Idan Cohen seeks to free Western ballet from its classicism

Growing up in north Israel’s Mizra kibbutz, choreographer Idan Cohen was to develop a sense of community that profoundly affected his contemporary dance practice. The 34-year-old Israeli dancer, who was in the city recently to perform his piece Holi at the Interface Dance Festival, speaks in the first person-plural as he recalls his years in the kibbutz. “All children were raised together in nursery houses...we would only see our parents for three or four hours, in the afternoons.”

This sense of collectivism is manifested in his pieces, through dancers who are always present on stage. For instance, in Holi – a modern retelling of the Holi tale – there are no entries and exits through the performance: once the piece begins, all dancers remain onstage. Cohen explains that this leads to them being influenced by each other’s energy and movements, “in the same way that children growing up in a community are influenced by each other.”

Today, as a dancer, Cohen is preoccupied with a certain freedom of the body. “Our body is being constantly terrorised... We are being told how we should move, behave, how we should hold ourselves in public, how women and men should move.” Freedom is one part, but self-love is another, to him: he thinks people should accept and love their bodies. “We tell our body how to behave, even what shape to have. You see that often with dancers, especially in Western forms – taking extreme diets and so on.”

Cohen has been working as an independent choreographer since 2003, and has visited India in the past for previous editions of the Interface dance festival. One of his creations includes a modern interpretation of Swan Lake, which he performed in India in 2010.

Cohen explains that he deliberately wanted to break the conventions inherent to the classical ballet form. “Swan Lake is one of the highest peaks of classical European music...when we imagine it, we imagine the highest forms of beauty and romanticism. For me, breaking that was a great challenge.” That said, he began from a place of love for the music and original choreography, he said. Mad Siren, another of Cohen’s works, uses Mozart’s piano sonatas as score. His grandmother, a Holocaust survivor from Austria, loved Mozart’s sonatas, and he has in turn been “touched and fascinated” by the music of Mozart, he says.

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