It could be children, or a business, or it could be perpetual home renovation. Whatever it is, every long-term couple needs something to keep them together after the initial spark is gone. For Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor, that something has been running one of Israel’s most successful small dance companies.
Their 13-year partnership has grown around a rich creative collaboration. But art was admittedly the last thing on their minds when they met two decades ago in a Tel Aviv cruise park. After a hot fuck and a brief conversation, they parted ways, never expecting to see each other again. But they reconnected in a gay chat room seven years later. Three hours into the conversation, they realized who was on the other end. Two days later they met in person and have been together ever since.
Sheinfeld was a professional dancer and Laor was working in theatre, so a shared interest in performance was part of their initial connection. But it was two years in before they started collaborating. Sheinfeld was struggling with a project and asked Laor to join him in studio for advice.
“He was only supposed to be there a few days and ended up staying for the whole process,” Sheinfeld says. “The next project we kept working together and that’s how it’s continued. It’s made the relationship more involved. We can’t separate our personal life from our professional life anymore, but we love what we do. It contributes a certain sort of energy to things and really makes you grow.”
The couple’s current offering, Two Room Apartment, is the first duet they’ve created for themselves. Originally staged in 2012, it’s based on a work of the same name by another famous Israeli choreographic couple, Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal. The piece, when it premiered in 1987, was a watershed moment for dance in the country. Soaked in the early 20th century influence of modern dance pioneer Martha Graham, local companies were still dedicated to exploring the mythological heroes and goddess imagery that made a splash on New York stages six decades earlier.
“It was a bit shocking for people here to see regular human beings rather than these larger than life characters portrayed on stage,” Sheinfeld says. “It was a work that represented their personal life and struggles as a couple, which was something we’d never seen here before. They weren’t concerned with creating something beautiful. They wanted to present the everyday, what it was like to be in their living room.”
Reconceiving the piece as a duet for two men isn’t simply about putting their own spin on a well-known work. It asserts a queer presence in a state where religion and secularism are in perpetual combat. While Tel Aviv hosts a broad spectrum of homo life, with both a thriving gay party scene and plenty of couples raising children, other parts of the country don’t have it so easy.
“Most places are much more conservative,” Laor says. “So doing a show with a gay couple and nudity is a political statement. It wasn’t originally meant to be that, but of course it’s in the back of our minds.”
Staged in an empty space with the audience close enough to almost touch them, Apartment is a testosterone-drenched portrait of intimacy and trust built over decades. Alternating between abstract gestures and quotidian movement, it draws a parallel between the negotiations that figure into a romantic relationship and the process of creating the piece together.
“There’s this theory that sexual attraction only lasts four years and then you start to look elsewhere,” Laor says. “But I think artistically it’s the other way around. Creatively speaking, it feels like we’re still just starting out, 13 years in.”