Seeing the fruits after 30 years
Israeli-born dancer and choreographer Igal Perry didn’t set out to run a successful New York City dance school and contemporary dance company which are celebrating 30 years this season.
Perry followed his heart, and the opportunity to teach ballet, coming to the United States in the late 1970s. At the time, he had built a successful career with the Tel Aviv-based Bat-Dor Dance Company of Israel, where he worked with leading choreographers and teachers including Inesse Alexandrov, Benjamin Harkarvy, John Butler, Rudi Van Dantzig, Alvin Ailey and Paul Sanasardo. Bat-Dor (which literally means daughter of generation) was rooted in the Martha Graham technique as the company’s founder, Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, was a major Graham supporter. (The company disbanded in 2006.)
Here, Perry staged works by Butler (a Graham company alumnus) for the New York City Opera, then for the Opera of Munich, Teatro Alla Scala in Milan and others. Presenting his first full evening of ballets in 1979 led to his heading the ballet department at Jacob’s Pillow (1981 and 1982) and a co-directorship of the Clive Thompson Dance Company.
In 1983, he opened his Peridance Center, now the Peridance Capezio Center, and a year later founded his dance company, Peridance Ensemble, now Peridance Contemporary Dance Co. Following him to America were his father, Joseph, a fourth-generation Israeli, and his mother, Klara, whose family fled Nazi-occupied Austria, migrating to Israel in the late 1930s. His parents worked at Peridance over the years, helping to grow the business, up until their deaths. Perry credits his parents’ involvement with supporting him in overcoming difficult times while his school and company eventually blossomed.
Perry’s dance center became known for its high-quality dance training, not just for students but for professionals looking to continue and enhance their learning from the industry’s leading artists. More recently, Perry partnered with Capezio, another family business, to create the Peridance Capezio Center, which opened in 2010. This leading facility – for professionals, students and the community – has dance studios, a 150-seat theater, a café and a dancewear boutique. It’s located in a historic Beaux Arts-style building (formerly the studio of artist Frank Stella) in Manhattan’s Union Square.
At 62, Perry reflects on his career and the dance business he’s built in his adopted second home. He recently spoke with World Arts Today before his company’s New York Spring Season where he’ll premiere four new works including one of his own. Works by Perry, Ohad Naharin, Dwight Rhoden, Enzo Celli and Sidra Bell will be presented in two programs over two weekends this month.
Was starting a dance school and ensemble group something you planned for when you moved to New York from Israel more than 30 years ago?
IP: I came here to pursue my [dance] career . . . as a rehearsal director and ballet master. I didn’t know I would take this route. Once I got into dance education, it became clear to me it was all part of one picture . . . to open a school, and make the company and the school one entity which help each other. I feel like one thing led to the other, it was a natural evolution.
How did serving in the Israeli military as a young man affect your sensibility as a dancer and later a choreographer?
IP: For me the military experience was a difficulty I had to overcome. I wanted to dance and, at that time, there weren’t many dancers in Israel, which today is no longer true. The company I was dancing for [Bat-Dor] requested that the military station me in Tel Aviv, which they agreed to, to spend part of the day in dance training. What the military taught me is about the sense of urgency and the accuracy of how things must be. That’s part of Israeli culture, the military influences everything. The urgency that’s there is because of the political situation. It’s part of who I am. When I was a dancer in Israel, we worked with international choreographers which, at the time, was quite unique. We were very lucky to dance with top choreographers like John Butler and Lar Lubovitch, who at the time was very young, amazingly creative and innovative and musical. The choreographers [that influenced Perry] worked in a very musical way. Today, it’s more from the expression point of view.
Igal Perry’s Conflicted Terrain. Photo by Jaqlin Medlock.
What’s most enjoyable about choreographing something new?
IP: That’s something that’s evolved with time. In the beginning, I enjoyed creating something that was appreciated by people. Now, I enjoy the process and I feel more at ease with exploring or with trying out things. I enjoy choreographing different genres. My works are very different depending on the music, and I enjoy the challenge of exploring these different ways. I enjoy working with dancers, whom I see as part of the process, and I enjoy discovering things through the choreography. Once things start evolving in the studio, I’m quite a perfectionist. I’ll keep working with dancers until I see that they can see where I’m going.
Your latest piece, Infinity, is inspired by Salvador Dali’s art. How so?
IP: It’s not based on his work, it’s influenced by the sense of his work. When I look at his paintings, there’s always a composition that’s very human, human expression. And around that, there’s a sense of a vast amount of space, it goes somewhere that never ends. There’s a sense of how humble and small we are within that space. That motivated me in this work. I chose a piece of music that’s difficult because it’s well known [the adagio movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Hammerklavier]. When people know a piece of music, the challenge is greater. I’m mature enough after 30 years here to actually tackle this kind of piece. I’m using eight dancers, four couples . . . it’s more about being humble in that space. At times, the piece moves extremely slow, it’s more soft and subdued. Somebody said it’s poetic but I don’t want to say that about myself. I never know what a piece will be like until it goes onstage for the first time. I feel very mature in it, rather than just experiencing the process.
When reflecting on 30 years of growing your school and company, what comes to mind?
IP: This is something that maybe in the past I dreamt about. The fact that we’ve been here for 30 years for me it’s incredible. What we’re doing, it’s not just successful as a business, but it’s influential in young people’s lives. The school has grown so much in this period and the company has emerged as a really important company. Everything is coming to fruition.
Photo by Jaqlin Medlock.
Peridance Contemporary Dance Company at the Salvatore Capezio Theater, March 9, opening night gala featuring the following premiers: Igal Perry’s Infinity, Dwight Rhoden’s Evermore, Enzo Celli’s I’m Here and Sidra Bell’s Vivian & Paul. Also an excerpt from Ohad Naharin’s Mabul (1992). March 10, 16 and 17, Program A: Naharin, Rhoden, Bell, Perry’s Infinity and Conflicted Terrain. March 10 & 17, Program B: Naharin, Rhoden, Celli, Perry’s Infinity and Twilight. www.peridance.com
(Top photo: Ohad Naharin’s Mabul (1992) performed by the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company. Photo by Sebastian Rich.)