Danielle Agami has been a major force since beginning her career with Batsheva Dance Company in Israel under the leadership of Ohad Naharin. Before relocating to the United States, Agami was rehearsal director at Batsheva Dance Company for 8 years and restaging Naharin’s work on major companies such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company and Atlanta Ballet. Agami founded her own company, Ate9 in Seattle, WA in 2012 and a year later moved the company to Los Angeles producing truly unique and exciting works such as Sally Meets Stu, a blind LAdy, FISHING, calling glenn and others. Now after 11 years, Agami has decided to “transform into a multidisciplinary, international initiative, offering activities in Israel, Europe and the U.S.”
For the past five weeks Agami has been in Barcelona, Spain working with a group of dancers from several countries and hoping to make Barcelona one of Ate9’s European hubs. She is working with Associate Artistic Director Andrea Just, a multidisciplinary contemporary dance artist, and Rehearsal Director Rebecah Goldstone, a founding member of Ate9 who has also performed with Shahar Binyamini, Tom Weinberger and others. The new group of dancers in Ate9 who come from several countries in Europe and one from Taiwan are: Manon Andral, Adrien Delépine, Björn Bakker, Julien Guibourg, Carmela di Costanzo, Yun-Ting Tsai, and Óscar Pérez.
Agami graciously agreed to an interview on Zoom which was tricky to arrange due to the different time zones. Barcelona is nine hours ahead of Los Angeles and she was working around her schedule of rehearsals and teaching.
My first question was why she chose Barcelona as a possible home for her company.
“First I will say that it’s not defined yet what is the new home of Ate9 in Europe,” Agami said. “There are perks here and there is also the idea of transporting my personal life in addition to the company life. It might take a few months until I identify where, which language, which administration and infrastructure that I feel comfortable with. So, it could be Spain and it could be France.”
Her experience working in Barcelona has been wonderful but Agami said that she is hearing that difficulties with obtaining funding there is very similar to that of Los Angeles. After all the hard work of relocating to Europe, Agami does not want to end up in a similar financial constraint. She is therefore also considering cities in the south of France such as Lyon or Toulouse, capital of France’s southern Occitanie region.
The first tour for the current Ate9 will be to Tokyo, performing March 1-3, 2024 at the Setagaya Public Theatre. The company will present Agami’s calling glenn (2017) with original music composed and performed live by the renowned drummer Glenn Kotche, and EXHIBIT b (2015) with original music by Omid Walizadeh. EXHIBIT b was originally commissioned by White Bird in Portland, Oregon and is extremely relevant today as it “explores the tensions, disruptions, and difficult ripples that the conflict in the Middle East brings to the daily lives of those communities and families.”
Following the tour, Agami will live and work in France for a few months to see how she feels about working there. “However, our team is created here in Barcelona; a new manager, a new agent, and a new press relations company,” she said.
This international presence is very different for Agami and the company as for the past 11 years their main focus was on Los Angeles and the U.S. Agami admits, however, that this international presence has always been a dream of hers. It has not closed Ate9’s activities in the U.S. but because she has to build the company’s visibility in Europe, her focus must temporarily shift away from the U.S.
That said, Agami told me that there are conversations around renewing open classes taught by former members of Ate9 still living in Los Angeles. There are also conversations about collaborations between Ate9, donors, and curators of the Hammer Museum. “So, it will be healthy to do something in LA soon in the next year, 2024,” she added. There are also talks with Jacob’s Pillow regarding Ate9 performing there in the summer of 2025. “There is definitely a duplication with a tilt towards Europe at the moment. I think it’s what I needed in order to feel that the type of challenge is changing – is evolving – or maybe for personal reasons and then cultural doubt.”
When she was describing the seven dancers in the present version of Ate9, Agami explained that they are not only a very diverse group, but there are several languages being spoken. “And I don’t understand any of them and they don’t understand me either. Nobody’s Israeli.” It is good that dance is a physical language. “Yeah, it just became a thing for the movement, something I always believed in – body language, and to see that it is relevant anywhere.”
Because of their training and how Agami choreographs, after one watches a work of hers, one leaves feeling as if they know each dancer personally. When I related this to Agami, she smiled and answered, “You did. Yeah, it’s true.” For this reason, I feel that her work will be received well no matter where she decides to settle or where the company tours.
Agami feels that repertory dancers or those who are used to working from project to project, are not used to working so internally as her choreography demands. “We are having a very deep experiment, I think,” she said about working with these new dancers.
