Like most kibbutzim, Kibbutz Ga’aton has agriculture and industry, but that’s not what has brought it notoriety. Instead, people from around the globe have been attracted to this spot in the western Galilee for its contemporary dance.
Conceived in 1959 as the Ga’aton Dance Company and changed in 1973 to the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC), it has become a beacon under the artistic direction of choreographer Rami Be’er. And now Be’er, 57, along with 18 dancers from KCDC’s main company, will be coming to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills for three performances Nov. 19-21.
Be’er’s parents were among a group of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who arrived in Israel in 1948 to build a new life, founding the tiny Kibbutz Ga’aton settlement near the Lebanon border. Be’er was taught by his architect father, now 90, to play cello at a very young age, and the entire family — he has three sisters — still plays chamber music together. His mother, now 87, worked in the kibbutz library. But it was dance class that Be’er, even at the age of 3, anxiously looked forward to.
“The movement, the music, the connection was something that was different from other things. I found myself in a different dimension when I was dancing,” he said by phone from Israel. “Yehudit [Arnon], another founding member [of Kibbutz Ga’aton], felt very strong that I was something unusual, even though my father really wanted me to pursue the cello full time.”
Arnon, who died last year, was a young Orthodox dancer from the former Czechoslovakia, who was punished during the Holocaust for sharing her passion of movement with other prisoners at Birkenau and refusing to perform for the Germans at a Christmas event. Ordered to stand barefoot overnight in the snow and later surviving a firing squad, Arnon decided that if she didn’t perish in the war, she would make dance her life’s work. She brought the idea of creating a modern dance company to the Kibbutz Ga’aton, though there was resistance at first, as many in the socialist community favored the more inclusive style of traditional folk dance.
“She was a very special woman,” Be’er said. “She exposed me to the world of dance, and communicating through movement.”
After serving in the Israeli army, Be’er spent one year working on the kibbutz in the avocado orchards and then decided to join the dance company. He became the artistic director upon Arnon’s retirement in 1996.
Be’er changed the structure of the company from its repertory style, where different choreographers work on each project, to having his artistic control be the guiding creative force. He often creates the entire production package from the music, costumes, lighting, set design and choreography — but that doesn’t mean it’s a one-man show.
“I see the people that work with me as my partners,” Be’er said. “Everyone has a place to express their voice. If I try something with dancers and it is going a different way that I didn’t plan, I am flexible to follow an unexpected moment as it might take me to a place with a more interesting solution.”
The upcoming performances at The Wallis will feature “If At All,” a piece that Be’er created in 2012. It is 65 minutes long with no intermission. Be’er insists there is no formal story behind the piece.
“I invite the individual spectator to a journey,” he explained. “I give him a certain rope and lead them to a certain point and then leave them to connect through the piece … It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about the freedom that each spectator has to his own associations, his memories, his feelings and thoughts.”
With a little prodding, he explains that “If At All” broadly investigates human beings existing in different circles of life — relationships with oneself, partnerships and society.
Be’er is aware that Israel often is connected with the political issues of terror and conflict, and those concerns do influence his work. However, his optimistic nature would rather he expose the other sides of the Jewish state, focusing on art and creativity.
“I am not naive that a piece of art can change the world or can change a political or social issue. But, if in the end of this journey, when the lights come up, the spectator gets up from his chair and takes with him some question marks to think about … this is our modest contribution in helping create a better world to live in,” he said.
The quiet, lush environment of kibbutz life provides a great deal of inspiration for Be’er and the other dancers.
“It gives a quiet to the creative process. It’s not a fit for everyone, but for me, and the people that chose to be here, it’s right. Many good values come from it.”
Along with the 400 kibbutzniks, 60 people make up the core group of KCDC that live together in an area called the Dance Village. There is a junior company (KCDC 2) that concentrates its efforts on Be’er’s mission of educating young people and exposing them to the world of dance. He believes the art form can help children discover strength, patience and a deeper window into themselves.
KCDC offers five- and 10-month extensive training programs. Dancers come from all over the globe in hopes of being accepted, and most have professional aspirations. It is essential to Be’er’s contemporary style that the dancers be educated in classical and modern techniques.
Throughout the year, nearly 400 students come from nearby areas, including an Arab village, to take dance, movement, Pilates and yoga classes. There are future plans to build additional studios and incorporate an academic school.
“We want to create the space for dancers to live, and help their dreams come true,” Be’er said.
Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company will be doing three performances of “If At All” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in the Bram Goldsmith Theater, Nov. 19-21. For more information and tickets, go to thewallis.org