In Ancient Israel
In the Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud, dance is referred to in various contexts as an important ritualized activity and as an expression of joy. None of these references, however, contain descriptions of how the dancers actually moved. Dancing is mentioned in connection with celebrations of military victories and in rituals such as the golden calf dance and the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
The Bible contains many Hebrew verb roots employed to describe dancing activity, four of which were used in the description of the popular but religious event of the bringing of the Ark, which inspired King David and his subjects to dance before God. David not only danced in the ordinary sense of the word saḥek (שׂחק) but also rotated with all his might, karker (כרכר); and jumped, pazez (פזז) (II Sam. 6:5, 14, 16); a slightly different version appears in I Chronicles 15:29, mentioning that he skipped, rakad (רקד). The other verb roots used for describing dance are daleg (דלג), leap or jump; kafotz (קפץ), jump with both feet; savav (סבב), go around; paseʿaḥ (פסח), skip; ẓalaʿ (צלע), limp; ḥagag (חגג), dance in circle.
It is noteworthy that in addition to the textual descriptions we have some tangible evidence. This includes newly discovered iconographic features found in
, the Negev, and other sites. For example, a number of cylinder seals from the second millennium B.C.E. show lines of dancers standing with their hands on one another's shoulders (Near Eastern Archeology, 66:3 (2003)). Figures on a late Bronze Age cylinder seal from Lachish have been interpreted as participants in a ritual or battle dance similar to the Arab folk "debka" still in use in our days. A. Mazar adds that "this posture is typical of seals showing dancers from various sites in Israel" (ibid.). T. Ilan in his study "Dance and Gender" (see Bibliography) describes dance represented in ancient iconography as an activity in which the two genders have specific defined roles.
Dancing to the accompaniment of drums is associated with the celebrations of military victories and welcoming home heroes who have routed an enemy. The women's role was to receive and extol the fighters. After the triumphant crossing of the Red Sea, "Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances" (Ex. 15:20, 21). On his triumphant return from battle to Mizpah, Jephthah was greeted by his daughter with timbrels and dancing (Judg. 11:34). When David and Saul returned from the battle with the Philistines, "the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with timbrels, with joy, and with rattles" (I Sam. 18:6). There is a detailed description of a victory parade, where Judith leads the women in the dance, to the accompaniment of a special thanksgiving song: "And all the women of Israel hurried to see her, and they praised her and made a dance for her… And she went out in the dance before all the people, leading all the women" (Judith 15:12, 13).
The most telling biblical evidence of the power of music inspiring ecstasy and prophetic vision is connected with King Saul. A passage from Samuel tells that Saul goes to the hill of God where he meets a group prophesizing while in motion, accompanied by several instruments. The text adds: "And the spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophecy with them, and shalt be turned into another man" (I Sam. 10:5–6). There is no mention of dancing, which typically accompanies ecstatic practices, but the movement that is an inherent part of the situation described may well allude to its ritual nature.
David's dance before the Ark was an example of the religious ecstatic dance performed by men. The Psalms exhorted people to "praise God's name in the dance" – "praise Him with timbrels and dance" (Ps. 149:3; 150:4).
Detailed descriptions have been handed down to us from the period of the Mishnah, from which we learn that there was folk dancing at religious celebrations. During the festival of Tabernacles, there was a daily procession around the altar in the Temple following the sacrifices. The celebrations reached a climax in the dances of the water-drawing festival: "Whoever has not witnessed the joy of the festival of the water-drawing has seen no joy in life. Pious men and men of affairs danced with torches in their hands, singing songs of joy and of praise, and the Levites made music with lyre and harp and cymbals and trumpets and countless other instruments" (Suk. 5:1b). During this celebration, R. Simeon b. Gamliel juggled eight lighted torches, and when he prostrated himself he dug his two thumbs into the ground, bent, kissed the ground, leaped up, and stood on his feet (Suk. 5:3a).
