Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

LEVYdance comes to the JCCSF

Posted by dopaminesurge on October 4, 2007

Ben Levy Dance

On October 12 and 13, the JCCSF is proud to present Ben Levy and LEVYdance in a world premiere dance performance. Named by Dance Magazine one of “The Top 25 to Watch,” LEVYdance will present an invigorating evening of original works. The program will include the world premiere of Bone lines, an exploration of Director, Benjamin Levy’s Persian Jewish heritage. The piece features an original score composed by Keeril Makan and recorded by the Kronos Quartet, costumes by French couture designer Colleen Quen and a set by industrial designer Rick Lee.

Benjamin Levy (pictured above, article & video here) formed his dance company, LEVYdance, in 2002, and has since performed several pieces across the United States to critical acclaim. His latest piece, “Bone Lines,” performs Oct 12 and 13 in San Francisco’s Kanbar Hall, and is an exploration of identity and experience. A first-generation American, Levy was born in LA in 1980 to Persian Jewish parents who never returned to their homeland once the Iranian Revolution broke during their vacation in the states. Levy, who admits he began dancing in high school to escape laps in gym class, dances because he believes it’s the best vehicle to for human communication, and invites his audience to join him on his journey of exploration. I caught up with Levy, who is kind and soft-spoken in conversation, and he expounded on his work (my questions in italics):


Tell us about the title of your work, “Bone Lines,” and its meaning:

There is memory in the bones. There is history in the cells. The experiences that your parents have are chemically imprinted in their bodies, and as you are a product of your parents’ bodies, that information on some level is passed on to you, whether they’re your experiences or not. Their anxieties, on some level, might be stored in your body. Whether you choose to take them in as your own or not is another question.


What inspired you to create a work on the basis of your Persian Jewish identity?

It’s a strange dichotomy, growing up first generation American: I have the experiences of ethics, of culture, of poetry, of food, of family values from my Persian Jewish heritage yet I have no experience with the land. I’ve never been, and I won’t ever go to Iran. I have no physical connection to my lineage, and it’s quite similar in Judaism: we have been a moving nation. And so there is rich culture, rituals, heritage, and values where whether you are in Spain, Iran or Ethiopia, Shabbat is the same. Lighting the candles carries the same meaning. There is a cohesive core, yet before there was Israel, where was that tied to? There’s an equal dichotomy between a very cohesive experience and the lineage from which it came.


How do you think the Persian Jewish American experience differs from the general Jewish American experience?

The fact that Persian Jews were persecuted because of their religion makes a difference. Most, though not all, American Jews did not have to flee their country. Also, culturally, there just is a difference. It’s a unique mix. It would be different if I were not Jewish and it would be different if I were not Iranian.


Let’s talk about your personal experience with dance.

Though I secretly loved it, when I began dancing in high school, I wouldn’t tell everyone about it. In high school, being a modern dancer as a male Persian – it wasn’t taboo, it was just unheard of. It wasn’t like there was anything wrong with it, it just didn’t exist in the multiple choice options of what an Iranian man could do with his life. There have been a few people who have been instrumental in my passion and dance ethics, primarily my instructor at UC Berkeley, Marni Wood, who was a Martha Graham dancer. She was very influential in instilling my core values around why I dance and making it clear that if it wasn’t dire, if it wasn’t important to share or impart a message on the world, if there wasn’t an immediacy or an urgency in the message or the expression, then it’s too hard, too ridiculous and too challenging to do. I absolutely believe that, and perpetuate it in my own classes with my students. “Why do you dance” is the hardest and the most important question a dancing artist can and should ask himself.


So, why do you dance?

I dance because it is the best way I know to get to experience newly every time explorations of myself. In my experience, it’s the only thing that can house energy and intention and interpersonal relationships and experiences in a way that words and paintings cannot. There is honesty in the way the body communicates that to me supersedes the loss of translation in speech.

Dance Magazine described your work as “…a judicious balance of athletic and lyrical, brainy and sexy.” How would you describe your work?

My work is a balance between constant experiments of physics, and a true, honest exploration of human experience. On one hand we have the height of inertia, of the capabilities of the body, which makes for a visceral ride that any observer with a body can feel in their own self; so there is a physical side of it that is exhilarating to watch because of the new possibilities in chemical reactions, physics, biology – experimentation that comes off physically. But the other side is, throughout the piece, the dancers are meditating, experiencing and exploring some part of themselves. There’s a journey that we all go through that is very personal to us. But then in turn hopefully sparks a personal experience in the viewer. It’s not about the audience knowing what we think, us telling you a story, or you getting what our intention is. Rather, it’s about us being so clear, vulnerable and courageous in our experiencing, that you cathartically have it mapped on to your self, and it becomes about you, your spouse, your lover, your children, your dog, or anything.


What advice would you offer to your audience, as they view your piece?

My advice to the viewers would be: drop any preconceived notions about what you think this piece is about and be open to experiencing what you feel when you see it, because it’s not about my story – it’s not about a specific narrative. The piece serves as a space for you to feel what there is for you to feel.


One Response to “LEVYdance comes to the JCCSF”

  1. This looks like a spectacular show. I can’t wait to see it.

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