Following the tour to Tokyo, the new Ate9 management team will be working on creating a promotional video to be used for booking the company in the future. Agami also plans to spend time in the south of France to “feel the ground as I did here,” she said. She plans to teach a few classes and workshops to see how they react, as well as speaking with key people in the dance industry who curate the festivals in Avignon and elsewhere in France. “To see how the vibe is. Is it saturated? Is it welcoming?”
Agami still has family living in Israel so I asked her if they were safe. “They are strong, they’re okay,” she answered. “No casualties or injuries for my family.”
Her work titled EXHIBIT b several years before this current conflict was performed as part of a festival at the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. Agami said that it was a creation between a Jewish and a non-Jewish artist that introduced Agami to the phenomenal Iranian composer Omid Walizadeh. “However, I felt really clear about how I cannot do a 25 minute soundtrack of Iranian music right now without inserting Hebrew and Israeli music, so I shifted a little bit.” She did so by making sure that Hebrew is heard and also inserted a very old Israeli song that plays in the middle of the work.
Agami was in Israel last year for four months to find out whether or not she was ready to move back home. She left Israel on October 4th, just three days before the October 7th massacre of Israeli citizens by the paramilitary wings of Hamas. Without going into any more details about our conversation, Agami said that she decided to focus on something else and to release the emotions that she is experiencing through her work. “I have always felt that if you are not working for peace, you are working for war,” she said.
The Saturday prior to the interview, Ate9 offered the Barcelona community an open class and to her surprise about 60 people showed up. “I never anticipated something like that,” she said. “The class was wonderful, the people so sweet and engaged.” After the class, they stayed to see excerpts from the company’s repertory. “I think Ate9 Europe was born in that evening because I saw the dancers jump to a place they didn’t know they had although the group is still a bunch of strangers.”
Some of the audience members reacted to Agami’s work as I did when I first saw Ate 9 perform Sally Meets Stu in a space adjacent to an out-of-the-way night club. I had never seen anything like it but knew that I had truly enjoyed what I saw and wanted to experience more.
“Yeah, we’re a little wilder, I think, than the norm of even a place that is so highly educated like Europe,” Agami said. “And especially EXHIBIT b is very explosive. These dancers are really virtuosic and physical, as they have always been, but there are new options because they are different people. I felt very charged.”
Wherever Agami decides to live, she said that Barcelona will always be an important element to Ate9 and hopes to continue to have a tight relationship with the city. Because of the financial struggles dance companies are experiencing post COVID, many companies around the world now depend on two or three cities to keep their organization working. It would not, therefore, be so unusual for Ate9 to have an extensive presence in Los Angeles, Barcelona and possibility Toulouse. Agami definitely has a new trajectory for the long term, but she does not wish to share it with the public just yet.
When I put the question to Agami about what she would like readers to know about her current situation, she paused for a long time before responding.
“I think that it’s been very hard for me since I left LA because since I left Israel 13 years ago I have this dream of feeling that I belong somewhere, and I keep failing in that,” she said softly. “So, I think maybe a lot of people are feeling a little bit of doubt about where we are, how we are, what we ended up being as cultural creatures. I think we all carry some disappointment and I think every time that I get to finish it with a class or seeing people pushing themselves through physical effort and seeing their joy coming at the end of their effort, it reminds me that is where I belong. We belong to those moments where the effort makes sense because we can’t avoid the effort and the search. But when, at least the search has those moments of joy and the effort brings pleasure, then we know, okay, we’re on a path.”
“So I feel I’m on a path. I’m dreaming still and I do feel creative,” she added. “While there is a lot the weight right now as a Jewish person, an Israeli person, and as an artist in the dance field. That definitely feels that there is a massive doubt that people have about live performance. And Financials. And Strategies.
One reason Agami is considering France is because there it is a part of French life to work, have dinner and then to go out to the theater. Currently she is not making dance films and has reduced her contact with technology and screen. Agami has moved back to the basics and hopes that there people will remind themselves how we can get emotional from the truth. It’s so hard to find the truth. The truth is when we are in the same room dancing, talking, eating and we’re laughing, we’re crying. Dance and performance is a very nice tool to connect us to the truth,” she said.
Her final statement was a beautiful end to our interview and I wish Danielle Agami and Ate9 all the best for the future ahead. I have missed seeing her work here in Los Angeles.
To learn more about Danielle Agami and her company Ate9, please visit their website.
If you are planning to travel to Tokyo for April and March, I highly recommend purchasing tickets to see Ate9 perform at the Setagaya Public Theatre. You may do so HERE. https://setagaya-pt.jp/en/
To watch a clip of Agami’s calling glenn, please click HERE.
To watch a clip of her work titled EXHIBIT b, please click HERE.
To read more about Danielle Agami and Ate9, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Ate9 Dance – courtesy of the company