February 21, 2019

Israel’s dance superstar, cultural ambassador

Ido Tadmor is probably the closest any Israeli dancer and choreographer has come to achieving rock-star status in his home country. 

He’s a former dancer with Israel’s Bat-Dor and Batsheva dance companies who earned the 2011 Landau Prize in Israel for lifetime achievement. He was also the main judge for four years of the popular TV reality competition “Nolad Lirkod” (“Born to Dance”), the Israeli version of “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Now the Israeli legend is coming to Los Angeles to perform two duets with Elwira Piorun, a former soloist with the Polish Dance Theatre and the Polish National Ballet. They’ll perform “Engagé” and “Rust” on Sept. 26 at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at CSU Los Angeles.

Piorun is a choreographer, dance teacher and co-founder of the Zawirowania Dance Theatre in Warsaw. That’s where Tadmor and Piorun met — he taught master workshops at a dance festival, and she participated in them. After the classes, he proposed that they try collaborating.

“Elwira is a beautiful and mature artist who brings a lot of depth into the work. There was an immediate professional attraction between the two of us. I feel like it comes across on stage in a very positive way,” he recounted in a phone interview from Tel Aviv.

Tadmor, the artistic director of the prestigious Israel Ballet, invited Piorun to Israel for a dance residency, where they began working on “Rust” and “Engagé” with Rachel Erdos, a British choreographer based in Tel Aviv. 

“Our collaborative process was based on Ido proposing fragments of choreography which I was learning, and adjusting it to my body and coordination,” Piorun wrote in an e-mail interview.

The two have much in common: Both are artistic directors of dance companies as well as artistic advisers to festivals. But their language barrier forced them to communicate with their hands to make themselves understood. That became the central theme of “Engagé.” The dancers play a couple that become romantically involved and even move into an apartment together, but they never physically interact.

“A certain barrier came into the creation, probably because it was, especially at the beginning, quite difficult to communicate,” Tadmor said. “But in the end of the day, we have a very special bond onstage and in rehearsals, and also in our private life, we became close friends.”

Tadmor regularly visits L.A. for performances and workshops, including at the Luckman in 2012. He was invited to perform these two pieces here after Luckman Executive Director Wendy Baker saw the premiere of “Engagé” at the 2013 Tel Aviv Dance Festival.

“I was so moved by the sincere expressiveness of the artists,” Baker wrote in an e-mail. “The performance was exceptional, and I knew I wanted this work danced by these artists in the Luckman season.”

Tadmor, 51, is in excellent physical condition because of a strict training regimen. He dances five to seven hours a day and works out at the gym five times a week. He became a principal dancer at 19, and his style combines classical ballet and contemporary dance. In recent years, he has also worked as an actor and fashion designer but said he wants to continue in dance. He’s currently preparing a new piece, “Episodes of Soldiers and Widows,” which will premiere at the annual Jerusalem International Dance Week in December.

Tadmor was one of Israel’s first public figures to speak openly about his sexuality and the challenges facing the country’s LGBT community. He came out in 1982 and has continued to advocate for gay rights and HIV awareness. In 1990, he choreographed his first work, “Seven Last Words,” as part of an event he produced for the Israel AIDS Task Force. In 2006, he played a son dying of AIDS in the movie “Tied Hands,” directed by Dan Wolman, alongside leading Israeli actress Gila Almagor. In 2007, he danced at a gala fundraiser supported by the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai, India, to raise funds for a shelter for HIV-affected children run by the Catholic Church.

The dancer made headlines in Israel in August, after a stranger began shouting homophobic slurs at him while he was sitting with friends at an outdoor cafe in Tel Aviv. The man, Shay Navian, blamed homosexuals for the decay of Israeli society and said they should all be forced to leave. The incident happened shortly after an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stabbed six people during a gay pride parade in Jerusalem; that attacker has been charged with fatally stabbing a teenage girl.

“It became more frightening and became more dangerous when he started saying that if the gay people continue having parades in Jerusalem, more people will be stabbed and that I will be stabbed. It was very aggressive and very extreme,” Tadmor said.

Tadmor filed a complaint with the Tel Aviv Magistrate Court, and police arrested Navian the next day. He said he decided to report the incident to help bring visibility to the issue. As a TV personality and esteemed member of Tel Aviv’s cultural elite, he knew he could draw media attention to the event. Religious Jews in Israel have become more hostile to gay rights, Tadmor said, and gay people in Israel are feeling a backlash to their increased visibility. 

“We are unfortunately in a very bad time, where more extreme people and extreme parts of the society are becoming more vocal and more physical in their deeds,” he said. 

Tadmor has spent plenty of time outside Israel. He formed his own troupe in 1995, and toured with it to Tokyo, Madrid, Paris, Moscow and the U.S. He also lived in Spain and the Netherlands, but chose to return to Israel to live and create there. As he leads workshops and performances abroad, he said he’s called upon to explain Israel to those who view the country as aggressive and militant.

“In this country, we have, of course, a lot of problems. We have a war going on all the time, but there are also amazing things going on here. There is beautiful art developing here. The dance scene in Israel is getting stronger. Feature films are getting better and better, and being shown all over the world,” Tadmor said. “In that sense, I am kind of an ambassador of art and culture of Israel.”

Ido Tadmor and Elwira Piorun perform “Engagé” and “Rust” at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at CSU Los Angeles. Tickets are $25-$45. For more information, go to