Keeping the political personal | Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor

Next week, the Phoenicia Ballroom in Valletta will host a landmark of Israeli contemporary dance, as Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor transport their production of Two Room Apartment to our shores. We speak to the duo about their update of Nir Ben Gal and Liat Dror’s classic piece and its enduring significance.

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor. Photo: Gadi Dagon.
Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor. Photo: Gadi Dagon.

What were some of the elements that made the original Two Room Apartment performance such a 'breakthrough' for Israeli dance?

The duet came out in a time when the Israeli dance scene was dominated solely by the big repertoire companies: Bat Sheva, Kibbutz Dance co., and Bat Dor Dance Company.  The independent scene was not developed at all. Then suddenly came Two Room Apartment and brought new fragrance into the lexicon of modern dance: a dance that is free from the heavily stylised movement of any kind, direct, cutting through the issues, looking inward at itself and not at stage signifiers. This was a shocking revelation that dance could manifest a totally different aesthetic.

How would you describe your emphasis on the 'process' rather than the 'product'? What does this entail exactly and how does it affect the final performance that we will see on stage?

We constantly seek for a sense of authenticity and the 'present' in our work. For us, that means we like not knowing. When we think we found an answer to something, we stop searching and start repeating what we already know (or think we know). When this happens the show is dead. In order to avoid this, we always keep some parts of the performance or in the score still open. It keeps everything vibrating. In that way, we allow ourselves some freedom, which enables us to be more authentic, even though most of the score had been nailed down. The "process" - the way we define it - continues to happen as long as a person keeps questioning. This is also what interests us on stage - raising questions and exploring our own boundaries, and not supplying ourselves and our audience with pre-determined answers.

What key themes and images would you say are relevant to contemporary Israel, in terms of dance? How are you addressing them with this particular performance?

This work is a personal statement on our behalf, but it's also a political one: turning a famous male-female duet into a male-male duet is a political statement that we think is very much needed in present-day Israel, where the battle between liberalism and conservatism still lingers. Presenting the naked body on stage - and especially full frontal male nudity - is also something very rare in Israel, even if the scene calls for it. There is a lot of fear of nudity, and we decided to liberate ourselves (and hopefully our public) from that fear, although we were aware of the fact that some spectators might find this challenging. The naked scene in Two Room Apartment is neither erotic nor sexual, it is a projection of emotional exposure between two people. This scene was totally different in the original version, and we redirected it to what we thought it should be.

How does your - both 'working' and 'personal' - relationship impact on the piece itself?

We have been creating together for nine years now, and we are partners in life for 11 years. Today it is impossible for us to separate our personal life from our working life - they are fused together by now. We catch ourselves replying to emails at 3am (like we are doing right now while we are on tour in China), or if we are in a process of creating a new work we find ourselves brainstorming into the late hours of the night. It has its advantages and disadvantages, but the bottom line is that our private life fuels our creations and our creations fuel our life together. In Two Room Apartment, both aspects of our relationship are directly presented on stage, and are the theme itself... for the very first time.

Given that Two Room Apartment has such historical relevance to Israeli dance, how do you feel about it being performed in another country? Are you looking forward to performing in Malta?

The historical aspect was part of our process and it could be of interest for dance researchers, but for us it is no longer of major importance. The work is not a voyage through the ruins or glories of the past, but a celebration of the present. What matters to us today is that the audience today receives a show that is alive, breathing and kicking, present only here and only now. The notion of "present" is what counts for the spectators when they enter the auditorium, and this is what we want to share with them.

We are very excited about performing in Malta! It'll be our first time there and we are looking forward to see how our work will be received by Maltese public.

Two Room Apartment will be playing on 10 and 11 July at 21:00. Tickets are at €25 (€20 concessions). The show is rated 18.