Israeli-run retreat for international dancers took place in Quebec

Although summer camp is traditionally reserved for the young, adults have as much need for rest, relaxation, and a break from routine as children. 

This was part of the thinking behind the International Choreographers Retreat held last month in Quebec. Organized by Jerusalem-based C.A.T.A.M.O.N. Dance Group, together with Montreal Danse, the event hosted 26 artists from around the globe in a remote, scenic location, for six days of personal and professional bonding. The effects, as one of the attendees explained, had much of the magic and mystic of summer camp. 

“We became like kids,” said Claudia Lavista, who traveled to Canada from her home base in Mexico City. Joining her were 25 additional artists, including Brian Brooks from New York City, Silvana Pombal from Mozambique, and Javanese choreographer Rianto.

“It was a very interesting, embodied cultural exchange. We were dancing together the dances we do in our own countries, doing the practices from our own countries. Each person was a window to a whole universe,” Lavista observed.

ATTENDEES OF the International Choreographers Retreat in Quebec, Canada, organized by Jerusalem-based C.A.T.A.M.O.N. Dance Group together with Montreal Danse. (credit: ELAD SCHECHTER)

“We were having fun – making fires, kayaking, and taking walks in the woods. We told each other jokes. One day, we were kayaking and it started to rain and we got soaked. It was so much fun. It was all about encounters, reflection, dialogue, building bridges, falling in love, recognizing one another – not as artists but as human beings.”

Lavista, 55, first heard about the retreat in 2022, when she spent three months as a Jerusalem International Fellow. “We were four fellows, each with our own hosting organization,” explained Lavista. C.A.T.A.M.O.N. Dance Group was her hosting organization during that time. While in Jerusalem, Lavista took in the city, made two creations, and became friends with Elad Shechter, C.A.T.A.M.O.N.’s founder and director.

“My luck was that Elad hosted me and we became close. He was imagining this retreat and wanted it to be a place to rest. Dance makers are so busy all the time, not only making work and practicing, (but dealing with) public relationships; it’s so exhausting. We need a place to rest. In a way, the retreat was a place to rest but also a place to reflect. We were able to reflect because we were relaxed.”

The effects of Israeli political unrest

HOWEVER, ARRIVING at this level of relaxation required years of planning on Shechter and C.A.T.A.M.O.N.’s part, including major adjustments leading up to the meeting. In September of 2023, having secured ample funds from both Canadian and Israeli sources, Shechter believed he was just months away from realizing his vision. Then, in October, it was clear the retreat would have to undergo some changes. 

A small group of artists dropped out due to the political unrest in Israel. Several others voiced concern about participating in an event funded by the Israeli government. Shechter, thinking quickly and moving faster, found alternate funders. Finally, in June 2024, the artists and staff flew to Montreal. Shechter shared that the days leading up were peppered with trepidation and worries that the political situation would negatively impact the artists’ ability to connect with one another. What ended up happening was the opposite. 

“The artists came from very different cultures and contexts,” Shechter said. “Once we were together, we realized that everyone had their own issues and backgrounds. Everyone was there to share and get to know one another and the meeting took on a very peaceful tone.”

For those six days, in a retreat center overlooking a lake and woods, the artists put aside resumes and self-promotion in favor of broaching issues facing dance as an art form globally. They brainstormed, shared practices, and contemplated how to create such meetings in their communities back home. 

Lavista saw the retreat as the beginning of a new kind of activity in the dance world.

 “It was an encounter between people who are trying to make art and putting dance at the center of the discussion. The youngest participant was around 29 and the more mature was around 62. So, the moments we are at in our careers were very different.

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