The Book of Judges (21:21), in describing the annual feast in Shiloh tells of the bride-choosing ceremonies. The story of the capture of brides by the surviving men of the tribe of Benjamin indicates that choosing brides during the vineyard dances was a recognized practice in Israel. Others believe it was the celebration of the vines on the Fifteenth of Av. According to the Mishnah, R. Simeon b. Gamaliel declared, "There were no holidays for Israel like the fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement, on which the daughters of Jerusalem went out in white dresses which were borrowed so that no one need be ashamed if she had none. And the daughters of Jerusalem went forth and danced in a circle in the vineyards. And what spake they? 'Youth, lift up thine eyes and behold her whom thou wouldst choose'" (Ta'an. 4:8).
In the Song of Songs (7:1), one finds the rather obscure mention of "the dance of the two companies," which seems to have been taken from a traditional wedding dance, and may imply two groups of dancers, a type of dancing that can still be seen at Bedouin festivities in the Middle East. In Talmudic literature (Ket. 17a) the bridal procession was regarded with great deference and was given priority on public thoroughfares requiring even a funeral procession to make way. Dancing
in honor of the bride at a wedding was considered an act of religious devotion. Rabbis and scholars performed it joyously, each in his own manner. R. Judah b. Ilai would take a myrtle twig and dance before the bride singing. R. Samuel b. Isaac, even when he was old, would juggle three myrtle twigs as he sang and danced. R. Aḥa danced with the bride on his shoulder (ibid.).
In the Diaspora
During the dispersion, the dancing associated with the normal activities of a nation in its own country ceased. The rabbinical authorities often forbade dancing in public. The many discussions in the rabbinical literature and responsa about dancing include opinions ranging from lukewarm compromise to outright hostility. At weddings and bridal feasts and for the Sabbath and particularly on Purim and Simḥat Torah and Lag ba-Omer dancing continued while taking on new forms.
In European Jewry of the Middle Ages, dancing for pleasure was an end in itself. In the medieval ghettos of France, Germany, and Poland, where living quarters were crowded, almost every Jewish community had a wedding-house or Tanzhaus for festive occasions. Here the Tanzfuehrer (dance leader or caller) was aided by hired musicians. New humorous dances came into use, some of them reflecting the surrounding cultures. Among them were the Maien Tanz, Umgehender Tanz, Spring Tanz, Judentanz, Adam Harischon Tanz, Doktor Foist [Faust] Tanz, and Fisch Tanz. In Spain the children played with miniature wooden horses called kurraj. These toys resembled the pirate's wooden battle horses that were favorites among the adults.
During the Renaissance, Jews danced for recreation and entertainment. David Reuveni describes the dancing in the home of Jehiel Nissim of Pisa in 1524. They also danced in public as in the procession in Palermo celebrating the marriage of King Ferdinand of Castille and Isabella of Aragon in 1469. In Jewish homes in Italy the Hebrew teacher taught Bible and Talmud, music, and dancing. That Jews engaged extensively in the profession of teaching in that period is emphasized by the recurring laws closing schools of dance and music conducted by Jews, such as the edicts of 1443 in Venice, and 1466 in Parma. There were Jewish dancing teachers in Renaissance Italy, the most distinguished dance master of the time being
*Guglielmo de Pesaro
, author of a treatise on dance dated 1463. In the 16th century, another Jew,
, won fame as a dance master and teacher in Rome.
Oriental Jewry's Dances
There are many communities, such as the Moroccans, Georgians, Libyans, and Ethiopians, in which spontaneous group folk dancing is important, yet the Jews of Yemen and Kurdistan Jewry are among the most prominent traditional cultures attributing dynamic importance to dance in the daily and festive life of the community.
Dance among the Jews born in Yemen comprises stylistic diversity characteristic of urban and rural settlements as well as including women and men. Dancing usually takes place during ceremonies and celebrations. Fundamentally, the men's dances are composed of steps and figures executed in a very small area. The dominant line is vertical – with agile, springy bending of the knees. The very expressive hands are used for an infinite variety of gestures. One or two singers, rhythm instruments, or hand clapping always accompany the dance but no melodic instruments were used. The women's dances are less variegated and more restrained. They are accompanied by the singing of the dancers themselves, or that of two female musicians who beat the rhythm respectively on copper plate and drum.
