Award-winning Israeli choreographer, dancer, and musician Dafi Altabeb has just begun a stint as a visiting professor for the fall semester at Emory University. She will be teaching two courses, Contemporary Modern Dance IV and Movement Improvisation as part of the Emory Dance & Movement Studies Program. One of her works will also be performed during the Emory Dance Company’s fall concert.
Why Emory? “It was actually not my choice to come to Emory; it was the other way around,” Altabeb said in a phone interview with the AJT. “They chose me. One of the professors saw one of my pieces presented in 2016, so when they were looking for an Israeli artist to bring here, they asked for me, and now the dance community in Atlanta has welcomed me so nicely.”
Altabeb’s work at Emory is part of the Visiting Artists Program, an initiative of the Israel Institute in Washington, D.C., that “brings outstanding Israeli filmmakers, choreographers, musicians, writers, theater practitioners, and visual artists to leading universities in North America for teaching residencies,” according to a statement. “Beyond engaging with students, visiting artists share contemporary Israeli culture with American communities.”
Altabeb, 43, founded and directs the Dafi Dance Group in Tel Aviv. She is a three-time recipient of the Israeli Ministry of Culture’s Excellence Award for Young Choreographers and another for ensemble performances of one of her pieces. She has also won the 2014 Rosenblum Award from the Municipality of Tel Aviv. Her dancers have performed her works in numerous countries to significant acclaim.
She received her bachelor of education and teaching certificate at the Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology and the Arts in Tel Aviv.
The day before we spoke, Altabeb picked the eight students who will take her class, out of a total of 60 applicants. “I really felt that I made the right choice,” she said. “At first I thought I would place an existing piece on them and recreate it, but watching them yesterday I felt a good vibe in terms of maybe creating something from the beginning.”
She added, “We watched a piece of mine on video and they already started to improvise, and were directing themselves to a place that I’m looking for. It was a nice experience. They really wish to create a common language; they are curious.”
Collaborating with Altabeb in the improvisation class is Lori Teague, director and associate professor of the Emory Dance program. “Dafi and I share a similar approach to teaching improvisation, perhaps because we access improvisation a lot to create our own choreography. It is a familiar world to us,” Teague told the AJT. “Dafi is an intense observer; she crafts her ideas from the movement itself, and from the movers in front of her. It feels very organic to work and play with her. I am excited that her lens will color my approach, and vice versa.”
Altabeb agreed. “It’s super interesting. We have a very nice communication. I try to study as much as I can from the people around me, to see how they work. I try to bring my style to a place I’m not familiar with, to make myself more accurate in each experience that is not in my comfort zone, in my language, and that makes me a better teacher and a better creator.”
Growing up in Israel, Altabeb imitated what she saw on television – dancers, Olympic gymnasts doing floor exercises – and when she joined the Girl Scouts at 9 she started taking things seriously.
“It was super important for me; I was really into creating dance pieces (for the other kids) and I was winning first prize every time we competed, so from then on I wanted to focus on dance. I thought I would be best expressing myself through movement. It was present throughout my life to create something more than just taking ballet classes.”
Tickets for the dance company’s fall concert are available at the Emory Arts website, tickets.arts.emory.edu/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=123308.