Tell us about yourself and your work
My name is Orly Almi and I am an Israeli-Jewish choreographer, improviser and dance and food artist. I have travelled in Africa, studied social anthropology and worked for a decade in human rights and social change organization before becoming a full-time choreographer. My main practice is improvisation, seen as an art form that can bring along many changes, in the studio, on stage, in life. I live in Tel Aviv with my dog, Sheva, travel the world with a chef’s knife in my backpack and try to make art that makes a difference.
Gender issues are at the meta-structure of my events as I see them as the meta-structure which organizes human society. Thus, three years ago I started cooking on stage. Bringing the kitchen to the theatre brings light to one of the most important and least recognized works – food production. The cooking score happens in relations to another choreography that simultaneously happens on stage, that of dance. The two scores interact to create an event of cooking, dancing, sharing of food and words. The events I create have a participatory aspect when the spectators, who sit on stage together with performers, help to cook the food they will eat later. By creating such circumstances and placing myself within them, I am always surprised by how people act and interact within these events. That is why I see my events as social experiments. The circumstances I try to create are based on the notion of empathy as a basis to human relations. Empathy is an action; actions demand muscles; these can be trained and grow into a sense of solidarity that can bring change. Can a dance performance become activism?
Where does the inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from daily life, from human encounters, and from world events. I often sense the world around me, and whatever which happens there, as something internal. Events penetrate my skin and become part of my experiences. Actions I take in the world, or ones expected to be taken by me often become inspiration for my creative processes. When I started my Master of choreography course at ArtEZ in 2012, we were asked to document our creative process. I wondered: how to do that? My creative process does not begin in the studio. Can I shoot myself buying vegetables in the market? One weekend I was alone at home. I borrowed a camera from school and started filming myself cooking, talking to myself or reading philosophy while dividing parsley leaves etc. After that weekend, I started taking photos of how I see the world outside: people’s kitchens as seen from the outside, street food stalls, posh food venues, women in the public space, hands making food, advertisements of food, women and kitchen and all the things that form my inspiration from the outside. The other part of my inspiration comes from within, from my intimate sensations, feelings etc. I have when I move and improvise, when I am given a body treatment and other somatic practices I am involved with in the past few years: The Alexander Technique, BMC, Yoga, meditation and others. The mixture of outer and inner sensual and mental experiences instigates my inspiration.
Which is the need of your art?
My art is about social relationships and how these can be more equal and shared between people of all genders, classes, origins, belief systems, orientations; in this sense my art is both in need and is needed. I need people to interact with before, during and after the events I create. And I think and hope there is a need for such art to make a difference in the world, to help change human relationships into something that is based on empathy, that develops a sense of solidarity, and that makes space for different voices to rise, and tell their stories, that count not less than the regular staff we hear in the news.
Tell us about your experiences in art fairs, exhibitions and others.
I have just come back from a residency in Brussels, with workspacebrussels. As an Israeli artist, I find it particularly important to have artistic opportunities outside the country and especially in Europe. This is so for three reasons: the first is that one needs some distance – space and air – or an airy space – to be able to create a distance between art and personal experience. In this sense, residency programmes can give an important asset to artists coming from warzone and conflict-torn territories.
The second reason is that Israel is detached from a cultural milieu. It has no links with Arab and Middle Eastern culture that is produced in its neighbouring countries. Due to the distance and to the growing cultural boycott, it has few links to contemporary dance scenes throughout Europe. Thus a residency is an important way to connect, touch base, to see what’s cooking’ and get inspired. It is also a meaningful way to meet possible partners.
Lastly, it enables Israeli Artists, both Jewish and Arabs, to bring to Europe different voices from the monolithic ones that are being heard in the mainstream media. Apart from that, it is fun to be able to discuss my work with larger audiences; it expands one’s world view. At the same time, it can specify the art that is being produced and can give rise to a clearer understanding of how context can change an art work and the ways a work is perceived in a given country.
What does it means the art for you?
Art, and especially dance and the moving body, are for me the way to make life meaningful, more than a mere survival. When I dance, I feel whole and connected to all parts of myself and the world around me. Art is the possibility to share it with others, to offer my attitude in a non-judgmental way, and to give other people a space to connect to themselves and to others; to experience both a very personal, intimate moment in a community. My art is an offer on how to live life.
What do you think about the art system in your country?
This question will be answered in the British understatement mode and will refer specifically to the dance world/system in Israel. In general, the dance world in Israel is relatively small, poor and vibrant. Most of the funds are public (i.e. government, lottery fund) and few artists manage to get foreign funding via foreign states’ cultural offices (e.g. Goethe Institute, British Council). The public budget for culture in Israel is extremely small, even in relation to European countries that have recent cuts in their budgets. Israel’s culture share of the budget is about 0.17% of the national budget. Out of this, the art of dance receives the lowest part of the budget (in relation to other ‘traditional’ arts such as plastic art, theatre, opera, classical music, film etc.; there are other art forms that receive even less, such as all the ‘ethnic’ arts, ‘community’ art, etc.).
The very small budget is given mainly to the few repertoire dance companies, notably The Bat-Sheva Dance Company, and to the Choreographers Association, which is the main organization that brings together independent choreographers. However, in recent years the association has adopted rules on accepting new members that leave a growing proportion of the emerging choreographers outside the available budgets.
The Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater is a powerful center with a lot of activity that revolves around it. In the last decade new smaller centers evolved, mainly in the periphery of Israel such as Acre, Mitzpe Ramon, the Ella valley and Jerusalem. The newly renovated Machsan 2 is a performance space run by the Choreographers Association in Jaffa, a town adjacent to Tel Aviv. Despite the growing amount of venues for performance, it seems that there are little variations in the themes and choreographers presenting, and even more so in the working methods.
There are hardly any production houses that commission new works and most works are created in the competitive framework of festivals that always demand to show premieres. Hence there is a lot of production of performances that show 2-5 times in one specific place and then fall into decay. A new phenomenon is the growing number of events and venues that discuss dance theory and make links between theory and practice, an aspect that has been long missing. It is yet to be seen how far it will penetrate to dance academies and/or universities. All in all, the vibrant and highly productive dance world is organized around a center with very narrow fringes.
What is the future of art?
I am optimistic! I believe art had, has and will have an important place in human society. I am a slowfood person, tend to make a lot of things by myself (from jams to costumes) and have a very self & handmade attitude to art. Yet, technology is part of my life and I use it and enjoy the liberties it gives me. For example, the ability to make cheap PR publicity through Facebook or to manage my invitation lists on a shared google doc. I think Art will continue to find new, witty ways to discuss ethical issues with, through and about the growing technology. I am all for making art less distinctive and more varied and made by more people that can start their way even in a reality programme; though I believe the personal, human interaction has no components.