Home 20 Questions 20 questions (pandemic edition) with Idan Cohen

20 questions (pandemic edition) with Idan Cohen

Today we check in with choreographer, opera stage director and artistic director of Ne. Sans, Idan Cohen.

Idan Cohen. Photo by Or Druker.
Idan Cohen. Photo by Or Druker.

During this time of social distancing and dark theatres, Vancouver Presents is checking in with members of our arts community to find out how they are staying creative and managing during the pandemic.

Today we check in with Vancouver-based choreographer, opera stage director and artistic director of Ne. Sans, Idan Cohen. Idan will next perform in a live Firehall Courtyard performance on July 7 & 9 as part of this year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival.

1. How are you staying creative during the pandemic?

For me, the true meaning of being creative is restructuring and rebuilding our society, which allows us to do better. The pandemic, in a way, is forcing us to do just that.

When this started, my natural reaction was actually to take a step back. This pandemic has been traumatic for so many of us and will stay with us for a long while, and every day brings more devastating news. Yet I find that one positive outcome of the pandemic is that people are making different choices, sometimes being forced to let go, to take time to reflect.

A lot of my artistic work involves looking at Western European history and culture, questioning and breaking it apart. In a way, these current times have exposed many of the fundamental faults of these systems that our Western/Canadian culture originated from. That by itself has been a huge source of inspiration for me.

2. What’s the one thing getting you through?

Staying creative. I write, paint, and play music on my cheap electronic keyboard. There’s something about creativity, generating new ideas, recreating existing patterns that are so valuable in times like these, and it helps me believe in human nature. I am holding on to that belief. I see the younger generation of dancers, horrified by recent events, and they have every reason to be. We always need to fight injustices, yet we have to believe in the good that is in humanity. Otherwise, there’s no chance of forgiveness and reconciliation. That, for me, is the foundation of being creative. It has gotten me through difficult times in the past, and it is true to this current crisis.

3. How are you staying in contact with family and friends who are not in your bubble?

My family is in Israel. Like many, this crisis has freed up some time in my busy schedule that helped me communicate with them more frequently, and more in-depth. Besides being able to literally take a pause, difficult times help us value and prioritize the things we truly cherish and hold close to our hearts.

4. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far during the pandemic?

Patience. And to cherish every moment. Somehow being reminded of how fragile we are, enhances our senses and shows us how valuable life is.

5. What do you feel the most grateful for right now?

I am grateful to be alive. I value life.

6. What is something you are doing now that you don’t normally?

Right now, I’m answering your questions, communicating my thoughts and feelings in the best, most honest way I can. On many different levels, I don’t always get to do that.

7. What skill have you developed since the pandemic started?

Pardon the cliché, but I started baking! My partner is vegan, and it turns out I’m quite good at baking a traditional, vegan Jewish chocolate and Halva Babka.

8. What have you missed the most?

I miss hugging. Dancers and stage peeps hug a lot, and it’s such a nice way to say, ‘I trust you, welcome to my world.’

9. Your #1 pandemic survival tip.

Have faith. You’re not alone; others are fighting the same fights at any given moment.

10. Your biggest indulgence since the pandemic started.

That damn cake from question number 7.

11. What have you stockpiled?

For some reason, it was never toilet paper. It is (drum roll) coffee! I l o v e coffee, and I’m pretty specific with a certain brand, and I couldn’t let them go out of business!

12. What have you been reading?

The news. Way too much of it. Other than my family and friends in Israel, I have colleagues and friends all over the world. Companies I’ve created have shut down, opera houses whose future is uncertain. I have close friends in places like the USA, Brazil, and India who have been hit so hard and forced to endure failed leadership and corruption. It’s been tough.

13. What have you been watching?

The Midnight Gospel on Netflix. It’s a surreal, existential adult animation created by Duncan Trussell and Pendleton Ward. It’s about a space traveller with a universe simulator but structured like a podcast. I know it sounds a bit much, but it deals with some hardcore subjects in a fascinating, colourful, and creative way that is super rewarding.

14. What have you been listening to?

I am working on a new live dance performance and concert set to the Complete Piano Études of minimalist composer Philip Glass, one of the most important musical influences of the 20th-21st centuries. It is a collaboration between Ne. Sans and Vancouver conductor/pianist Leslie Dala, who will be playing live on stage. Leslie has been recording this series of miniature piano études at home, totalling 2 hours and 15 minutes in length. I really couldn’t ask for a better COVID soundtrack.

15. What are you doing for exercise?

My exercise routine is very dynamic. We live on the West End, so I am lucky to have beautiful paths to jog or bike on towards Stanley Park. I also practice Ashtanga Yoga, and I love to simply play music in my living room and dance.

16. The one thing you haven’t been able to live without?

Lately, I’ve started meeting friends and colleagues in some of Vancouver’s many beautiful parks for social distancing picnics. I value and need the human connection and exchange of thoughts and ideas.

17. Do-it-yourself haircut or the natural look?

Do it yourself! My hair is naturally curly, so it’s way more forgiving than straight hair, and I can pull it off. Or so I think!

18. Night owl or early riser?

Definitely a night owl. I enjoy night time. I have so many thoughts running through my mind all day long, and every night I need to relax and let go, which takes a while. Surprisingly, I find that only once I manage to clear my mind, there’s room for creativity and new insight.

19. Will you be the first out as restrictions are gradually lifted or taking a wait-and-see attitude?

Generally speaking, I try and restrain myself, but there are things that we can do while still respecting social distancing, being mindful and aware. Our upcoming performance at ‘Dancing on the Edge’ is a great example of that. As artists, we reflect on what we experience and then translate those notions into our creative choices. Instead of looking at this as an obstacle, I choose to look at it as a source of inspiration, a new adventure.

I am thankful to Donna Spencer and Dancing on the Edge for giving us the opportunity to create and perform. My responsibility is also to protect the viewers and the performers while offering art that speaks of relevant issues and current experiences. As artists, we find solutions. That is how we grow and progress.

20. What’s the first thing you will do when this is all over?

I might just run around, offering hugs to random people on the street. Vancouver, beware!

Meet Idan Cohen

Idan Cohen is a choreographer and opera stage director. He was born in Israel and relocated to Vancouver in 2017. Before becoming a dancer, he was trained as a classical piano player and studied theatre and fine arts.

In 1998, Idan joined the Internationally renowned Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, founded by Yehudit Arnon, artistic director Rami Be’er, where he danced for seven seasons.
Since 2005, he has been creating, performing, and teaching as a choreographer and opera stage director. He holds a BA (2015) and an MFA (2017) in choreography from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

In 2017 Cohen opened Ne. Sans Opera & Dance in Vancouver. Ne. Sans is a home for the research and creation of work that seeks to deepen and re-connect opera and dance.