Dancers participate in exchange with Israeli dance company

Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company
Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company

Arguably, not much will lure the average college student back from winter break two weeks early. Most students would balk at the idea of plunging into 80 hours of rigorous physical activity back at school while friends snooze 'til noon and catch up on episodes of Dexter.

Nevertheless, 18 Mason Gross BFA Dance students spent the first half of January engaged in an international exchange with the renowned Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company. Later in the month, dancers trained for three days alongside Pinto, co-founder of the experimental Israeli dance-theater group. The intensive wraps up the Dance Department’s year-long focus on Israeli dance, which has included collaborations with Batsheva Dance Company and Vertigo.

“Israel has an incredible dance scene—incredible dance energy,” says Julia Ritter, chair of the Dance Department. “It is a laboratory of experimentation. I wanted students to be pushing themselves with [Pinto and Pollack’s] challenging movement but also delve into the theatricality.” The company employs several actors as well as dancers.

Dance professor Jeff Friedman serves as artistic liaison between Pinto and the Mason Gross dancers. He says this immersion gives student dancers the opportunity to “work at an intensive level with professionals in the world. They see themselves as professionals in a very concrete way.” Friedman says the department is developing a “Dance in Israel” course as well as an International Dance Studies certificate.  

Sophomore Dance student Mimi Gabriel says interpreting the movement language of various Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollack Dance CompanyIsraeli choreographers throughout the year has broadened her perception of the country’s dance scene. Gabriel says she hopes to study next year at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, a newly established study-abroad program involving the Mason Gross School and the Rothberg International School at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  

Gabriel says she has noticed that Israeli dancers are “very versatile and passionate a lot of the time. They have an ability to express passion through movement. Their bodies are so strong. It seems like they can do anything. I want to see what they’re doing.”

Talia Beck, a freelance principal dancer with the Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, led the collaboration with Mason Gross students.

“The students came so open to it,” she says. “Usually at a school you have to deconstruct their habits and opinions, but it was very easy to release them and have them come into the piece . . . They go for it.”

Gabriel says she is grateful to experience Beck’s knowledge firsthand.

“To be able to see her dance a step is so incredible,” Gabriel says. “You can’t learn that on YouTube; you have to be in the rehearsal process.”

But Beck emphasizes that these two weeks weren’t just about translating the finer points of Pinto and Pollak’s aesthetic.

“I also want them to find humor and freedom in that,” Beck says. “I want them to take away the playfulness and joy of moving. Freedom allows for new ideas to come.”

The Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company is set to perform 8 p.m. Wednesday, February 1, at New Brunswick’s State Theatre; Friedman will participate in the free Pre-Performance Insight discussion with Pinto and State Theatre president and CEO Mark Jones at 7 p.m. in the United Methodist Church, just across the square from the performance. Meanwhile, Mason Gross students will perform a collage of the company’s work at the school’s annual DancePlus Spring concert, set for April 20-29 at the Victoria J. Mastrobuono Theater

Ritter says she hopes this partnership with the State Theatre will be the first of many involving international dance artists.

“When the students graduate, I want them to see that New York City is not the only option,” says Ritter, who has arranged for the students to participate in exchanges with Chinese and Turkish dancers, as well. “I want them to have face-to-face exposure with international artists.

“I say, you need to be able to communicate globally as a dancer and a human being,” Ritter continues. “If anything, that’s really my goal. For dance to survive, there need to be synergies between different kinds of people and different kinds of dance."

Posted 2012