends on them. It hinges on their personality, their background, their history, their values and their state of mind during the show. Of course there is a responsibility for us to use those topics. But this then becomes the responsibility of the audience. It is also quite alright to go to a show and enjoy the entertainment of it, the beauty of the music and the suppleness of the movements.
I know full well, that we can touch an audience. It often happens to me, when I see a show, from which I can learn something new. There is no guarantee it will happen every time and to the entire audience. We can plant seeds in the audience’s mind but then it is up to them how they interpret it.
I believe, that I have a responsibility towards society. To me there are two aspects, one from the perspective of the dancer and from the viewpoint of the public. I am dancing in a company of 14 dancers. Each of us comes from a different part of the world. We are people who may have not been able to meet in other circumstances. We are a group of foreigners living abroad, coming each with our own language, our own culture and our own background. Every day we wake up and amalgamate in ballet. We understand each other without words. It is an enormous cultural exchange and we gain an immense knowledge from working with each other. The fact, that a choreographer can organize and harmonize 14, sometimes 20 or 40 dancers from different parts of the world in a ballet, is just so wonderful. This proves, that living together in peace is possible when you listen to each other, compromise and share. I come from a country that has been involved in conflicts over the past 60 years. Here we demonstrate every day, that living and working together is possible.
Also from the public perspective: people do not know who their immediate neighbour in the audience is. They are oblivious to their origin, their age, their religion and it does not matter where people come from and who they are; everyone came to enjoy a show. All of us are here to experience the same thing. We are together in this for a few hours, for the time of the show. Art has this power to unite people. May they enjoy the show or not, agree or disagree, this experience is something they have in common. The studied work of the perfect choreography can do so much, can express so much and talk about anything and I believe nothing is more powerful than this.
Each time I get ready to go on stage, I think about the public and how the show would bring them together. Before we even start, something magic has already happened. In Israel you are constantly asked where you come from, where your parents come from, what your religion is. Here it does not matter. Everyone came to see the show. And if we are sitting together in the audience, perhaps we can sit together and talk later on.
I once performed in Paris at a festival. It was an open-air show in a park. We were two Israelis dancing and many spectators seemed to be Muslims. Many women were wearing a hijab. And there we came, a duet of two men, quite close. The public loved it, applauded a lot. After the show, they wanted to take pictures with us. I was so happy. No one knew where we came from. Had they known, they might not have liked it as much. It was a very powerful experience.
What do you want to bring to your public? How do you want to make them feel?
It depends, if I am the choreographer or the dancer. I cannot put my finger on a certain message I would like to convey. We are all together for something, we put a stop to our lives for at least an hour. This already is so powerful. I would love the audience to be excited. That the show ignites something in them, reminds them of something from their past or raise some questions. Any emotions that would be triggered in them whilst they see me dancing or watch one of my choreographies would make me happy. The simple fact that they come to see me. Anything that sparks them to come and see me. I think about the audience before any show. How they get ready for the show, how they have to leave early from work and maybe hurry up to catch a bus or a train. To think of them already I feel proud and brings joy to my heart.
– Dor Mamalia, Tanz Luzerner Theater