What started out as a passion for Israeli folklore dancing, eventually turned him into a full-time movement explorer, having trained and danced all over the world. We talked to Ady Elzam about his perspective on body and mind and what both are capable of!
/ do you remember your very first dancing experience?
My aunt was dancing in a folklore group. As a kid, I really wanted to join but needed to wait years until I was 10. My first performance at the same age was an exhilarating experience so I starting dancing and performing all the time with that group and I continued to do so until the age of 24. Because boy dancers were not very common and because I was really into it, I got noticed quickly. At the age of 14 I was asked to help out the choreographer of the group, whom I admired very much.
And a few years later, a ballet teacher of the city I grew up in, saw me in a class and offered me to take ballet and contemporary dance classes with her. Later on, when I was 17 years old, I met a choreographer also named Ady who told me how he only started dancing at the age of 22. That motivated me greatly to pursue my own modern dancing ambitions at a relatively old age for a beginning dancer.
/ when did you find out about contact improvisation (CI)?
After going to dance school, I auditioned for Vertigo Dance Company and got in. Great coincidence: the director was the same Ady that made me believe I could pursue my dancing dreams in the first place! At Vertigo, they worked with CI as a technique and that is where I really got to know this dance form. It felt like with CI, I had found my flow of dance and that’s what got me to travel a lot. I started going to weekly jams, took a lot of classes and discovered the CI festivals.
This marked the beginning of an eventful period with lots of travelling to festivals, meeting people from all over the world and even organizing our own festival in 2014, the Improjunction festival in Pushkar, India. After 5 years, I found myself in Brussels, tired from all the constant travelling. I decided to stay in one place for a year and see how things went. That was 3 years ago and I am still here (laughs).
/ as a dancer, would you say that a body has its own intelligence?
I definitely think that a lot of injuries are the result of people not being in touch with the way the body moves. While I was dancing at Vertigo, I injured my shoulder and started an Ilan Lev treatment. This helped me greatly to understand how movement should flow in my own body without getting stuck. For me, that is the intelligence of the body: the ability for the unobstructed passing of movement.
If you turn your focus to your body being available for the movement to pass, it is much easier to feel where the tensions and blockages are. Through gentle manipulations and poses, the movement can be redirected, which causes the tensions and pains to disappear and injuries to get reversed. My own shoulder injury also completely went away. I started specializing in the Ilan Lev treatment myself and became his assistant for 4 years.
/ is a bodywork course inspired by the Ilan Lev method for dancers only?
Not at all, the course is meant to show what your own moving body is capable of and how it works. A better understanding of that is bound to have a positive impact on your daily life, whether you are a dancer, musician, actor or just someone who feels stuck inside his/her own body.
/ do you dance from your mind or your body?
For me, if the mind is interested in what’s happening in the body, there is no separation. A lot of dancers I meet have a visual kind of perspective of how they want things to look like. I myself rather turn my eye to the inside, towards the movement passing inside my body. I think everybody is capable of doing that, you just need to flip the switch in your mind.
Lately, I have been having this idea that the mind is never not concentrated, it just goes where it is interested. If I can keep my mind curious about what my body does, even about the most basic poses or insignificant movements, it will never go anywhere. For me, that is also what is so intriguing about contact improvisation: there is so much unexpectedness that it leads to a constant curiosity. And that curiosity keeps filling me with energy and drives me as a dancer.
/ what does your own creative process look like?
For the material I am working on right now, I start by really concentrating on what is happening in my body. What does it trigger in me, which thoughts come up, what is it in my life that I’m working through, am I repeating a pattern? By investigating what is present and relating it to my life, a bigger theme reveals itself.
But each process has been different so far. Some were more improvisational, sometimes I tried to put myself in a state of a specific emotion that I would try to recreate, sometimes I worked from a more specific goal, like transmitting a certain experience to the audience during a performance.
I’ve also been working with some durational practices by putting myself in a situation that is very repetitive and seemingly boring, like standing in the same spot for hours, looking at the same point. I experimented doing that in public places as well and it was very interesting to see what it did to passengers: they stopped to watch, tried to ask questions … One person even joined us!
/ how important is the interaction with the audience to you as a dancer?
Once we are in a shared space, our presence is not singular, whether we share it with an audience or with other dancers. I think performers need to be as aware of the possible dialogue with the public as they are open to receive information from their dance partners.
/ is there a past project that is special to you?
One of my favourites was called The Big Game. It was first performed in 2012 and it is still running! The performance is based on children’s games that were adapted for dancers on the stage. The rules of the games would create the movements for us. What I found interesting about it was that it was less about how to dance and more about how the game rules activated us as dancers.
/ do you believe that anybody can become a dancer?
I think it is a matter of how much you are open to change. Most people are used to the known patterns of their lives and find it easier to stick to them. When I look back on the past 10 years, I have been changing a lot. Not because I force myself to, but because my curiosity drives me towards other ways to do what I had always been doing.
That is the very dance of life for me: a repetitive movement or pattern that is disrupted by someone trying something different. It is also what separates us from animals: however elaborate the moving skills of most animals are, they never change the way they move just because they can, out of curiosity. That’s why I’ve never seen a cat dance (smiles).
/ what is a common misunderstanding among people learning to dance?
Overproducing, doing too much. That only leads to frustration. I think ambition is the obstacle: it comes with a direction which doesn’t allow you to live in the moment. If you focus instead on what is happening here and now to your body when you move it, learning how to dance will be very easy. For me, dancing is about doing less or even about undoing. It is about releasing the movement rather than trying to control it.
That’s what I always try to tell my students: be less of a creator and more of an explorer. Allow yourself to be surprised by what happens and stay curious. It’s the same with every learning process: if you just stick to what you had prepared in your own head in advance, you will never get somewhere or book any real progress.