This Part I of Hillel Kogan’s interview with Voirelia Dance Hub for “Dancing with a Healthy Mindset” Initiative. This interview took place in Tel Aviv, Israel in August 2019. Alina Sotskova, Voirelia’s Artistic Director, was participating in a Gaga method dance intensive and Hillel Kogan was one of the instructors, which led to this brief interview on the topics of Mr. Kogan work in contemporary dance and his perspective on dance and mindset.
Hillel Kogan is a choreographer, dancer, dramaturge, and teacher. He has been creating dance works since 1996. In addition to his independent work, he is the assistant choreographer to Ohad Naharin and the Batsheva Dance Company, and teaches Gaga technique across the world. His work has received numerous awards and is frequently performed across the world. His work We Love Arabs was scheduled to be performed in April 2020 in Vancouver. Unfortunately, it had to be postponed because of COVID, but fortunately, we had a chance to speak with him previously about his work.
Alina: Maybe we can start with just a little bit of a summary of what your dance practice is like right now.
Hillel: So I’m an independent choreographer and performer. I just premiered my latest piece, which was created in the last few years as a part of a trilogy. The trilogy is a bit Ars Poetic. It’s about dance, ethics and aesthetics in a way, about the meeting of dance and social conventions. First part of the trilogy was a piece about a relationship between an Arab dancer and a Jewish choreographer. I wanted to talk about the Jewish-Arab conflict and about the power situation and the oriental approach toward Arabs. For example, it’s about the way Jewish-Israelis or the Western World look at Arabs. The second part of the trilogy was The Swan and the Pimp. It takes the image of the swan in the history of ballet, dance, and contemporary society, and we raised questions about gender in dance, power situations between men and women, and between choreographers and dancers. What kind of bodies are women required to have in dance? Can a dancer be a real man: since there are so many gay people like me? Are the choreographers or audiences like pimps because they demand skinny young beautiful dancers? And I explored these questions through the history of the image of the swan, as well as various quotes. The latest part is a duet of a conflict of a couple without conflict. Together with another artist, we ask “What now?” And in this question, we ask what is nowness? We look at old-fashioned dance. We tried to ask what makes movement old? What is contemporary movement? So the whole piece actually doesn’t have a narrative. No beginning, middle or end. It’s bits and pieces that could never go inside a piece. So it’s like if you would be a writer and you see a writer with a typing machine and all the papers around the piece is made from the papers he threw out. So it’s a lot of tries. We never finish what we do in the piece. There’s a lot of nonsense in it. And questions are explored like, “What is cool? What do we work on? Where is the movement coming from? What is movement?”
What about teaching? How much of your work does teaching take?
Parallel to my work as an independent choreographer, I have been working with Batsheva and Ohad for more than 15 years. I’ve been a rehearsal director of the junior company for 11 years and I’ve been assisting Ohad as Gaga teacher and as an assistant to stage his works in Batsheva and abroad, in other companies. – so in the last 15 years, I’ve been teaching Gaga a lot.
Besides Gaga, have there been other approaches that have been or are now part of your dance training or practice?
No, I would say Gaga is my main dance research. I do yoga. I don’t consider it dance, but for sure it’s a movement practice and I study it a lot on a daily basis. It’s part of my main practice but also contributes to my own understanding of movement. And in my own work, I always work with improvisation, improvisation skills, improvisation tools, and texts. I use a lot of texts. So my pieces are, you can say, theatrical. They’re not abstract at all, and the meeting between text and dance is really something that interests me.
Is there an experience you want to create for people who watch your work?
I want them to feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to please them. I don’t want them to be passive as they are watching a piece. I’m not interested in the aesthetic of dance in the most pure way of creating beautiful things. I love beautiful things. I love dance. But I’m not interested in creating beauty, or in pretending I know what beauty is. It’s simply not my interest. My interest is to find how the body can tell a story. Not necessarily a narrative, but how it tells the story of where we are in society now, how ideologies and conventions and values of our society are reflected in the way we dance, in the way we choreograph, in the way we compose, in the way we have a distribution in the theatre, in the way the public thinks, and in the hierarchy on stage. So I would like to think, for me, choreography is a form of conversation. I don’t have answers or messages to give the audiences, but I do invite them to ask questions. And I think I would like to provoke questions, doubts, and enable speech and discourse throughout dance.
You can learn more about Hillel’s work on his website: https://www.hillelkogan.com/