Ofer Ein Gal
With dance being an international language, and, more particularly, with the increase in interesting and innovative local dance has become one of the country’s strongest export branches. Of the many dance artists operating in Israel and performing abroad, Yasmeen Godder stands out as a choreographer and dancer with a unique dance language.
Born and raised in Jerusalem, Godder (30) left the city for New York when she was 11. She has been dancing since she can remember, but she began to dance professionally at the age of 14, when she was accepted into New York’s high school of Performing Arts the famous art school on which the popular Fame movie and TV series were based. While attending high school, Godder also took dance lessons at the Graham School of Contemporary Dance, the dance school founded by the mother of modern dance, Martha Graham.
From New York to Tel Aviv
At 18, Godder decided to return to Israel, or, as she puts it, to make an unconscious Aliya, and she was recruited to the IDF. During this period, after years of dancing, she stopped dancing and started to paint. I had mixed feeling about returning to Israel, she says, having lived in New York everything (in Israel) suddenly seemed small – both for good and for bad. The political and social situation in 91 was optimistic, there was a strong sense of hope, and it very much influenced me. Everything in Israel is more direct and very different from the alienated culture in New York. Having gotten used to the gray skies in New York, I was happy to wake up in Israel and see the blue skies every morning. It seemed to me like a daily call for a celebration, until I got used to it and started missing gray skies again. When, age 21, I was accepted into NYU, I was glad to return to New York. The combination of academic studies and practical studies proved to be ideal for me. I insisted on taking outside workshop despite to rigid framework I was in, and I learned a lot. The school gave me academic knowledge and provided me with comfortable working spaces. I understood very quickly that I want to be a creative artist, that dancing is not enough for me, that I also want to create. I began working, acquiring the tools I use today: working a lot outside the school.
A Duet in North Carolina
At the end of her second year at NYU, Godder presented a short five-minute diet she had choreographed at the American Dance Festival in North Carolina, and was invited by a Czech producer to work in Prague. To this day I still think of that invitation as this incredible opportunity that I had been given, a fulfillment of the American Dream, and on my third year at school I focused on preparing the dance piece that was to be staged in Prague.
Since then, Godder has created works, which have enthused both audiences and critics. She has preformed in the Kitchen, and in dance, theatre, and fringe festivals across the US and Europe. She won a Bessie Award for her dance piece I Feel Funny (alongside choreographers Pina Bausch and Ohad Naharin, who were also recipients of the award that year), and she is still involved in the New York dance scene, although she currently lives with her partner, Itzik Julie, an actor, playwright, and director, who is very much involved in her work.
Godders dance pieces reflect a deep and personal work process with the dancers, who are chosen according to the extent of their involvement in the work. I usually work with dancers who have seen my works and feel connected to it; when they enter the studio, I can see the connection and interest that will enable us to work together. I’m interested in people who have the ability to bring themselves into the work. When they dance, their body somehow becomes transparent, enabling the audience to see the human being inside them, to see their unique color, and not just where they learned, who their teachers were, and what their influences are. I’m not looking for perfect people, but for people with a sense of being that fascinates me, and, of course, for people who can connect with my dance language, which is complex. Godder is not hesitant in defining her dance language Most of the time I think of it as hardcore embroidery, she says I once saw a work of an artist I really loved, who built an industrial landscape from bits and pieces of embroidery; this combination of conflicting elements is expressed in my dance language as well. My work has something very industrial and extreme about it it is influenced by underground culture and it doesn’t try to be pretty or remain within the context of dance as a pretty and cute art form. But, on the other hand, I think my work is very aesthetic and feminine and that’s where the idea of embroidery comes in.
Godder is the embodiment of the creative artist. In spite of her usually modest appearance, the dreamy look in her eyes, and her carefully chosen words, Godder seems magnetic and passionate when she begins to talk about her work process.
I think of the rehearsal room as a lab, she says. That’s the place where I raise questions and play around with different possibilities. I use a lot of improvisation, sensual memory, personal memories, and associative thought. I think that that is the place where our instincts and personal rhythm are best expressed. And when it works, we have the potential to fly. For someone looking from the outside, we might seem like a bunch of crazy kindergarten kids trying to test rules and barriers.
Where do you begin when working on a new piece?
I usually begin from nothing and everything all at once I will dismiss nothing initially. It can be a certain moment that moved me on the street, and object that I’ve bought, or thoughts that I’ve had I’m not sure where it begins anymore. I’m looking like this bag lady who collects and absorbs ideas and experiences into her. That final outcome is a fabric of fragmented selves. Which, put together, create something new.
And that something new is a unique choreography, almost threatening in its sense of intimacy. Godders work touches on delicate issues, running along the border of emotional pornography. In a world where soap operas are the highest rating shows on TV, Godders work is exciting in its nonconformism.
I believe that the audience can be educated, she says, not by patronizing it, but by challenging it. I’ve discovered that people appreciate my work more, because they feel they’ve been give credit. My work raises questions and discussion, art should test borders. Art is an aesthetic culture mirror that deals with relationships and the individual. If your work doesn’t touch on anything, you might as well sit and which TV and that’s not interesting. Theatre artist Joseph Chaikin said that the essence of theatre is subversion, because there is something subversive about a person who exposes himself in front of another group of people. Working with the body in a manner that is different from walking, laying, and sitting challenges, interests, and attracts people.
In her most recent dance piece, Suddenly Birds, which was created for four dancers and the cello player Karni Phostel, Godder relines her dance language. Popular with both the audience and the critics, Suddenly Birds, is soon to be staged in dance festivals around the world. With loads of talent and a fascinating outlook on people and situations, there is no doubt the Godder is paving her way to an honorable place in the international dance scene.