Between salt and dreams, dancing by the Dead Sea
9 July 2021 Fabiana Magrì

Between salt and dreams, dancing by the Dead Sea Israel

Between salt and dreams, dancing by the Dead Sea

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«Melach ve Halom» – “the salt and the dream” – is the title of an exclusive contemporary dance performance. The salt is that of the Dead Sea. The dream is that of the Israeli choreographer Sharon Hilleli-Assa.

A group of people in the background is overlooking the Dead Sea. In the foreground, behind them, the chasm of a sinkhole.

[April 2021]


«To make a dream come true, it is not enough to believe it. You have to work hard». Sharon Hilleli-Assa is still hot after dancing in the desert sun, 400 meters below sea level, in the heat of 40 ° C at the end of March. If I had heard her talk about nature, about ties with “Mama Earth”, peace and coexistence before attending the performance, maybe I would have raised an eyebrow. But when the bodies of the six dancers – Sharon herself and then Nairooz Qupty, Naftali Bar-Yosef, Shahaf Elimelech, Nitzan Safion e Nadav Sharon -, six almost invisible dots began to move, a sort of hypnosis was triggered. It must have been the sound of the “Om” in the silence of nature, the dazzling light, the white of the salt. It must have been the shades of blue of the water. And the shades of pink in which the warm and rarefied air faded. And the presence, invisible to the eye, but there, a few kilometers away, of the Jordanian shore, with its mountains overlooking the lake.

I have seen the profile of the Dead Sea change over the years. The earth sinks behind the water that withdraws at the rate of one and a half meters every year. Chasms also open underwater, at the bottom of the lowest and saltiest catchment area in the world. Over the years, roads, palm groves and bathing establishments have been swallowed up. A threat to the delicate balance in such an extreme environment.

Nature never stands still. It reacts and changes, adapts and evolves.

A dancer, back to back, dances against the backdrop of the shores of the Dead Sea.

However, the sinkholes created by the fresh water that flows underground and meets the layers of sediments, melting them, are an extremely fascinating geological phenomenon.
Against the backdrop of this conceptual and physical landscape, I met Sharon Hilleli-Assa, choreographer, dancer and dance teacher.
She was born in the kibbutz founded by her parents, Sha’ar HaAmakim, in northern Israel (the same in which – side note – United States Senator Bernie Sanders worked for several months, in 1963). Since she was a child she grew up surrounded by nature. She has been dancing since she was six and her dance school has always been a kind of temple for her. «To reach the studio – she recalls – every day I walked for kilometers in the middle of the fields. I like the tranquility. So I can feel my body. It is part of meditation, of my way of tuning into dance».
After serving in the army for two years, she joined the Tamar Dance Company, Jerusalem’s first professional dance company, which was disbanded in 1992 due to financial problems.
«I danced with them for four years. Then I went to New York. I needed to understand if dance was going to be my job. There I found that I preferred to teach it. So I went back to Israel and deepened the teaching aspect. I have been teaching for 30 years, and I have been creating my own choreographies for 20».

Over the past 10 years Sharon has begun to create something that has meaning for the community and a spiritual impact, but also concrete.

What left a profound mark on Sharon was her experience with Anna Halprin. «Especially the Planetary Dance performance. Since then I have found my way: to work for peace, step by step. Literally. Here in Israel, alongside Palestinian dancers».

Like Ayman Safiah, considered to be one of the most talented Israeli Arab artists the country has known. Tragically died a year ago, drowned, trying to save a friend at sea.
With him, Sharon laid the foundations of the project «Lehem, Melach ve Halom» (“The bread, the salt and the dream”), three words which, in Hebrew, share the same root.

Three dancers, one in the foreground and a couple further back, dance against the backdrop of a sinkhole on the shores of the Dead Sea.

«I chose to dance for peace in my country because that’s what I can do. Of course, every gesture is also political, but I don’t want to fall into its mechanisms. The bond between human beings has very simple bases: nature, “Mama Earth”. We are all made of the same material. For this – explains the choreographer – I love to create outdoor performances, in nature, with other dancers. To go back to simplicity, to listen deeply, to dance in a poetic way. Freeing ourselves from habits, from the ego, from individualism».

«Sure, I’m Israeli and tied to my land. But this – Sharon goes on – is only one of the layers of who I am. It is part of my background. I believe that we need to strip off the most superficial layers to get to the soul, which is the strongest part of us. Cosmopolitan: that’s how I feel. In the sense that I am a daughter of the Earth and the Cosmos. And I am, in the end, a human being». 


At the end of a journey, what remains engraved inside are skeins of emotions. It is the brief moments of surprise and poetry that fill the experience with meaning.

Photos: Fabiana Magrì

To watch the performances, visit Sharon Hilleli-Assa’s Vimeo channel

Between salt and dreams, dancing by the Dead Sea Israel Between salt and dreams, dancing by the Dead Sea READ MORE Due ballerine, una in primo piano e una più arretrata, danzano sullo sfondo di una dolina, sulle sponde del Mar Morto.

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