My Life – A week with Yoni Avital

Yoni Avital © Roni Halon
Yoni Avital © Roni Halon
Yoni Avital is international director at Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Horses in the Sky will run from 31 August to 3 September at Sydney Opera House, followed by further performances of If At All in Switzerland and Germany in October.

We arrive in Barcelona for Festival Grec de Barcelona, one of Spain’s most prominent performing arts festivals. We are here for our artistic director Rami Be’er’s production If At All, which we will perform at the Catalan city’s 2,100-person open air Grec Theatre later in the week. The show is a thrilling 65-minute journey of entrancing dance, choreography, light and sound.

Today we regain our energy: before our arrival in Barcelona we performed in Krakow at Poland’s Jewish Culture Festival. Our company has a very special history: Be’er’s Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC) was founded by Yehudit Arnon. As a young girl she was sent to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. There she was separated from her mother, who upon arrival was sent to the gas chambers. While in the camp, Arnon kept her spirits high by dancing for her fellow inmates in the barracks after a laborious workday. In December of 1944 (the final Christmas before the end of the war), Nazi officers ordered her to provide entertainment at their annual holiday festivities. Arnon refused and the commanding officer of the camp condemned her to freeze to death in the cold winter’s night. Arnon made a promise to herself that if she survived, she would dedicate her life to dance. A few months later the camp was liberated and Arnon made her way to Budapest, after which she emigrated to Israel alongside other survivors of the war. Throughout her life she kept to her promise and dedicated herself to dance. Today, her dream has been realised through Be’er and KCDC.

Today I meet with Be’er, who has been KCDC’s artistic director and choreographer for the last 20 years, to dis- cuss plans and logistics for the next few days. Be’er’s impact on the company has been significant: he has expanded the outreach of KCDC to the public and established a core belief in dance education via a second company, KCDC 2. The mission of KCDC 2 is to introduce contemporary dance to youth in both Israel and across the world, performing Be’er’s repertoire such as Peter and the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals, and interactive and audience-involved performances such as 360° in schools and children’s festivals worldwide.

This week we launch our summer intensive at our International Dance Village back in Israel. We will be joined by nearly 400 young and aspiring high school and university-aged dancers hailing from Buenos Aires, Brussels, Paris, Beijing, New York, Los Angeles and London, all ready to take part in the KCDC summer intensive courses that last from a fortnight to six weeks. It’s been only a week since we said goodbye to the 38 participants from our international Dance Journey study abroad programme, which provides future dancers from dance academies such as New York City’s Ailey School, Tisch School of the Arts and The Netherland’s Codarts School of the Arts with a springboard to a professional career.

Dance Journey runs twice a year and offers a cultural immersion experience living on a kibbutz, learning Hebrew, volunteering in the community, and exploring the historic regions of the southern Negev desert, Jerusalem and the Galilee.

Tonight is the opening night of If At All in the Grec Theatre. After a scorching day, with temperatures well over 30 degrees, it is good to perform in the cool of the evening – our curtain time is 10pm.

We stage our second performance of If At All in Barcelona. The company’s 16-member cast is composed of both Israeli and international dancers but their summer holiday will be shortened by their upcoming tour and performance series at the Sydney Opera House, who have invited the company for the world premiere of Be’er’s newest work Horses in the Sky, running from 31 August – 3 September.

Today we will travel to Portugal for our next stop, Festival de Almada near Lisbon in Portugal, where we will perform If At All tomorrow.

First published in the August edition, Vol 12 Issue 8 of IAM, available to buy now.