Reut Shemesh is an artist working on the margins of contemporary dance and in the junctions where poetry and experimental film meet. Originally from Israel, she works with the language of dance and uses choreographic compositions to devise dance pieces that border on theatre, heavily bolstered by research on her heritage and upbringing. Heritage, is precisely the departure point for ATARA, For you, who has not yet found the one, coming up at M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 14-15 January.
In ATARA, Shemesh examines the gender roles and tensions within a mixed secular/Orthodox family. The different viewpoints of Jewish Orthodox and secular women as well as their positions towards each other. During the creative process, Shemesh interviewed several women from NYC, Israel, and Hamburg such as her family members. She tells me, ‘I was surprised to see how willing all the women taking part were. They were happy to share their thoughts, experiences and personal opinions.’ It’s almost impossible to look at ATARA and not see it as deeply personal artwork. One that involves establishing new relationships with family members, unearthing new stories, even new emotions.
Shemesh confesses, ‘Yes, I got closer to some of my family members. I got to see and talk with them about things that I disagree with. Mostly, we did not find a common agreement. But the actual dialogue has already given me a certain hope and optimism which was not there before.’ Coming from a mixed orthodox secular family herself, she was moved to disentangle the complex family structure and let it unfold ‘as an artwork.’ ATARA premieres in Asia next month but so far it has received positive and personal reactions of support from audiences elsewhere. ‘People shared their feelings towards the theme. However, the piece is rather abstract and does not create a dichotomic bad and good, but remain complex – as personalities usually are. Some audience members might find it difficult as most of the narrations we come across draw the line between bad and good. I guess, one has to be a bit open to receive the work.’
Shemesh comes across as a very determined artist and I am pleased to learn that ATARA has not changed very much since it’s opening. ‘I am an Israeli, my country is a rather special place, where people with different religious and national backgrounds come together.’ The theme for the 16th edition of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival is My Country and My People and Shemesh fits the bill perfectly. She adds, ‘I wish to keep in touch and reflect on my roots and identity. I was very happy to have the chance to involve my family in the process of ATARA.’ She hopes to meet and share ATARA with audience members who are simply interested and willing to get to know more about the thematic as well as their relationship to subjects such as family structure, gender, social norms, and expectations.