The Suzanne Dellal Centre, located in Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek neighbourhood, is one of Israel’s leading cultural centres, putting on a year-round performance in the fields of contemporary dance and performance art. Opened in 1989, it has gone from strength to strength in the last 30 years, offering visitors the chance to see world-class productions not just by Israeli dancers and choreographers but also from troupes invited from around the globe.
The centre is situated in the heart of Neve Tzedek (which means ‘Oasis of Justice’ in Hebrew) which was, in fact, the first neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. Established in 1883, by the Chelouche family and a group of friends, the community relocated from Jaffa (which, by then, was not just overcrowded but unsanitary) and set about building small, colourful houses in the narrow alleyways. Twenty years later, the area had developed a rather Bohemian reputation and was home to the writer S.Y. Agnon and the painter Gutman (a museum devoted to his work was established in 1988).
However, as the years passed, the area became more and more run-down. Many buildings were completely dilapidated or even allowed to become derelict. By the 1960s, fashionable Tel Aviv was in the north of the city - from Dizengoff Street’s cafes to the new neighbourhoods of Ramat Aviv. Neve Tzedek had been all but abandoned and, at a certain point, the municipality even considered bulldozing the area, to build highrises for the growing population.
Fortunately for the neighbourhood, these plans never took off and the small dwellings remained untouched. As the years passed, Neve Tzedek’s tiny, narrow streets remained untouched. By the mid-1980s three old school buildings (dating back to the 19th century), all on a preservation list were chosen to be reconstructed and to be used as the home for a new performing arts centre.
Not surprisingly, this idea was met with some mistrust - many Tel Aviv officials and philanthropists argued that people would never travel so far ‘south’ in the city to see cultural performances, particularly since the roads were unpaved, at night it was dark and dangerous (there were many streets without lights) and many of the buildings were in an awful state and close to collapse.
At the same time, a young woman from England - Suzanne Dellal - was spending time in Israel, pursuing a career as a dancer. After her tragic and untimely accidental death, her family back in London decided to honour her memory by dedicating a building to her. When the opportunity to fund a renovation project for a dance centre was floated, they were thrilled and it seemed to be a truly fitting tribute to her. The Suzanne Dellal Centre was finally opened in 1989, the brainchild of Jack Dellal (her father), the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture and the Municipality of Tel Aviv.
Suzanne Dellal Then and Now
Initially, the centre had just two studios; only later was a theatre facility built (although with no one specific company in mind to make it their home). Over time, however, it became clear that it should be a home for contemporary dance, where both established dancers and young, rising stars could create shows and perform them not just to locals but visitors to Israel.
Today, the centre is home to The Inbal Dance Theatre, the Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company and the world-famous Batsheva Dance Company. ‘Batsheva’ was established in 1963 and by the 1990’s it had developed a reputation internationally. Under the centre’s director, Yair Vardi, Batsheva was invited to make the centre their official home. Programmes such as ‘Shades in Dance’ and ‘Curtain Up!’ also began putting the centre on the cultural map. By the time the ‘International Exposure’ festival began running, Suzanne Dellal was a name on many peoples’ lips, not just in Israel but across Europe and the USA.
Twenty years later, the centre began an ambitious renovation project of one of the old buildings upon which it was originally established. The two existing dance studios were completely revamped and enlarged and the Yerushalmi Theatre (for emerging and alternative artists) was given a facelift. Even more exciting, a new outdoor stage (designed to seat 500) was designed.
At the centre of the renovation was a new third floor and a space named “the Zahava and Jack Dellal studio’ - this is a state-of-the-art performance space with a glass wall that opens to a spacious rooftop balcony. In 2019 (to coincide with Tel Aviv’s 110th birthday!) it reopened its doors to much fanfare. Today, it hosts up to 600 performances a year, has initiated over 1000 creative projects and the centre and its surroundings are one of Tel Aviv’s most popular tourist attractions.
The Dellal Centre and Neve Tzedek today
The architect of the renovation project, Elisha Rubin, always envisioned the complex as being surrounded by a large open space, where people could walk freely. Today, his aim has been realised. The large central square acts as somewhat of a courtyard, and the entire area is pedestrianised. The buildings have also kept the style and colour of the original buildings, which give the area a marvellous, historic feel.
The area was designed as a ‘walking route’ which would connect the Jaffa Road (on the east) with the beach (on the west). A nice walking route sees you begin at the Jaffa Road, cross over the bridge (on Chelouche Street) and continue on Amzaleg. This will bring you to the Dellal courtyard, across the main piazza and through the building’s arches. From there, you will see a row of eucalyptus trees...follow them straight to Charles Clore Park, which sits next to the beach.
As mentioned before, the Suzanne Dellal Centre is located in the centre of Neve Tzedek, one of Tel Aviv’s most picturesque and historic neighbourhoods. The area is now entirely gentrified and home to some of the most beautiful and expensive homes in the city. Running through the neighbourhood is Shabazi Street, home to cafes, jewellery stores, boutiques, bars and the lovely restaurant ‘Suzanna’ with its huge garden, which serves light meals and refreshing cocktails. With its peaceful, tree-lined side streets and neighbourhood buzz, Neve Tzedek is truly a charming place to stroll, drink a coffee or just ‘get lost.’ With the Mediterranean sea on your doorstep, it is the perfect place to walk on a summer night, when the heat has abated somewhat and you can stroll in the piazza and feel the breeze on your face.
Neve Tzedek is also home to the Rubin Museum, the Gutman Museum of Art, the Rokach House and the Chelouche House (the first house that was built by a Jewish family outside of Jaffa). And for those who don’t mind a short walk, the neighbourhoods of Florentin and Kerem ha Temanin (the Yemenite Quarter) are not far away, and also brimming over with charm.
The Suzanne Dellal Centre Tel: 03 510-5656, 6 Yehiel Street, Tel Aviv https://www.suzannedellal.org.il/en
All spaces provide access to the disabled and the public car park is located close by, at Pines Street 45.