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Dance exchange benefits Rutgers, Israel
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Dance exchange benefits Rutgers, Israel

Visiting artists create student performance in latest collaboration

Israeli dancers and choreographers Oren Laor, left, and Niv Sheinfeld perform an original piece.     
Israeli dancers and choreographers Oren Laor, left, and Niv Sheinfeld perform an original piece.     

When Rutgers University dancers take the stage May 2-4, it will be the latest in a growing relationship between the university’s dance department and Israel.

The DancePlus Spring 2014 performances will be choreographed by Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor, visiting Israeli artists for the spring semester in the dance department of the university’s Mason Gross School of the Arts.

The Israeli dancers, who have performed as a team throughout the world, have collaborated since 2004 on works that combine contemporary dance with performance art and physical theater.

“We have been a couple for 12 years and then we started working together,” said Laor during a March 28 interview in Mortensen Hall on the Douglass campus in New Brunswick. 

“We do a lot of touring and performing,” said Sheinfeld, including a performance at Rutgers last October of “Two-Room Apartment,” a winner of the Israeli Dance Critics Circle award for best performance of the year.

The pair is among 10 Israeli artists in residency at colleges and universities across the United States this academic year, in a Visiting Artists Program supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. 

“This is really a present, a gift for us to have time to be relaxed,” said Sheinfeld. “It is very nice to meet students who are ambitious. It is nice to connect with them.”

The dance collaboration between Rutgers and Israel began in 2010 when department chair and artistic director Julia Ritter invited Israeli dancer and choreographer Danielle Agami to create a new work for Rutgers students. The pieces were performed at the 2011 DancePlus.

In addition to Agami, Sheinfeld, and Laor, six other Israeli artists and companies have since come to Rutgers. In 2010 Rutgers became a participant in Dance/Jerusalem, part of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, associated with the Rothberg International School and The Hebrew University.

Through the initiative, Rutgers students spend time in Israel training in dance, while being exposed to Israel’s social, historical, and cultural environment. 

“We have received incredibly positive feedback and reactions from students, faculty, staff, members of our larger Rutgers community, and the surrounding community for our efforts to bring awareness of the vibrancy of Israeli dance” to the university, said Ritter.

(And last month representatives of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company offered two master classes on campus (see related story)).

Over the last several years, the dance department had developed a strong relationship with Renee Schreiber from the Israeli consulate and Marge Goldwater, director of the visiting artists program at the Schusterman foundation.

“These relationships benefit Rutgers, of course, but they also benefit other dance artists in Israel as we help Renee and Marge promote Israel dance and dance artists and their work to our colleagues at other universities,” said Ritter. “Universities are places where many students find their first opportunities to engage with dance in studio practice and theoretically; we need to support the idea that dance can be understood and shared through diverse cultures.”

Sheinfeld is one of Israel’s leading chorographers, having spent five years as a dancer with the Liat Dror & Nir Ben-Gal Dance Company and 13 years as an independent choreographer. 

Laor studied at Tel Aviv University. He gives workshops on movement, performance, and physical theater for professional dancers and students.

Together they have appeared at international festivals and venues, including in Brazil, Chile, the Netherlands, and France. They will perform at the American Dance Festival in June in North Carolina. 

At Rutgers, Sheinfeld and Laor are teaching contemporary technique and advanced improvisation. Laor has noticed the “truly different nuances” in the way American students communicate and respond. “It’s a very interesting experience to learn American culture through them,” said Laor, adding that “communication is everything in teaching.”

Both were also struck by how much the dance street scene seems to be part of the background of many American students.

“In Israel the hip-hop street scene doesn’t really exist,” said Laor. “Here many know it from their childhood neighborhoods. It’s integrated in them.” 

The student performance will be, as with all their works, a continual learning process of physical expression. “What is unique about the stage is that you get a sense of community that you can only get in the theater,” said Laor. “It’s not the same as when you, your husband, and children are watching it on television.” 

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