The dances of Jews from Kurdistan are distinguished from those of all other Jewish communities in that the men and women dance together. The dances are accompanied by songs and two instruments: the zurna, a nasal-sounding wind instrument similar to the oboe, and the dola, a large double-headed drum that is beaten on both sides, with one thick and one thin stick. Most Kurdish dances are based on open or closed circles, with couples or soloists taking turns in the center where they improvise figures and steps. Some of the men brandish short swords as they dance and the women wave colorful kerchiefs.
With the rise of
in Eastern Europe in the 18th century, dance assumed great importance for the Jewish masses.
*Israel b. Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov
, the founder of Hasidism, used dance to attain religious enthusiasm (hitlahavut) and devoted adherence to the Almighty (devekut). He taught his followers that "the dances of the Jew before his Creator are prayers," and quoted the Psalmist, "All my bones shall say: 'Lord, who is like unto Thee?'" (Ps. 35:10). Ḥasidic dance assumed the form of the circle, symbolic of the ḥasidic philosophy that "every one is equal, each one being a link in the chain, the circle having no front or rear, no beginning or ending." The Ḥasidim would start their dancing in slow tempo, and as the music became faster they held arms upward and leapt in the air in an effort to reach spiritual ecstasy. The accompanying melodies were composed to brief texts from either the Bible or the Talmud.
*Naḥman of Bratzlav
, great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, believed that to dance in prayer was a sacred command, and he composed a prayer which he recited before dancing. He and other ḥasidic rabbis called for dancing on all festive occasions and even on the solemn days of the Ninth of Av, Rosh Ha-Shanah, and the Day of Atonement. During the celebrations on Simḥat Torah, the usual processions with the scrolls reached a climax in the rabbi's own dance. Wrapped in a prayer shawl, with a scroll held high in his hands, the rabbi danced with spiritual ecstasy as the Ḥasidim sang and clapped hands in a circle around him. The Ḥasidim danced on Friday nights around the rabbi's banquet table, and at twilight on Saturday they danced with mystic fervor. Ḥasidic dancing has influenced the celebrations at Jewish festivals generally, and has served as the basis and inspiration of choreography on Jewish themes in ballet.
The Aramaic word hillula implies a joyous celebration. Certain Orthodox Jewish sects use the term to describe the annual ritual of visiting the grave of a ẓaddik or ḥasid on the actual or reputed day of his death. Among those whose sanctification has been recognized by the entire nation is certainly
*Simeon Bar Yoḥai
. Lag ba-Omer, the traditional anniversary of his death, has long been commemorated in song and dance by pilgrims gathered at his tomb at Meron, near Safed. Naḥman of Bratzlav ordered his disciples to observe the anniversary of his death by studying a chapter of the Mishnah and dancing at his grave. The Bratzlav Ḥasidim fulfilled his wish for generations at the cemetery in Uman in the Ukraine. In Alkush, in the mountains of Kurdistan (northern Iraq),
, a 19th-century explorer, discovered an unusual form of celebration of Shavuot at the tomb of the prophet Nahum. Pilgrims joined in the reading of the Book of Nahum and circled the shrine singing while women came dancing around the catafalque. The next morning, the men went to the summit of a nearby hill, symbolizing Mount Sinai, read from the Torah, and then descended in warlike procession, clashing weapons and simulating the great combat heralding the coming of the Messiah. The women met the men with dancing and singing to the accompaniment of tambourines.
