Itzik Galili: Dutch courage

Kevin Berry

Itzik Galili, the Israeli-born choreographer based in the Netherlands, has had a plethora of premieres out this year, yet he has no problem keeping his cool. With two new works featuring at the Cultural Olympiad, he tells Kevin Berry the source of his inspiration and how he manages to take things in his stride

Itzik Galili, the Netherlands-based choreographer, is a busy man, with four major presentations of his work in the UK this year – three world premieres and one UK premiere. Was this a grand plan?

“No, it just happened,” he says matter-of-factly. “I don’t keep an agenda on which one was first. The companies contacted me over a similar period. It began two years ago.”

In January, the National Dance Company Wales premiered Galili’s The Grammar of Silence and subsequently took it on tour. Earlier in May, Rambert Dance Company gave the UK premiere of his piece SUB for seven male dancers (which Galili describes as “like a rollercoaster going downwards”).

English National Ballet will premiere And the Earth Shall Bear Again, a performance for Big Dance 2012, part of the London 2012 Festival. This is danced to seven pieces by the composer John Cage. Galili describes this as “a great challenge, one of the most complicated things I have had. I want to create beautiful visual access to that music because most people do not understand it.”

Finally, there is Sombrisa, a boxing-inspired piece for the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba company. Commissioned by Newcastle Theatre Royal as part of the theatre’s 175th birthday celebrations, Sombrisa is also part of the Cultural Olympiad. In the middle of it all, Galili is dashing over to Staatsballett Berlin, where he has another premiere – Open Square, a full-length piece to music from the Dutch rhythmic group Percossa.

Galili’s portfolio includes more than 70 diverse works. However, when asked by a dance journalist whether he felt overwhelmed to be doing so many different things, Galili’s response was to say that a journalist will possibly write a review, a column and a feature in a working day. Work is just the same for him.

Is he keen to stay in England for longer? The answer is a lingering tease. “Hmm… why are you asking? If the answer is not for the article, I am waiting for a good offer. If it is for the article – I’m waiting for a good offer.” Galili has an engaging manner – intelligent, wickedly dismissive and, above all, cool.

It was in Britain that life took a significant turn for him in 1989. He had been a dancer for three and a half years in his native Israel, latterly with the Batsheva Dance Company. He was bored and wanted to quit. But Robert Cohan, the American-born guiding light of UK contemporary dance, took Galili in hand and told him he was a gifted dancer. Cohan was then artistic adviser to the Batsheva company, and he encouraged Itzik to attend the Gulbenkian international course for professional composers and choreographers in the UK, which Cohan was directing.

“Hey, that’s where it all started,” Galili says. “So many things have happened since then.” He seems to appreciate being reminded. Clearly, he hasn’t thought about his summer in Guildford for some time.

“Then Batsheva asked me to do a piece for the company,” he continues. “I said, ‘Fine.’ I moved to Holland because it was a pioneering centre for dance – and also peaceful – and I wanted to explore and develop myself. I met Wayne Eagling [the outgoing artistic director of the English National Ballet] for the first time when he was with the Dutch National Ballet. He was the first person to commission me for point work. That was in 1994. This year, I am also doing some point work for him.”

We spoke when Galili was on his way to Newcastle to put the finishing touches to his boxing piece. What fascinated him about boxing? “Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

“But I was wondering, ‘Will I be able to take to boxing and transfer it to a pace which is more pleasant and less painful?’ The piece has the ingredients of boxing, of contemporary dance, of salsa – and Cuban life will definitely creep into it.”

He explains, “I went to Cuba and saw Danza Contemporanea. I did a ‘springboard production’ to get the money in [Embracing Shadows in 2010], working in Newcastle with six amateur national champion boxers, five Cuban dancers and the artistic director of Danza Contemporanea. Following that, I went to Cuba. I came back three and a half days ago, and did this piece that will be presented in Newcastle and will tour the country.”

How does he approach creating a new dance piece ? “I have no idea,” he says. “Every time it’s different. The work I have done for Rambert stemmed from a dream I had in Cardiff. In that dream, warriors stepped into my room – God knows why – and then started taking their armour off. Then I woke up. The strange thing was, I had found some music by Michael Gordon beforehand. The dream was connected to the beginning of the music.”

Galili is a fan of National Dance Company Wales, and the feeling is clearly mutual. The company has performed three of his works in six months. Of Rambert, Galili is full of praise. “Stunning dancers. You English are lucky to have them – they are God’s trophy in your hands.”

On the subject of choreography and his work philosophy, he says: “I have learned over the years that I should just let it happen. The more I let go, the better it works.

“I really try to create my own journey in a big world. I’ve done many different things – some of them are quite beautiful, some of them are quite crap. But I am not ashamed of any of them. The bad give cause to the good.”

* English National Ballet performs And the Earth Shall Bear Again as part of Dance GB, touring from June 19 to 8 July ( Sombrisa tours until June 9 (

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