Royce Hall at UCLA

Israelis to teach choreography, media arts at UCLA


UCLA students will have the opportunity this spring to study with two leading Israeli artists who combine science with the movement of bodies.

Choreographer Shahar Biniamini and media artist Daniel Landau are among 14 top Israeli artists coming to major U.S. universities during the current academic year, as part of the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artists Program.

Biniamini has danced with Batsheva — The Young Ensemble and Batsheva Dance Company during the past decade. Since leaving it in 2013, he continues to teach and produce the Batsheva repertoire around the world.

Biniamini is a teacher of the movement language Gaga, improvised dance developed by Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin that sometimes appears spastic, grotesque or even silly as a way to unlock thoughts and emotions.

Biniamini, 28, says he first became interested in dance when he was 17 years old, after seeing the Naharin-choreographed piece “Shalosh.”

“I remember the sensation I had. Not necessarily that I wanted to be a dancer, but I wanted to be part of that thing that I saw,” Biniamini said in an interview over tea at Melrose Umbrella Co.  “It came out of nowhere, and my life changed completely.”

The other visiting Israeli artist, Landau, studied music composition and new media at the Royal Conservatory in the Netherlands. His artistic installations examine the relationship between the body and technology, and he’ll work with students in the UCLA Department of Media Arts using virtual reality.

The Visiting Israeli Artists program is an initiative of the Israel Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based academic institute. The program was founded in 2008 to bring modern Israeli artists and cultural leaders to North America for residencies at cultural organizations and academic centers. Since the program began, there have been 68 residencies featuring 78 artists at colleges and universities.

“There are universities that we’re interested in bringing artists to, and sometimes that university wants to bring a specific artist or an artist in a certain field. And other times I meet an artist that has the talent and the teaching experience,” said Marge Goldwater, director of arts and cultural programs at the Israel Institute. “Sometimes I describe myself as a matchmaker.”

Soon after leaving Batsheva, Biniamini co-founded a research group, Tnuda, to explore the connection between science and movement. Composed of dancers, choreographers and scientists, it is based at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, a town south of Tel Aviv. He founded the group with Weizmann professor Atan Gross, who studies apoptosis, or programmed cell death.

“[Gross] sees a link between the process of dance, with bodies transferring information from one body to another, and it gives him inspiration for new directions in research on why cells commit suicide for the benefit of the whole unit,” Biniamini said.

As an independent dancer and artist, Biniamini choreographs new pieces for theaters and companies. In one piece, “Flat,” created for Frontier Danceland in Singapore, he covered one dancer with blue dots. In another,  “Yama,” he covered Japanese dancers with red dots.

“When I work with dancers, I like to see the body. I like to see the muscles, to see the body exposed,” he said. The idea was “to create a kind of uniform without disturbing the body.”

After working with UCLA students on an original choreographed piece this spring, he plans to work with GöteborgsOperans Danskompani in Gothenburg, Sweden; followed by a collaboration with Gauthier Dance, an ensemble in Stuttgart, Germany; and a workshop in Italy’s Tuscany region.

Biniamini has also produced videos, installations and sculptures that have been presented in theaters, museums and galleries around the world.

“It’s always a running joke between us when we talk on the phone,” Goldwater said. “I say, ‘What continent am I talking to you on?’ ”

While in Los Angeles, Biniamini will also choreograph a new piece with former Batsheva dancer and artistic director Danielle Agami and her L.A.-based ensemble, Ate9 Dance Company.

Biniamini says his goal is to found a collective of choreographers and dancers and to continue bringing innovative dance to people all over the globe.

“It’s healthy, and it can save the world,” he said.

Landau, in addition to his artistic work, led the media studies department at Beit Berl Academic College near Tel Aviv from 2012 to 2016. At 43, he is a doctoral candidate at the Aalto Institute in Finland and a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya. At UCLA, Landau will work alongside Eddo Stern, a world-renowned game designer and director of the UCLA Game Lab.

Landau’s work has been featured at international venues, museums and festivals. He is the founder of “Oh-man, Oh-machine,” an art, science and technology platform that has included a conference, a laboratory and 36-hour-long “durational workshops” in which researchers, meeting in an
airplane hangar, talk about and experience the relationship between bodies and technology.

While in California, Landau will conduct a public lecture and performance at UCLA, Caltech and Stanford called “Time-Body Study,” which he describes as a “virtual reality experiment.”

“A person from the audience is invited on stage, and not only is he placed somewhere else, as virtual reality does, he is being re-embodied,” Landau said. “He finds himself in a body of a 7-year-old, a 40-year-old and an 80-year-old.”

The project, he said, is meant to show how virtual reality may change our relationship with our own bodies and how our “physical identity can be shifted into something else.”

Another of Landau’s areas of interest is post-humanism, which he describes as “an amazing philosophical framework to reconfigure this relationship between nature, humans and computers.”

One output of that interest is a short film about Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman whose cancerous cell lines have been used by researchers for decades to develop cures for various diseases.

Another of Landau’s projects is called “One Dimensional Man,” a theatrical piece that combines projections of faces onto masks with dancers performing alongside them.

There is a political component to his work as well. Landau contends that the goal to become a more connected society has resulted in a surveillance state, with major corporations controlling the flow of information online. The “power networks” at play in social and political structures remains a major theme of his work since returning to Israel in 2006, after studying and making art in The Hague, Netherlands, for a decade.

Living abroad for that long, Landau said, allowed him “to see different horizons which you just can’t from within Israeli society.”n

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