Life Cycle Dances
Birth and Circumcision
A person's lifetime, from birth to death, is filled with a succession of special occasions, many of which are celebrated in song and dance. The first is birth. In many Eastern communities, the mother and newborn son were the center of special events. According to popular belief the demons – headed by
– are jealous of those blessed with a son who would soon fulfill the mitzvah of the circumcision; they are increasingly dangerous as the circumcision approaches. In Morocco, Jews would perform the taḥdid ceremony. The term is apparently derived from the word ḥadid, which means iron, so named in reference to the sword used the night before the circumcision to banish the evil spirits. The sword is brandished in all corners of the house and around the beds of the mother and child, while a selection of biblical verses and appropriate psalms are chanted. In Persia, the father would engage professional dancers for the night before the ceremony. Among the Sephardi Jews of North Africa, the Tray of Elijah, used in the circumcision rite, would be carried in procession with song and dance and lighted candles, from its last place of use to the home of the newborn. In Syria and Lebanon, on arrival of the tray, seven guests would be called on to dance with the tray in turn. In Kurdistan, the Chair of Elijah would be brought in procession from the synagogue and the guests would circle it with dances. In Aden, the guests would take turns to dance with the Chair of Elijah as if dancing with the prophet Elijah himself.
Of all family events, the wedding and its colorful attendant ceremonies probably is the most important in the life of the individual and the community. Dancing in honor of the bride gave rise to the Mitzvah dances. A 16th-century source published in Venice described the Mitzvah dance as a form of group dance in which the men danced with the bridegroom, and the women with the bride (Sefer Minhagim, Venice, 1590). This conformed to the prevalent practice and the restrictions against mixed dancing in Jewish communities. Later publications describe a modified Mitzvah dance. Men took turns to dance with the bride after wrapping something around the hand as a symbol of separation (J.M. Epstein, Derekh ha-Yashar, Frankfurt, 1704). By the beginning of the 19th century it became the practice for men to dance with the bride while separated by a handkerchief held at opposite ends. In the pattern of the Mitzvah dance, the bride was usually seated in the middle of a circle of chosen guests while the badḥan ("jester"), serving as master of ceremonies, called each guest by name to step forward and dance with the bride. First honors went to the parents of the couple and to the bridegroom; then scholars and important members of the community took turns. Each would extend to the bride the tip of a handkerchief or receive one from her, then circle with her once or twice to the accompaniment of music from the orchestra. During the wedding festivities, which lasted seven days, guests and neighbors took part in the dancing and even the beggars of the town had the right to dance with the bride. Other dances performed at weddings in East European communities were Koilich Tanz, a dance of salutation to the bride and bridegroom performed by a woman holding a twisted white loaf and some salt to wish them abundance; Klapper Tanz, a dance with much handclapping; Redl, Frailachs, Karahod, Hopke, vigorous circle dances done by men; Besem Tanz, a man dancing with a broom used as horse or musket; Flash [Bottle] Tanz, dance with a bottle on the head; Bobes Tanz for the grandmothers; Mechutanem Tanz for the relatives of both families; Broyges Tanz, a man and a woman portraying quarrel and reconciliation; Sher, Sherele, Quadrille, dances based on square and longways dances performed with partners; Lancelot, Kutzatsky, Bulgar, Pas d'Espagne, Vingerka, Waltz, forms of popular Russian, Polish, and Romanian dances. At ḥasidic weddings, an old practice was often revived of dancing in peasant costumes, animal skins, or even Cossack uniforms. Groups of young girls would also dance toward the seated bride from three directions singing Keitzad merakkedim lifnei ha-kallah ("How we dance before the bride"). The young men, meanwhile, would dance around the bridegroom.
Groups of professional women musicians called taňaderas (drummers) in the Balkan Sephardi communities, mughnniyat in Yemen, mutribat in Kurdistan (poet-singers), and daqqaqat (drummers) in Iraq, conducted the ceremonies and sang to the accompaniment of drums, amusing the women and making them dance. In Morocco, a small ensemble of male instrumentalists and a singer accompany the spontaneous dancing of women relatives and guests, performing individually gestures which call to mind the belly dance: the head tilted sideways and a kerchief in each hand. In Yemen, it was considered
an honor for the women guests to dance with the mazhera, a bowl containing the henna dye with which the bride's hands were painted.
[Dvora Lapson /
Amnon Shiloah (2nd ed.)]
