Rona Koperboim

Ever felt as if your face is not really your own? For example, looking at the mirror saying: who’s face is it? And for a scary moment you felt completely alienated in your own skin. If this feeling isn’t foreign to you, you will probably understand what is it like attending one of Yasmeen Godder’s performances. The events on stage are at once like a motherly hug and like landing on the moon with your sandals: the most familiar and close feeling, but also the most unclear, calling for its decoding.

Since she started working in Israel in 1999, Godder has been marked as one of the most original, talented and fascinating dance-creator of her time. She has won much appreciation through such things as the prestigious NY Dance and Performance  Bessie Award in 2001,  being included in the 100 least of the most influential people in culture at the daily newspaper “Yediot Acharonot “, as well as an invitation to perform at the Wuppertal Dance Festival directed by Pina Bausch, and being selected as a Chosen Artist by the Israel Excellence Foundation last year.


Godder is not interested in entertaining her audiences, but rather to activate them from the inside. “I believe that my role is to offer an interesting dialogue as well as a metaphysical meeting” she says. “Performing on stage creates in me the need to expose. It isn’t necessarily exhibitionism but more of a desire to communicate in a way which is different than daily life”. Her main pieces: Sudden Birds, Hall, Two Playful Pink and Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder, swallow the viewer into a balck hole, to which it is difficult to resist. Even if it is not easy to watch this horrifying, torturous and lightning striken world, which Godder loves to explore and present, it is difficult move ones gaze from it, and almost impossible to stay oblivious to it. There is some kind of power in her works, which makes it hard to ignore although being so dark.  Seeing Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder, her latest and political work, is like hearing an accurate rage of gospel with no beginning and no end.

First time I went to see Hall, two of my dance fan friends came along. 25 minutes into the show both experienced an artistic shock to their system. “I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown” whispered one of them “I cant stand this pain anymore ” said the other ” the alienation felt by the dancers is breaking my heart” . I stayed until the end and as I left the theatre I felt like a car accident survivor. Why did I stay? First of all, not every day we get the chance to witness the harsh moments of life in the body of others. Secondly, dealing with harsh things has a healing value. Third, I had to see if the end offers some kind of comfort. And forth, well because it was so beautiful.

Godder was not amazed when I tell her about that escape. She was only surprised it happened particularly in “HALL”, a piece for two male dancers and three female about which ” most people told me that they felt a relief, and not a discomfort, since they were able to identify with the detachedness of the characters”. Her works are considered demanding, meaning they demand some effort on the part of the viewer; and Godder, whom by now is used to these kind of complains, says  that every now and than people came to her after a show and tell her how angry they are for what she have done to them. “But” she emphasizes, as she touches the edge of the sofa “anger is better than apathy, it happens that people come out crying from seeing my work, and for me it comes from aa place of identification or pain. And I don’t see that as a negative thing”

“When I present a work to audiences,  I can see the reaction form in the air”, says Godder, “and they vary from one country to another.. And then there is also my reaction to the reaction. I never know how people will react to what I have brought out from my soul, heart, and body, to that which I have given all of myself.  Its a very vulnerable place, but its part of the deal, right? Sometimes I feel that the audience has felt every second, every nuance every choice. And sometimes people come and reveal new things to me about the work, and create a new awareness for things which I have created, and that is fascinating”.

Godder (32) was born in Jerusalem and grow up in New York. She started dancing at the age of six, and her high school years she spent at the New York’s High School of Performing Arts.” I have always had a split personality when it came to the classical ballerina image whith which I grew up with and my true self outside the studio. I used to come to ballet class with green hair”, she remembers, “and then I discovered modern dance and I discovered that it can contain all of my layers”. She returned to Israel to join the army and after completing her service she went back to New York to continue her dance education at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. The first  time she presented work in Israel, was when she presented the solo “Aleena’s Wall” in the Shades in Dance Festival in 1999.
Other than the works mentioned above, she has presented: Say Hello/Goodbye Nicely, I Feel Funny Today, and Green Fields ( for the Batsheva Ensemble). She has spend the past 10 years with the director Itzik Giuli, who also acts as a dramaturge for her creations. Godder is based in Israel but keeps a close contact with the New York dance scene, where her parents and siblings live.

Right now,  Godder and her dancers are in the midst of six-month tour. We met a day after their return from Berlin, where she presented Two Playful Pink, an exciting duet preformed by Godder and Iris Erez, as well as Strawberry cream and Gunpowder, her latest and political work, performed by the Bloody Bench Players. In the following month they will tour France, Germany, Korea, London and France again. Godder is pleased since these invitations help her keep her company alive. Though the ministry of Education Arts and Sport supports her, it is not enough for her needs, thus she teaches in the Release technique which acknowledges the bodies’ weight instead of disregarding it.

Godder is an bewitching dancer, as well as a choreographer who enjoys thinking, defining and contemplating in the bodywork from which she begins and to which she comes.” I begin with seeds of thought, and their process of coming into an artistic form is very hard journey. I try not to involve the intellectual voice in the first phase of the process, so that the piece will reveal itself.
The twisted, broken, private, ludicrous and mainly the grotesque are colored by her, in poetic quality and presented to the audience as pure beauty. “I love the extremism especially that of the body”, she confesses.” I’m looking after the layers of depth, which can sometimes collide.. An important part in the process  is to take the obvious and stop, just look at it, asking questions. Taking something out of context has a huge impact. Take a smile for example, an esthetic act, and freeze it for one moment, all of a sudden it becomes something psychotic. Why? Why is it when we suspend and  prolong our social ticks to which we are used to in daily life, do they become embarrassing?” Godder has many questions, and only one body to answer with. She spends hours every day at the studio and enjoys struggling until she finds the movement for which she searches and the structure which will serve her . “It can be hard being hours at the studio, raising your hand over and over again, but I love it. It does not fall into the nine to five life- style. If I had a bad day at the studio, it’s hard to put it a side and go shopping.”

Working on Strawberry Cream and Gunpowder came out of a clear decision to deal with the political and emotional reality in Israel throughout examination and deconstruction of the culture of imagery which has been surrounding her. “I brought pieces of newspaper to the studio which represent the “current situation” -a soldier,   a check point, a dead body, grief, crying. I didn’t try to tell the stories of those photos, to create a narrative, but to be able to feel them. Sometimes we tried to feel the photographed people, and to transfer the two dimensional to three dimensional, and sometimes the opposite, to emphasize the two- dimensionality, the plasticity. What pushed me to create “Strawberry” was this paradox that we are all experiencing here- on one hand this sharp need to touch and experience, and on the other the feeling of
degeneration, of helplessness and numbness. I couldn’t have done anything else this year. I run into people who tell me they couldn’t bear watching Strawberry cream and Gunpowder. It is interesting how we can block ourselves from what is happening, but the same is represented on stage, there is nowhere to go.”
Does she agree with the common description of the work as full of madness and craziness? Godder pulls her shoulders up ” For me its not crazy showing emotions in its full totality . On the contrary, it is an acceptance of the human range human. When I’m on stage I feel everything at the same time: power, weakness, vulnerability, serenity, stress. Its as if I leave myself and at the same time enter closer in. But it is important for me not to keep it all to myself, after all I’m creating in order to meet, to touch”.


TIMEOUT, issue 122