The director of a renowned dance company, Rami Be'er was born in a kibbutz and fought with the Israeli army. He told DW how dance affected the way he thinks about Israel, by adding "question marks" to his existence.
On May 14 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel as an independent state. Will you raise your glass for the 70th anniversary?
Of course I am celebrating. I was born here and I decided to stay and live here in Israel, here in the kibbutz and to develop the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. The company's story is linked very closely to the day that Israel was born.
In 1948, Yehudith Arnon, the founder of the company, arrived to these empty hills in the north of Israel. She, together with my parents and a group that came from Hungary and Czechoslovakia founded the kibbutz — and the country Israel. So, the anniversary of the state of Israel is also the anniversary of this kibbutz and of the dance company because Yehudith made everyone around her dance from the very first moment on.
What was the dream of these people like your parents and your dance teacher Yehudith Arnon?
All of them were survivors of the Holocaust. They came to begin a new life and start a future. They were an idealistic group, they believed in communism. They decided to live a new life and future and create a new society that is called kibbutz. The idea was that everybody works together and shares everything. This was something very different from what they were used to in Europe, from where they came. But they had an ideal and they followed it. They created not only this one kibbutz, they founded the country.
And they had the time to dance although they were busy building the kibbutz and the country as you say?
Officially, the kibbutz dance company was founded in 1973 after the Yom Kippur war. At that time only members of the kibbutz would dance — and only one day a week; the rest of the week they worked in the fields and in the factories of the kibbutz.
I joined the company in 1980 as a dancer and as a choreographer after I finished the army service. At that time we danced three days a week; the rest of the week, I worked in the avocado plantations and in the factories. This only changed in the late '80s when the company became professional.
Today, the income is no longer equally shared among its members. Every member of this kibbutz keeps their own income. Is the idea of the kibbutzim still alive or dead?
It's still alive but it has changed just like the world has changed. The kibbutz today is first of all a place where families with kids live because they value the environment and the commitment of the community to one another. It's still a unique society where values matter.
You mentioned your military service. I know that you were offered to join the army as a dancer — to dance for the troops — but instead you deliberately joined a fighting unit. Why?
That's right. I wanted to give the most I can to defend this country and I felt that fighting was the right thing to do. I think it is connected to the environment I was raised in, the family, the school, but also to my personality. I thought it would give me a new perspective on life.
After the three mandatory years for every man in Israel — for women it's two years — you fought in the first Lebanon war in 1982.
In Israel after you finished the three years of army service, you have to be a reservist. And as a reservist I have been to the Lebanon war. One of my pieces is called "reservist diary." It is about the conflict of a human being who has his own thoughts, his own feelings and at the same time as a soldier he has to obey orders. You know, times change. I don't know what I would do today, if I would still join a fighting unit instead of dancing for the troops. Maybe yes, I don't know. I still think that Israel needs a strong army. Israel still must take care every day.
What does that mean?
You know we are living in a neighborhood with many conflicts — its complicated, I will not get to into this, but it's not just black or white in this conflict. I believe, that Israel needs the army in order to defend itself. But at the same time we have to try to search for a dialogue. This has to happen at the same time not one or the other.
You have special dance programs designed for people from the neighboring Arab villages. You also offer scholarships to them.
I believe that art and creation, dance and music can connect people through the heart. They can create communication and a breach even if the background is different. This our modest contribution to create a better world to live in. Not that I'm naive. But I believe that change can only come from everyday life.
On the other hand there is a fence surrounding the kibbutz. Is this really necessary?
The fence exists because of security reasons of course. Every kibbutz in Israel has a fence around it. We need it, yes.
Many of your pieces deal with the world today in a very critical manner. In "Horses by the sky" I can see people in a war situation, in despair, in pain. Your new piece is called "Asylum" — a question that is discussed very vividly in Israel at the moment. The government is about to expel thousands of refugees from Africa who have been seeking for asylum in Israel for many years.
I am inspired from what's happening around me. I choose to deal in my creative work with something that is connected to our existence. Dance is not only pure movement, or pure aesthetics or composition. I think that through it we can put some question marks, through the soundtrack, through movements or limitations of movements. A lot of it comes to me intuitively. Dance cannot solve our problems but it can put some question marks to our existence. Of course, my choreographies are affected by the fact that we live here in Israel, in the north of Israel, eight kilometers from the Lebanese border. This is part of our identity.
The kibbutz has been evacuated several times because there were rockets fired from the Lebanese border. Are you not afraid living here?
You know, Israel is a country with many conflicts, inside, outside with our neighbors and I am born to this reality. It's part of my identity. I cannot say that I wake up in the morning and I'm afraid. But at the same time yes, I'm worried because we have many conflicts that need to be solved. For some of them it might be possible, some of them need more time and more creativity. But I believe that we still need to search the way to solve the conflicts inside and also with our neighbors, so we can live in quiet and peace not only as headlines but to have the privilege to really live in peace.
Where do you see Israel in 70 years? What do you wish for the future?
You know, if you see Israel is celebrating its 70th birthday now, it's like a miracle because you see this fantastic country. But on the other hand there are deep problems that are still not solved. And I don't have the solution but I know that we must continue to search for it and we must not accept that we fought for our existence for 70 years and this is the way it is going to continue. We must fight for our existence but in the same time we must find a way of negotiation, a solution in peace and harmony. This might sound utopian but we must do it for the next generation.
Rami Be'er is the artistic director of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company