Already at the early decades of the 20th century, when interest in ballet began to spread throughout the West, Jewish dancers once more made their mark. The Diaghilev Company, during its two decades in Western Europe (1909–29), had notable Jewish dancers (apart from its famous designer
). The first to attract attention was
, though she was known more for her beauty than for her skill as a dancer. More important were two women whose careers only began with Diaghilev. The first was
, who became an internationally recognized ballerina. The second was
, who founded one of the first classical companies in England.
first made his name in Ida Rubinstein's company. The great Anna Pavlova (1881–1951) once confided to her American impresario,
, that her father was Jewish but asked him not to reveal it before her death (see
, Impresario, 1946). In Soviet Russia, Jews found opportunities that had been denied them in Czarist times. Outstanding among them was
, leading dancer and later teacher of the Bolshoi Ballet, and his sister Shulamith. His niece,
, became the company's prima ballerina. In America, Jewish teachers like Louis Chalif and Sandor Gluck trained performers for the classical ballet companies that formed in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s. Ballet Theater numbered three important women dancers of Jewish descent – Annabella Lyon,
, all notable not only for technical mastery but for the intensity of their dramatic portrayals. In the 1960s Bruce Marks became a leading dramatic male dancer with the company. Jewish choreographers also came to the fore at Ballet Theater. Both
, best known for their work in Broadway musical comedies, began their careers with Ballet Theater. Also from the ranks of this company came
, generally credited with winning attention for American dance in the wider world. Of major importance to American ballet was the work of
, founder of the New York City Ballet. The Jewish modern dancer has generally made more use of his Jewish heritage than his classical counterpart. Because the modern dance is based on the expression of individual emotion, rather than on the discipline that molds the individual to an established form (like the ballet), there emerged a search for identity through the exploration of ethnic background.
created The Village I Knew, depicting the life of Jews in Czarist Russia. Pearl Lang utilized her Jewish source in Song of Deborah and in Legend, based on An-Ski's Dybbuk;
portrayed with nostalgia the landmarks of Jewish family life in Memoir. Another Jewish choreographer,
, showed concern with the alienation of the individual in contemporary society. Her Dreams was an indictment of Nazi Germany. These Jewish choreographers made strong statements about their people and the plight of all humanity in their troubled times.
Artistic Dance in Modern Israel
The pioneers of artistic dance in Ereẓ Israel in the early 20th century had to create dance "from scratch." Ausdruckstanz was the style that took root in a society based on socialist values. This dance style, standing for simplicity and freedom from tradition and opting for personal expression and social involvement, spoke to the heart of this generation of pioneers.
In 1920 Agadati presented a modern dance recital in Neveh Tzedek on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Wishing to combine Middle Eastern and Western motifs, he turned to ḥasidic and Yemenite dances. Two years after Agadati's recital, Margalit Ornstein, who had immigrated to Ereẓ Israel from Vienna, established the first dance studio in Tel Aviv teaching Dalcroze Eurhythmics and Isadora Duncan's style.
immigrated in 1924 from St. Petersburg and became ballerina in the Ereẓ Israeli Opera, founded that year by the conductor Mordechai Golinkin. She danced on a floor covered with Oriental rugs, usually accompanied by one man and three women who constituted the corps de ballet. In 1933, she founded the Yemenite Company, where young Yemenite girls performed dances on biblical themes. The company successfully toured Europe between 1936 and 1939.
The early 1930s saw the rise of the second generation of dancers. Among them were the twins Yehudit and Shoshana Ornstein,
, Dania Levin, and
Among the immigrants arriving in Ereẓ Israel following the Nazis' rise to power in 1933 were Tille Roessler, who had been a principal teacher at Gret Palucca's school in Dresden, and the dancers Else
, Paula Padani, and Katia Michaeli, who had danced in Mary Wigman's company. In 1935, at the peak of her artistic success as a notable dancer and creator in the Ausdruckstanz style in Central Europe,
decided to immigrate to Ereẓ Israel. She gave many recitals and founded the Peoples' Dance Opera Company, which operated from 1941 to 1947. It was the first modern dance group in the world associated with an opera house.
