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“Relearning what you know by becoming aware of it, like an immigrant in your own home, your own body”


Shira Eviatar started in the theatre as a child actor and later completed her BA in theatre and dance. At 25, she entered choreography school in Israel. At the time, she was active in many creative fields, such as making clothes, painting, pottery, video art, and playing the drums. We talk to Shira Eviatar about her upcoming performances at SPRING Eviatar/Said & Rising, showing 18 & 19 May at Theater Kikker.

What was your motivation to work in the performing arts?

I am intrigued by our ability to create and change our reality, manifested through rules and cultures, and to question it and dissect it to go to our pure essence. This essence is taken away from us in our daily lives; society has no space for it. In order to go beyond what we think we know and ask why things are the way they are, beyond our cultural rules, we need to use our bodies and explore time and space. For me, that is what the performing arts are about.

I like to create works that use the body. I have stopped playing the drums, but I use body percussion in my performances, shaping the space through rhythm and creating a visual that has music. You can even listen to what you see.

What do you think about the role of theatre and dance in society?

That is specific to my country. The situation is very complex, so what I’m saying here is highly simplified. Israel was established by migrants from Europe and the USA (Ashkenazi Jews) and the Arab world (Mizrachi Jews). The Ashkenazi culture was dominant in society, possibly because they had more money. Through media and society, their culture was placed before the Arab culture. Israeli society was extremely segregated, and the Arab Jews were treated very badly. For example, Yemeni Jewish children were kidnapped by the government and given to Ashkenazi families. Many Mizrachi women who delivered in hospital had their babies taken away from them. They were told the baby had fallen ill and died. For many people – and many groups in society – the trauma runs deep.

The Ashkenazi’s Zionist project portrays a certain image of Israel and if you speak Arabic or have a slightly darker skin tone, you are an embarrassment to this image. My grandparents came from Algeria and Morocco, and my father had to change his last name to have any chance in society. As a Moroccan, you are a “no-go”. My grandmother was called a liar for saying that her son was going to be a doctor, both because they didn’t wish her well and because nobody considered it possible.

When I became a dancer, I realized how this trickles down into our culture and I was shocked. I was educated in the typical ways of classical ballet, which requires you to fix certain parts in the body. Any other approach to movement was inferior, and there wasn’t even any space for research – those parts should simply never be moved. They are of no value for a professional contemporary dancer.

It would make you no more than a folkloric dancer, because anything from the Mizrachi culture is reduced to oriental stereotypes, like the dark-skinned villain or the stupid person. The Ashkenazi outside view on Yemeni culture, fashion and dances, has deemed it exotic and given it a negative connotation. It is completely excluded from the cultural scene, unless it’s a specific time and place and called “ethnic” or “folkloric” night. As if contemporary ballet is not folkloric! Because of this manipulation, people began to abandon their traditional dances and clothes.

How did the position of Mizrachi cultures within the Israeli cultural scene inspire the shows Eviatar/Said & Rising?

These performances give space to elements that are excluded from the cultural scene. More importantly, calling it “Mizrachi dance” blends and blurs everything and generalizes it. But I want to respect the richness of these cultures. It’s not all-the-same! In Rising, we are looking at the differences within Mizrachi dance. We reclaim the space and create an unbiased view on what it’s actually made of. By taking out the stereotypes and getting to know the essence, we see similarities and differences and we celebrate the cultures. That is what Rising is for.

What was it like to work with Anat Amrani? And with Evyatar Said?

Anat was ashamed: she was so trained not to celebrate her cultural (dance) heritage, practice it or see it as worthy – but she wanted to work on it. I needed to break her in order to bring it out and into the studio. I remember one very beautiful moment. She embodied her shame and I wanted to push her. I was cheering her on, yelling “yes, yes, this is really good!” and suddenly she let go and her memories were released. I remembered dancing with my grandfather and my mother when I was a child. First, she danced the image of the dance, then the memories, and then the cultural imprint in her body.

Overall, it’s funny: while making this performance I had the same experience that I want the audience to have. Anat comes from a Yemeni culture and I come from Moroccan culture. While working together in the studio, I saw Anat’s work. I said ‘Wow!! This is also Mizrachi dance – it’s so different!”.

With Evyatar, the process was very different. Evyatar doesn’t have a dance background. He researched his Yemeni traditions and trained through the culture, like parties and celebrations, not as a professional dancer. He didn’t know what a plié was, and we didn’t have the same language when talking about the dance. So we had to find another way to capture our movements. Since Evyatar studied Linguistics in university and spoken language is similar to movement, we started to agree on words, sentences and letters, creating a dictionary with three bases in Yemeni dance, and created different lines from there. They were the tools to relearn what we knew by observing and becoming aware of it, like an immigrant in your own home, your own body.

The code we developed came from our bodies. It’s how we practice our cultures. To be an immigrant in your own home means to alienate from everything familiar and to look at it in a new light. Our knowledge is not our own, we share it with each other all the time. We are our own mothers and have the ability to embody others. This duality is my inspiration.

Do you have any advice to share with starting artists or choreographers?

Listen to yourself. Question and doubt what other people tell you are the right ways, and develop a clear view on what people are giving you as tools. Be critical of it, it’s full of politics and information that should be questioned. And enjoy!

What are you working on right now?

It’s a really complex piece of work, it’s big. I am questioning: “what is the material, what is the creation?”. Half of the work is the actual material, and the other half is the pieces that I dispose of during the creative process.  But I am also creating a paradox of time: “What body are we born into and whose body is it?”, with souls hosting different bodies, using people from different backgrounds. I hope to start showing this show in August.

You can catch Eviatar/Said & Rising on Sat 18 and Sun 19 May in Theater Kikker.


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