Orly Almi

Orly Almi
Cohort 6: 2012-2014
Website: www.facebook.com/activisminmotion


Activism in Motion

The research deals with the links between gender and dance performance as political activism.[1] Gender is taken from the stand point of feminism, redefined as a politcal rather than a social issue. Such redifinition is one of the major struggles of the feminist movement in the last decades. It is so for several reasons. Firstly, it is a critique of the widely-accepted assumption that gender is a social issue,[2] in a reality where social issues are considered in general less important that political. Moreover, it challenges the assumption that social issues take time to change, hence members of the society can do much less to change them. Secondly, it puts gender in the realm of the public, the politea, where political issues are dealt, and not as a personal issue to be dealt in the private space. [3] I define the ‘political’ as human interaction of individuals in the desire to change situations, positioning, or relationships. This perspective invites questions on women’s experiences of the political. It also questions what is commonly considered political.

The research focuses on acts women do in what is considered to be their private space, their homes, and takes on food preparation as the main activity explored. Food preparation as a social-cultural phenomenon is universally attributed to women. This is so as their main roles are to nurture and bring children up. Consequently, societies define women’s ‘natural’ space to be home. Thus, the choice in food preparation touches upon the core of the question of gender inequality.[4] Part of the aim of the research is to attain new meanings to mundane movement through performative action. The mundane movements that may seem dull become a way to give performative visibility to the often unseen work women do. Thus, this act loads them with political meanings.

Feminism is more than a political statement; it is the modus vivendi of the work. Various collaborative, discursive and reflexive methods and modes of productions are used with performers, collaborators and audience to achieve multi-sensory events. One method extensively used in the choreographic aspects of the research is the use of improvisation as the main tool for movement material production.

The main motivation for the research my long-term wish to find new meaningful ways to bring dance as an art form to the realm of social change. Social change includes many strategies that deal with a change of society, including political activism.[5] I aim to create political dance that expands viewpoint on what is political and on how dance can be engaged with the political.

The Middle East in general and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in particular, forms the social-cultural-political cradle for this research. The question of the political and the question of gender as a political phenomenon that affects the life of all people is looked through the specific lens of gender relations as portrayed in Israel and its close neighbours.[6] Apart from its physical existence in the Middle East, about half of Israel’s Jewish population is comprised of immigrants from the Middle East and the Arab world (predominantly the Magreb). This, along with the history of the Middle East in the last centuries, affect the ways gender relations are negotiated in the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Social concepts of family and kinship ties, geo-political environment and history all create the meta-structure on which social order is organized in the Middle East. They shape the ways gender relations and the political are understood, as well as prescribe the means available for social change. The specific gender relations that developed over the course of the years in Israel’s are based on two aspects. One is the relationship of Israel to Europe and the centrality immigrants from there had in the formation of the Zionist dream of re-inhabiting the land. These people brought European ideas the grew up on to the region, independently to the way such ideas arrived to the rest of the region, namely via colonialism. The other aspect is the breach Israel has with the cultural region it resides within, partly as a result of the conflict and partly due to the Eurocentric and orientalistic attitude European-Jews brought with them

[1] Political activism is one form of social change, which is a wider aspiration of my work.

[2] See for example the discussion in the following articles and the definition of ‘social issues’ in relation to women. A short quote from the final remarks ‘Stick to your guns on the social issues’: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100148752/social-issues-are-not-the-republican-partys-problem-the-gender-gap-is-about-healthcare-not-sex/.

[3] Much of the struggle of the feminist movement in the 1970s in the US was about that point, predominanly in reference to domestic violence against women (especially domestic sexual violence), responsibility to housework and access to healthcare . See for example: http://www.carolhanisch.org/CHwritings/PIP.html

[4] It is important to note, however, that many women internilize social expectations, transferred through socialization at home, kindergarden, school, supported by mass media, culture and more. They grow to view their home as their ‘kingdom’ while their desire is to create a successful family, through which they are valued. For centuries women were judged mainly through their ability to upbring ‘successful’ children.

[5] Society here refers to aspects of group life including politics (in its narrow sense), economics, culture and more.

[6] Predominantly: Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and to some extent Iraq and the Magreb countries: Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, where jews lived for centuries before immigrating to Israel mainly in the early 1950s.

Research Question/ Position statement

In what ways can a dance performance become an act of social change, connecting art and ‘reality’, when investigated through the lens of gender in the political framework of Israel and the Middle East?

The Israeli dance scene is extremely vivid and productive, yet few discuss political issues directly in their choreographies. When discussed, the political is understood mainly in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lately, there saw an awakening discussion on the role of Israeli dance in art, culture and society. Some artists begun to ask questions on the society the live and work in through dance. This tendency is related to the flow of Israeli dancemakers to and from Europe and North America in the last decade, which I can be seen as part of. The result is the production of dance pieces that relate to current Israeli issues. Yet, most of these works are defined as political only when they touch upon the conflict.

In my research and practice I find inspiration in the methods and ideas of American-based women choreographers, founders of the post-modern era, such as Simone Forti, Deborah Hay and Yvonne Rainer. I currently work with the ‘logomotion’ practice – moving while talking – developed by Simone Forti and delivered to me by Claire Filmon. I use Forti’s technique as basis to the development of movement and performance tools.