By the end of the 1940s the third generation of dancers started performing. Prominent dancers included Naomi Aleskovsky, Rachel Nadav, Hilde Kesten, and
, who later founded the faculty of dance at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
As opposed to Ausdruckstanz which was favored among the settler community, classic ballet was rejected as representing bourgeois art. Despite this, Valentina Archipova-Grossman from Latvia founded in 1936 a classic ballet studio in Haifa, giving a start to many teachers. In 1938
, a former ballerina at the Riga Opera, founded her ballet studio in Tel Aviv, in which many choreographers and artists studied.
During World War II, all cultural links to Europe were severed and the dance artists in the yishuv entered a period of cultural isolation extending up to Israel's War of Independence and the end of the austerity period of the early 1950s. Thus Israel, in absorbing the Jews as a safe haven from the Nazis, ironically became one of the only countries on the globe where Ausdruckstanz became not only acceptable but also dominant.
Side by side with universal issues concerning man and society, the newcomers created dances inspired by the landscape of the country and biblical themes, aiming to express the link between Modern and Ancient Israel. In the newly created State of Israel, many artistic endeavors were supported by the state, but not artistic dance, which was still viewed as elitist, while folk dances were considered acceptably socialist.
In the first half of the 1950s foreign dance groups began to tour Israel. American immigrants such as Ruth Harris, Rina Shaham, and Rena Gluck had brought awareness of American modern dance. Martha Graham's historic visit, by courtesy of the Baroness Bethsabee de Rothschild, struck waves and stimulated Israeli dancers to sign up for studies at her school in New York. At the same time, there was a rapid process of rejecting Ausdruckstanz.
At this critical juncture,
founded in 1949 Inbal Dance Theater, an artistic Yemenite traditional-culture-inspired dance group. In the 1950s Noah Eshkol had invented the
Dance Notation. In 1971 Amos Hetz founded "Movements," a group that utilized the Dance Notation as a means of exploring new possibilities in movement.
All attempts to establish a permanent non-funded professional modern dance group had failed. (This was the case with the Israeli Ballet Theater founded by Kraus and the Lyric Theater founded by
.) In 1964, however, Bethsabee de Rothschild founded the
Dance Company and during the 1970s several dance companies were established, such as
by Rothschild (1967), the Israeli Ballet by
and Hillel Markman (1968), the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company with its artistic director Yehudit Arnon (1969), and Kol Demamah by Moshe Efrati (1978), originally employing both deaf and hearing dancers.
Between 1964 and 1976, all professional dance activities in Israel took place in professional companies. This improved Israeli dancers' technical and teaching standards and their tours placed Israeli dance on the global map. Batsheva and Bat-Dor, the leading companies, competed for important choreographers from around the world and did not readily open their doors to Israeli choreographers; local creativity diminished.
In the mid-1970s, modern dance in Israel began to show signs of weariness. The dramatic, thematic approach as well as the movement idiom and artistic concept became repetitive. At that time, several young female choreographers who had studied abroad brought with them American post-modern influences. Post-modern dance gave the legitimacy to revolt against the canons of modern American dance as performed by the major dance companies in Israel. The first fringe generation included Ruth Ziv-Ayal, Ruth Eshel, Ronit Land, Heda Oren, Dorit Shimron, and Rina Schenfeld.
In 1981 Pina Bausch came to Israel with the Wuppertal Dance Theater for the first time, and the local dance community became familiar with the Tanztheater style. For about five years before that visit, experimental dance works had been created in Israel, some of them in the movement-theater style, and Bausch's visit reinforced this tendency, providing local creators with more tools. The creative upsurge following Bausch's visit to Israel was immediate. The following year, Nava Zuckerman founded the Temu-Na Theater and Oshra Elkayam founded her Movement Theater. In the 1980s fringe dance in Israel was enriched by more dancers and creators, including Mirali Sharon (who was among the few choreographers who created for Batsheva and Bat-Dor), Sally-Anne Friedland, Tami Ben-Ami, Yaron Margolin, Nir Ben-Gal, Liat Dror, Amir Kolben, and the Ramleh Dance Company in 1983 (later the Tamar Jerusalem Company).
