Collage Dance Ensemble to perform at Israeli Dance Festival DC
by Lisa Traiger
Collage Dance Ensemble aims to build bridges through dance and music. The Boston-based dance troupe, founded by Ahmet Luleci, a native of Turkey, is as likely to dance a chasidic-style folk dance as a Turkish one. The company, Luleci said, aims to promote harmony between people from different cultural and social backgrounds. This weekend, 10 of Collage’s dancers will perform as guest artists in the fourth annual Israeli Dance Festival DC, which will feature 150 dancers as young as 8 to those well into their 70s on stage at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville.
Additionally, Saturday night an open community harkada – Israeli folk dance session – featuring the region’s most popular Israeli dance instructors will allow folk dancers of all abilities, from beginner to accomplished, to get their dance on. From horas to debkas, Israeli-accented tangos, to waltzes and salsas with a Middle Eastern flair and youthful line dances with a hip-hop beat, the dance floor will be awhirl with Israeli dances from around the world.
Luleci began dancing as a child at home in Turkey, copying his neighbor at weddings and communal gatherings. Eventually he majored in music in college because that was the field of study as close as he could find to the dance that he loved. As the youngest director ever of Hoy-Tur, Turkey’s leading dance ensemble, he began choreographing, leading dance sessions and researching the history, cultural and social background of dances from Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. These days, aside from leading Collage, which also has a west coast branch in San Francisco, he travels the world teaching Turkish folk dances.
In the mid-1980s, he settled in the U.S. and soon became fascinated with some important figures in American modern dance, among them Laura Dean, who frequently drew on repetitive folk dance patterns in her contemporary work, and influential modern choreographer Mark Morris, who performed with a Balkan dance troupe early in his career and is now a driving force on the U.S. modern dance scene.
In Los Angeles, as a member of Aman Folk Dance Company, Luleci said, “I realized that I enjoyed doing other kinds of dancing [besides Turkish dances].” As well, he said, “I discovered Mark Morris. To me, I always loved doing folk dancing, no question. But what [Morris] did really grabbed my heart.” Morris’ works, while entirely based in the modern dance idiom, simultaneously draw from classic folk dance forms, like the circle, and convey a communal sensibility that is often absent in individualistically based modern dance choreography.
Ultimately, the Turkish dance group Luleci created after settling in Boston shifted direction to perform international folk dances.
“It was something I got emotional about,” he admitted, “and I really enjoyed it. I decided to actually go as far as I could, so I reformed the company and modernized it. Now we do more modern international dancing. Collage is very unique. You don’t see many companies doing this kind of dancing: modern dancing based on traditional folk movement.”
On Sunday the Collage dancers will bring “Psiphas,” or “Mosaic,” a piece by Jerusalem-based choreographer and dance educator Ronit Ronen Tamir. The original four-movement work will be broken into three distinct parts for the D.C. festival program, and it will feature a section of stylized chasidic dances, a Yemenite dance and a rousing Israeli hora.
The program will also include B’yachad, a group of college-aged dancers from Brandeis University, and from the D.C. region: the adult dancers of Hora DC and long-time Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington-affiliated troupe Kinor; Yesodot’s high-school-aged dancers; Kesem’s middle-school-aged dancers; youngsters from the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital; and children from Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. This year’s festival theme, according to festival organizer Mona Atkinson, is “bonim atid,” building the future, and the show is meant to show handing down the tradition of Israeli dance to the next generation.
Luleci’s Collage dancers come from various walks of life, most are not trained dancers, but amateurs in the truest sense of the word: they simply love to dance. The members all have day jobs and come together to rehearse twice a week in the evenings.
“What I like about my company is that everybody is very educated,” he said. “I’m the least educated in the company and I have two degrees.” Among the dancer ranks are neuroscientists, lawyers, medical students, computer scientists, Ph.D. students at MIT. “People tell me I have the smartest dance company in the world,” he says, with at least a touch of bragging.
What’s also true is that the company draws dancers of all ethnic, religious and political persuasions. But, Luleci is adamant in noting that politics do not intrude on dancing. “I don’t allow people to get into politics in my company. I respect everybody’s opinion, everybody’s religion and when they walk in the door it’s their belief, and I expect everyone to respect that,” he said.
“People are surprised about our company,” he continued, for its diversity and multicultural values. Even in the U.S., purported to be a great melting pot, he finds that many people don’t often interact with those from other cultures. “What we do in dance is a way we can solve problems culturally,” Luleci said.
Choreographer Tamir, who lived in Rockville for a few years before relocating to the Boston area briefly, then home to Jerusalem, said via email about her work with Collage, “For the company, comprised of non-Israeli dancers, I was not sure how the dancers would react and how well they would be able to perform the Israeli dance style that they are not familiar with. The diverse dance styles that the company experiences in its repertoire make the dancers open to new styles and despite the challenge, this was one of the most rewarding experiences I had as a dancer and as a choreographer. Watching [mainly] Turkish dancers wearing a tallit and dancing a chasidic dance or the hora is not something you see a lot.”
The fourth annual Israeli Dance Festival DC will take place Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville. Advance tickets cost $12 adults, $10 students; at the door, tickets are $15 adults, $10 students. Saturday night’s harkada, Israeli folk dance party, will happen 9 p.m.-midnight at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville. For information, go to www.israelidancefestivaldc.com.