Feature: Itzik Galili - on making new work from old...

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Itzik Galili. Photo: Gadi Dagon

Phoenix Dance Theatre’s autumn tour includes four nights at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre (11 – 14 November) – during which the company present the premiere of Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili’s new version of a work he originally created in 1997. Until.With/Out.Enough is a Royal Ballet and Phoenix co-commission. Mike Dixon talked to Galili…

My unusual conversation with Itzik Galili about his latest commission takes place via Skype as he sits in his stationary car in Israel. He adjusts his laptop to take in the ceiling of his vehicle, his knees, and the view out of the window before he can finally wrestle the device into a position where we can talk. Throughout the operation he maintains a constant level of good-humoured banter and an ironic, amused tone characterises our subsequent conversation. One quickly gains the impression that Galili never takes himself entirely seriously, even though he has choreographed over 60 ballets and worked with many prestigious companies thus far in his successful career. His new work will be premiered in November, at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre, uniquely co-commissioned by Phoenix Dance Theatre and the Royal Ballet.

His career as a choreographer largely developed in the Netherlands, where he arrived in 1991 and set up his own company. In 1997 NND/Galili Dance became based in the city of Groningen; and in 2009 he became co-director of Dansgroep Amsterdam with Kristina de Chatel. He is still based in Amsterdam but has worked with major companies throughout the world: Batsheva Dance Company; Les Ballets de Monte Carlo; the ballet companies of Munich, Stuttgart, Helsinki and Winnipeg; and Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, among many others. In the United Kingdom he has created works for Diversions (Cardiff), Rambert (A Linha Curva, which was nominated for a Critics’ Circle National Dance Award and an Olivier Award) and English National Ballet for whom he created And the Earth Shall Bear Again , as part of the celebrations for the London 2012 Olympics. He has collected many awards in his adopted country and in 2006 was made a Knight of the Order of Oranje Nassau.

A Linha Curva, a sexy, theatrical, minimalist ballet with a large cast, dancing to percussive latin rhythms, employed extremely sophisticated lighting and in some ways this “look” has become his trademark but he does not choreograph in one style and takes an eclectic and elastic approach to achieving his artistic purposes in each individual ballet. I was fortunate to witness the development of Galili’s work during the 1990s in Amsterdam, where he attracted international class dancers like Ted Stoffer from across the Atlantic and Lynne Bristow, who had just left the Royal Ballet. These high quality performers were dancing initially in small theatres but it was inevitable that Galili would soon be working on a bigger canvas, not merely due to his choreography but also his acute intelligence, survival skills and the ability to negotiate with funding bodies.

“What I am creating for Phoenix is an old piece that I am adapting and giving a facelift, with new costumes and lighting. It is designed by Emma Louise James and the minimalist music for strings is by Henryk Gorecki. It is a simple story about two people who reflect on who we are; it is both physical and lyrical. I created it fairly early in my career but I don’t like to leave pieces, because as we change our pieces also change as we develop. We see this revision process in writing all the time. Essentially I am recreating it based on the abilities of the dancers, who naturally influence the work, because it is important that they own what they do. The company looks very good and I watched them in rehearsal and performance about 18 months ago. I chose Sandrine Monin and Sam Vaherlehto for the main couple and there are seven dancers in the piece which is called Until. With/Without. Enough and lasts about 34 minutes. The piece is an emotional journey for the viewer. The piece is essentially abstract but with intimacy and tension. A good work should move you emotionally and intellectually and I think it works with this ballet.

“I felt honoured to be invited to create for important British companies and it is a real luxury to be able to go from working with my own company to creating for others. I have had two companies in Holland and initiated three others and I have worked in avant-garde, neo-classical and other different styles to enrich myself artistically. I usually don’t say no to a commission if I feel there is a platform from which I can develop. I advise many choreographers on lighting because it is very important. I work closely with Yaron Abulafia who has written a new philosophical book, published by Routledge, a treatise, and history, of lighting: The Art of Light on Stage. He is a great artist and intellectual, a former painter, who lives in Amsterdam, but I originally met him in Groningen. The new costumes by Emma Louise James are fashion-oriented with an English look.

Sharon Watson [Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director] has been very generous in allowing me a free rein. Some directors have a programme about the direction in which they think you should go and they try to push you and direct your ideas. Sharon isn’t like that. She treats you like an artist and trusts you. I think there is a great atmosphere within the company and in the Phoenix building at Quarry Hill, Leeds. Their studios are very good and light-filled and the whole place has an open and relaxed feeling. My assistant will be going back there first to teach the steps before I return to work on polishing details of the choreography and the all-important lighting.”

Galili is a choreographic octopus in the sense that he seems to have feelers operating everywhere in the international dance scene and he is in huge demand to create new work. His list of credits is impressive but he seems to have a no-nonsense, practical approach to his craft, which is also characterised by his laid-back and unorthodox approach to interviews!

Phoenix Dance Theatre’s programme also includes Sharon Watson’s Tearfall and Caroline Finn’s Bloom
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, 11 – 14 November

Phoenix in rehearsals for Until.With/Out.Enough

Main photo: Gadi Dagon

Mike Dixon is a freelance writer for many publications including Tanz (Berlin) and Dance Europe (London).

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