Flamenco is very popular and there are several prominent dancers such as Silvia Doran, Neta Sheazaf, and Michal Natan. A manifestation of the relation between ethnic and artistic dance is the University of Haifa's Eskesta Dance Theater, which studies Ethiopian dance and creates artistic dance inspired by folklore. The yearly Karmiel Dance Festival in Galilee, established in 1988 and directed by Yonatan Karmon, draws thousands of people who come to dance folk dances for three days and nights. The festival program includes hall performances as well as mass dances in public parks and in the streets; folk dance, ethnic dance, and artistic dance are all combined.
In the past decade, a large group of young experienced Israeli creators and dancers have worked in established big companies and in marginal fringe frameworks. Among the most notable creators and companies are
(Batsheva Dance Company),
(Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company), Nir Ben-Gal and Liat Dror (The Group), Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha'al (Vertigo Dance Company), Anat Danieli Dance Company, Amir Kolben (Kombina Company), Ido Tadmor Dance Company, Tamar Borer, Yossi Yungman, Emanuel Gat, Noah Dar Dance Company – Holon, Muza Dance Company, Inbal Pinto Dance Company, Barak Marshal Dance, and Yasmeen Godder. The Inbal Dance Theater and the Israeli Ballet are still active. In 1998 Valery Panov established the Ashdod Ballet, where all the dancers are immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.
Increasing fringe activity brought about the establishment of the Shades in Dance project (1984), in which works by young fringe artists were exposed on a professional stage, and in 1990 the first of the Curtain Up events, premieres of works by known fringe creators, took place. In 1989 the Susan Dellal Center was founded, managed by Yair Vardi, and it became the main home of Israeli dance.
Contemporary American Dance
Modern dance reflected American social conventions at the beginning of the 20th century complete with quotas restricting Jewish participation; this was true of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn's Denishawn Co. and schools. Their main dancers, Martha
, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, broke with Denishawn over their discriminatory policies. Apparently Isadora Duncan was not so exclusive for she and her staff trained Julia Levien, Mignon Garlin, Ruth Fletcher, and Hortense Kooluris. The Denishawn star, Martha Graham, became a favorite teacher at the heart of the Jewish world in New York's Lower East Side at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Built by Irene and Alice Lewisohn as both a philanthropic and artistic endeavor, the dance classes there offered an entree into modern American culture for the children of immigrants. Jewish teachers at the Neighborhood Playhouse included Blanche Talmud and Senia Gluck-Sendor. Students included leftist Edith Segal, and Helen Tamiris, who later directed the Federal Dance Project of the WPA with her husband/partner Daniel Nagrin, and their dances often dealt with brotherhood and emancipation. Tamiris's company included many Jewish dancers such Mura Dehn, Sue Ramos, and Pauline Bubrick Tish before Tamiris went on to choreograph for Broadway. Edith Segal, on the other hand, used her dances such as "The Belt Goes Red" and "Black and White" as vehicles for social protest at rallies. Other radical leftist dancers, of whom many trained by the German emigrée Hanya Holm, include Miriam Blecher, Lily Mehlman, Edna Ocko, and Muriel Mannings, who created the New Dance Group (both a school and center for performance). Hadassah Spira, born in Jerusalem, came to New York in 1938, created several solos including "Shuvi Nafshi" and headed the Ethnic Dance Dept. of the New Dance Group. In Hanya Holm's dance company, Eve Gentry was the most prominent Jewish dancer.
