Jerusalem-based dance company c.a.t.a.m.o.n will make its Bay Area debut as part of the ongoing effort by San Francisco-based group A Wider Bridge to encourage cultural and communal unity between LGBT people in the United States and Israel.
The company will perform its new piece, “Urfa,” at the Oasis club in San Francisco on Wednesday, June 15, as part of its June 3-21 tour of six U.S. cities.
Much has been written about Tel Aviv’s emergence as an LGBTQ mecca — a 2012 survey conducted for GayCities.com and American Airlines selected it as the world’s best gay city. Jerusalem, though, retains its image as an Orthodox stronghold where LGBTQ people and secular culture are unwelcome. But Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, said that’s no longer true.
“A new generation of young people, both religious and secular, many of whom are involved in arts and culture and LGBT, are seeking to build a vibrant and pluralistic cultural scene in Jerusalem that will make the city a more attractive place for young adults to live,” Slepian said.
He pointed to Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s central market place, which becomes a vibrant cultural center at night after the shops have closed. There are now bars, cafes and informal performances that attract hundreds of young people every evening into a neighborhood once dormant during the night hours.
Elad Schechter, who founded c.a.t.a.m.o.n. in 2012, is a major player in Jerusalem’s burgeoning arts scene. A graduate of the city’s High School of the Arts, he served in the theater department of the Israel Defense Forces and has performed with a number of dance companies. His troupe already has performed 16 original pieces, five of which were choreographed by Schechter, and has given more than 100 performances — half of them in Jerusalem — across Israel and around the world.
“The group is a young cultural organization which seeks to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the Jerusalem audience in all its diversity,” Schechter said in an email interview. “C.a.t.a.m.o.n. seeks to present this dialogue to all audiences in the country and around the world. We’re developing a unique artistic language that brings the human body into the public sphere of Jerusalem, thus contributing to the dialogue and communication between the different cultures of Jerusalem.”
Schechter believes that dance is an international language. “It can bridge cultural differences,” he said. “C.a.t.a.m.o.n. sees the human body presenting in Jerusalem’s public spaces as a mission and a major task.”
“Urfa,” the work that will be performed at Oasis, is described by Schechter as a hafla, using the Arabic word for party: “Four talented performers full of courage and humor create a unique experience, bringing the enthusiasm and joy of the hafla through high quality, happy dance.”
Videos of c.a.t.a.m.o.n. rehearsals show a youthful, athletic group of dancers moving with ease in their bare feet, combining traditional ballet steps with the energetic rhythms of an aerobics workout.
“We thought that Elad, as an openly gay choreographer with such a strong vision of the kind of Jerusalem he would like to help create — and with a dance company that pushes so many boundaries in terms of gender, sexuality and ethnicity — would be a great representation of this new spirit that is transforming Jerusalem,” Slepian said.