Embodied Practice of Humanity by Yael (yali) Nativ

Yael (yali) Nativ

The symbol of people’s myth is their own body. How people experience their body is their story. That story is their myth and how they perform it is their ritual (Anna Halprin)


Embodied Practice of Humanity

In June 2019, I had the opportunity to watch twice the same day, Yasmeen Godder’s new choreography Practicing Empathy. It was the first time the work was presented to the audience. A couple of days later I wrote to her: “to me it was a bit like an experiment in humans, in a good sense. Things were very raw and my impression is that this is a performative quality that you are interested in”. She replied: “I am seeking for a sense of a common being that does not fall into the representation but occurs in real-time and produces this quality of rawness”.

In Practicing Empathy, the chorographical intention is indeed, to step away from any attempt of movement stylization. In contrast, Godder aims to create a structured dance event that is based on people’s reaction to physical and emotional specific situations. Thus, the theatrical conventions as well as the desire for an aesthetic and symbolic illusion are replaced with an existential approach, suggesting the performative space as a common experience for both dancers and audience. The challenge for the dancers in such a setting, so it seems, is to overcome the dialectics between the planned and structured (the choreography), and a real time action, motivated to produce a precise energetic and emotional situation. These two latter elements, articulate both the mechanism of the performance and its choreographic substence.

The apparatus of the piece is encapsulated in the embodied inter-connectedness that is constructed between the dancers, in the inter-subjective interactions and in what seems to become a chorographical procedure of practicing attentiveness and reciprocal relationships. This can be demonstrated in the opening scene, where the dancers form together a ceremonial group structure which demands an active physical action of trust and inter-dependency. This operation, which will repeat itself as a ritual several times during the piece, symbolizes its ethical and aesthetical virtues; already in these early moments, the dancers lay the ground codes of their unique social, behavioral and emotional realm, where one may be free to investigate and challenge the premise of their collective mutual loyalty, presence and support.

The dynamic of the piece moves between intense physical and emotional peaks and moments of release and collapse all the way to the ground, during which the dancers support and hold each other gently. This repetitive communal action is a practical demonstration of the principal value of the work – empathy, allowing each one of them to experience a range of situations to the extreme of vulnerability, pain, pleasure, joy and ecstasy.

An essential element is the use of voice and singing which is produced genuinely from the movement and body encounters becoming gradually the sound track of the piece. In this sense, the voice represents an additional layer of group communication and interactive dialogue which represents, according to Godder, a vocal score of the individual and collective needs of the performers.

In Practicing Empathy, Godder further develops her chorographical research in recent years of expressive human relations as a form of art. Not only she seeks to challenge the traditional representations of dance and its fixed relationships between dancers, performance and audiences; she wishes to examine the foundations of a human and therapeutic dance work as a shared experience for both dancers and spectators.

In this respect she walks in the footsteps of two key masters in the history of modern dance who searched the meeting points of dance as an art form, therapy and community. The first is German Expressionism’s pioneer Rudolf Von Laban, who’s chorographical based ideas and practices integrated dance, education, healing and well-being. Laban took dance to the public sphere arguing that “action is the expression of will and feeling through dance, integrating simultaneously passion, notion and knowledge”. The second is Anna Halprin, one of the leading figures of American Postmodern dance, who developed experiential community models of ritual and score based collaborative forms of choreography.

In a performative lecture titled “Kinesthetic Empathy and the Politics of Compassion” (2011), American dance researcher Susan Foster argues that the mere practice of dance is liberating and subversive socially; that is because a basic practice of human reciprocity is ingrained in the foundation of teaching and learning movement. On this, Israeli Dance Education anthropologist Hodel Ophir adds: “An action in an individual body needs a recognition of the other in order to become meaningful. This is a relationship-based learning”.

As a contemporary choreography of the 21st Century Practicing Empathy seeks to bring back to the form of artistic dance, integrative patters of thought, movement, composition, voice and embodied knowledge, embedded in a deep examination of human practice and relations of compassion and mutuality. Much like Halprin, who was asked on the ways she had challenged the traditions of modern dance in the 60’s and said: “we had to find new forms of composition and new movement”, Godder suggests a new model of an expressive choreography, looking innovatively into the performative essence of Folk and the values of embodied social attentiveness and inclusion creating therefore an embodied practice of humanity.


Yael (yali) Nativ, PhD, is a dance and body educator, lecturer and scholar.

[email protected]


1: Ross, Janice. (2007) Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance. Berkley, University of California Press p. 158

2: McCaw, Dick. Editor (2011) The Laban Source Book. New York: Routledge p. 17

3:  http://danceworkbook.pcah.us/susan-foster/kinesthetic-empathies.html

4: Ophir, Hodel. (2016) Dialogues and Embodied Notions in: Ophir Hodel & Nativ (yali) Yael ,Fractured Freedom: Body, Gender and Ideology in Dance Education in Israel. Tel Aviv: Hakibutz Hameuhad p.264 (in Hebrew).