I also look into works of feminist artists from different art fields who deal with food such as Bobby Baker (UK), Judy Chicago (USA), Maureen de Jong (NL), Deirdre M. Donoghue (NL) and Michael Ratcovitz (USA). Through their work, I intend to further research the relationship of dance and performance art and their relevance to my research question. Another artistic affiliation is Israeli/Middle Eastern cookbooks and their authors, as my art involves cooking and dancing.

As a choreographer that is interested in the combination of political activism, sociology, dance and improvisation that performs in unconventional spaces, I hold a unique yet marginal position in the Israeli dance world. Outside the dance world, Israeli visual artists, performance artists and mix-media artists have been showing works in unconventional spaces, used art for activist reasons and made works that involve food.[1]

[1] For example: SalaManka group that creates activist art-works and initiates exhibitions in nonconventional spaces including the public space (Jerusalem) http://sala-manca.net/; Tamar Raban, a performance artist dealing with food and food preparation (Tel Aviv) http://www.miklat209.org.il/home-page.html; and the non-violent activists (Palestinian, international and Israelis) of Bil’in village in the West Bank who have been using artistic means in the weekly demonstrations against the wall (OPT), to name but a few. Dance performance have shown as well at opendoor festivals (such as the Bat Yam Festival) and in galleries, though these are usually site specific, on-time works created for the event rather than the ‘regular’ and ‘professional’ art works of those artisits. Usually, they will not be counted in the body of works created, as published for example in the Choregraphers’ Association’s website www.choreographers.org.il

Method in relation to discursive Practices and Art Branding

My methodology is a constant move between activism, anthropology, choreography and critical theory and philosophy. It is an intimate attempt to bring those worlds closer together into a feminist artistic framework. It is comprised of reading, moving, digesting the world that dissolves in me and reflecting on these processes verbally and physically.

Improvisation is a main tool in my work. My methods are aimed at creating a self-aware performer to herself, her partners and the audience; to be fully in the moment; to develop awareness to subtleties, bodily listening, choice-making and remaining in a constant tension between self-will and group and space demands. The movement material is produced through improvisation and some remains improvised in the performance. All these aspects can be seen as feminist ideas of how to share the space in a way that embraces different agendas of a certain subject-matter. It demands patience, which is foreign to today’s hectic. In all of these aspects, the way I practice improvisation is political.

Self-documentation of personal life and the world around me is part of the investigation of possible connections between art and ‘reality’, as well as of what creative processes one goes through and where. This is a way to communicate my ideas with collaborators and audience. It informs my communication methods e.g. the texts on each house performance takes place in, where I write about my relationship to the space and the people living there. It is also used as a tool for developing movement materials and to communicate with dancers on my ideas.

In my choreographic project, I take women’s daily work onto ‘stage’ in an event combining dance, cooking, talking and a facilitated communal sharing of food and experiences. At first, I show its performativity. Then I transform it into physical abstract movement. I stage my performance\event in private houses as social happenings, where all senses partake in the event. An intimate communal sharing of food and thoughts of audience and performers happens at the last part of the event. This part can be seen as a time of ‘Communitas’.[1] The term describes a state members of a cohesive community go through during Initiation rituals. In this provisional state social differences are flattened. Then, a group of people feels the similarities in their experiences and the regular social order seems odd.  In my performances I intednt to create such a state where differences among audience members dissolve through the acts of sharing food and expressing their experiences of the event. Differences between audience members and performers blur as peformers sit in the same circle, in the same space, on the same level, eat and gradually leave their role as facilitators of the event and become a circle/group member. Communitas is a dangerous state, as people understand how similar and connected they are, or can be, and may decide to alter the regular situation. Thus, the time period when the state of communitas takes place holds the opportunity for social change. The desired change is not merely a specific change of one aspect of the divison of labour and/or gender relations. Rather, it is an attitude, a way of looking at the world and one’s relations with it, including all the beings in it. At the core of this world view lie gender relations. During the event I give visibility and respect to women’s work. In the process of creating the event I give performing women time on their own to find power in women’s work such as cooking, as well as to develop this power into a tool that can change social relations through performance. By doing so I hope to give audience members the opportunity to imagine the world around them based on new relationships among women and between women and the rest of the world, may it be their families, colleagues, nieghbours or enemies. Through all that, I create atmosphere and circumstances that I hope will make it possible for art to become an act of social change.

[1] termed by Victor Turner.

(v. April 28, 2014)

Research (videos):

Choreographic projects:

  • Homework
  • Kitchen Moves


Activism in Motion

My artistic research focuses on the ways dance performances can become acts of social change. Firstly, I look at the way Foucault and Deleuze[1] interpret philosophers’ role in society, finding similarities to artists’ role. As gender is a fundamental category for the organization of culture,[2] I view gender as a political issue. I discuss the use of empathy, a basic tool women are trained at, in political activism. Analysing Israeli dance pieces, I show the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the discourse on the political as the only possibility of political dance in Israel. The political is portrayed mainly as an issue by, of and for Jewish-Israeli men. Political discussion on gender is restricted to the realm between the personal and the social.

I then turn to my working methods, discussing the links between choreography and the political. My works are social experiments, beginning with house works that women are generally expected to do in. Main research and working tools – cooking and dance improvisation – are connected to feminist values as care and collaboration. The ‘reality’ of the private space and the largely unacknowledged work produced there become political in certain circumstances I create. Artistically extracting the political out of daily physical actions can give women’s activities a stronger position within society.

[1]‘Intellectuals and Power’ (1972).

[2] Phelan, 2001. As quoted in the Perform Feminism website.