City Dance Project Pushes Dancers, Audience Into Unexpected Environments

Director Lior Har-Lev captures Jerusalem's multicultural nature in "Ofra Idel." Har-Lev’s idea behind the "City Dance" project was to get dancers out of theater halls and into the public eye. Moreover, "City Dance" also has the objective of exposing the public to contemporary dance, especially people who never have the opportunity to see it in a dance space. Har-Lev and co-director Bettina Feinstein had the idea of working with dance groups and filming their work on the spot.

Ofra Idel: Hand in Mouth
Still from "CIty Dance: Ofra Idel"

"When people unexpectedly encounter a dance performance in their normal surrounding they are curious, surprised and it makes them stop for a moment to watch," Har-Lev says, "and that was exactly what we were after, a small, magical moment experience in the middle of an ordinary day."

Har-Lev is a prolific video artist and has been working in this medium since 1996. He graduated from Wizo School of Design, which is located in Haifa, Israel. Alongside his commercial work, Har-Lev is also active in his personal art and has been a part of many art exhibitions, from Berlin to Tel-Aviv. Recently, he has worked on full length films, his most recent being “We Are Not Alone.”

The choreographer, Ofra Idel, is the co-director of Machol Shalem, a dance space in Jerusalem that is dedicated to promoting independent dance. In addition, Machol Shalem is an organization that is interested in breaking down social barriers. "Ofra Idel" creates a dance narrative out of seemingly violent acts. Idel is able to create a story that relies on female aggression instead of arising out of meaninglessness. The piece shows how bodies are forced to navigate their spaces and also be conscious of the relationship with themselves, as well as how violence involves pedestrians. There is also an interplay of the old orthodox aspect of the city and the new/progressive Jerusalem embodied by the young women.

Jerusalem acts also like a kind of actor or guiding force throughout the piece. The clash between the dancers and the people on the street mirror the cultural dissonance of the city. The dancers in their modern attire perform a contemporary dance in one of the world’s most ancient and most well-known cities. The piece only focuses on certain parts of Jerusalem due to the fact that "City Dance" was only given permits for specifics sections of the city. Although this is the case, the viewer is still confronted with the ancient elements of the location, which is found in the architecture and culture of the city.

Learn more about City Dance in this interview with Lior Har-Lev below.

Ofra Idel: Kick

What was the City Dance project? How did you get involved?

"City Dance" project is a video dance project initiated by my partner, Bettina Feinstein, and myself two years ago. We are both filmmakers with a great passion for dance. We wanted to find a way to make contemporary dance more accessible to people who don’t usually go to dance performances or even never had a chance to see a contemporary dance. On the other hand we wanted to bring choreographers and dancers out of the dark, isolated theater halls and make them confront an all-too-different surrounding and crowd than the one they are used to. So, the concept of the "City Dance" project was born: working with different dance groups to shoot their dance pieces in various exterior locations around the city center, with almost no rehearsals, on the spot, without giving any notice, in an almost one shot, aiming to catch the magical true moment of the event.

Ofra Idel: Pointing
Still from "CIty Dance: Ofra Idel"

There were five different choreographers for each film. What was it like working with them? How did their different styles affect your filmmaking for each film?

Working with five different choreographers and dance groups was a lot of fun as well as some headaches. As we had our pre-decided ground rules for the shooting style of the project: hand-held, primarily one shots (only cutting when moving within the location). The main work we did with each choreographer was finding a way to adapt his or her dance piece to the chosen urban environment.

In each film, the dancers integrate themselves into the streets, sometimes even weaving in and out of shops. What were some memorable reactions to the dancers?

Obviously when people unexpectedly encounter a dance performance in their normal surrounding they are curious, surprised, and it makes them stop for a moment to watch. And that was exactly what we were after, a small magical moment experience in the middle of an ordinary day. One of the most memorable reactions we had was this old couple who were passing by and upon seeing the dance they sat down on a nearby bench and holding hands they watched, excited, the whole run until we finished shooting and then came closer to thank the dancers.

Ofra Idel: Dance

How do you think this project captures Jerusalem?

I think the project visually captures just a small fraction of the city since it was all shot in locations around the city center due to permit problems. However, I think it does capture the unique multicultural atmosphere of the city and its people.

You’ve recently been working on a feature-length film. How would you compare narrative film-making to dance film-making?

It is a totally different filmmaking experience. Working on a non-narrative dance piece requires different approach and sensibilities. I focus more on the motion in the frame and the flow of the camera in relation to it. Also the amount of uncontrolled and unplanned elements is much bigger then in narrative, story-telling filmmaking, which keeps me very alert and ready to react in the shoot, and many times requires me to improvise a lot according to what happens in the moment.

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