Of the mainstream modern dance companies, Graham's included the most remarkable number of Jewish dancers. Most notably among them were
, Lillian Shapero, and
. Among other Jewish Graham dancers were Bertram Ross, Robert Cohan, Stuart Hodes, Linda Margolis Hodes (who later moved to Israel to oversee Graham works in the Batsheva Dance Co), and
. The drive to assimilate into American culture thrust some into glorifying American folk (such as Maslow's "Dust Bowl Ballads") though many maintained Jewish concerns for social justice and especially rights for workers' and Afro-Americans. Opposition to fascism was seen in dance concerts to support Spanish democracy during in the Spanish Civil War. Even
from American Ballet Theater joined forces with modern dancers for this cause. So, too, did
, who worked in both New York and Los Angeles. Bella Lewitzsky did not use Jewish material in her choreography or classes nor did Gloria Newman.
(a.k.a. Ann), long an experimentalist with dance improvisation, community, and healing, was driven by social concerns. Her work for her 80th birthday in 2000, "Memories from my Closet, Grandfather Dance," has Jewish references and klezmer music. After World War II, both Pearl Lang and Sokolow did solos using Jewish male prayer symbols such as tefillin.
The Nazi regime destroyed all forms of dance by the mid-1930s: professional theater dance, dance in Yiddish theater, and dance in the folk and religious life of the Jewish communities of Europe. Stars such as Ruth Abrahamowitsch Sorel (trained by the German expressionist dancer Mary Wigman) performed at the Berlin State Opera house. Margarete Wallmann, who directed Wigman's Berlin school and that of the Vienna State Opera, fled Europe. So did
, who immigrated to Palestine in 1935. Performers from Kraus's Viennese Company who escaped and reached America during World War II included
, Katya Delakova, and Claudia Vall, who taught dance in Hollywood after a brief touring stint with Berk. After partnership performing with Katya Delakova and their Jewish Dance Guild, Berk established the Jewish Dance Division at the 92nd St. Y., whose emphasis was on Jews living a pluralistic life in the U.S. Joyce Mollow, a modern dancer, was also concerned with Jewish themes; a yearly lectureship at Queens College on Jewish dance was established in her memory. Hans Wierner or Jan Veen, another dancer from Kraus's Co., had settled in Boston and taught at the New England Conservatory of Music. Truda Kashmann, also trained by Wigman, escaped Germany and directed a studio in Connecticut and trained Alwin Nikolais, a gentile talent who made an important home for dance in the Lower East Side. His lead dancers Murray Louis and Phyllis Lamhat became teachers and company directors in their own right. Pola Nirenska who was expelled from the Wigman Company in 1933 with the other Jewish performers, returned to her native Poland, escaped to London, and then the U.S., where she devoted herself to choreographing and teaching. Judith Berg, another Polish dancer trained by Wigman, was known in Warsaw for her dances on Jewish themes. She choreographed and danced the role of death in the Polish film of The Dybbuk. She escaped to the Soviet Union and with her partner Felix Fibich toured the provinces with a Yiddish revue. She reached the U.S. in 1950 where she continued to choreograph and perform in New York's Yiddish theater.
Elsie Salomons, who had danced in Kurt Joos's German Co., reached Canada, where she trained her niece Judith Marcuse who became an established performer and choreographer in Canada.
Eliot Feld, trained in ballet, performed in
' West Side Story, and later created "Tzaddik" for his contemporary Feld Ballet, though he is not known for dances on Jewish themes. His mentor, the prolific genius choreographer Robbins, and his collaborators, including
, first considered portraying Jews and Catholics in conflict for Robbins' remake of the Romeo and Juliet tragedy, West Side Story. However, they changed their minds and shied away from religious conflict in favor of ethnic gangs. In 1964, Robbins directed and choreographed Fiddler on the Roof an enormous Broadway hit, which ran for almost eight years. On
another occasion he turned to a Jewish theme creating "The Dybbuk Variations" for the New York City Ballet (1974); Sophie Maslow also choreographed her own "Dybbuk" as did Pearl Lang. Other choreographers have also been drawn to this spiritual story, including Bejart, whose company performed it in Israel. The Pilobolus Company, which specializes in group choreography, occasionally touched on a Jewish theme, especially when commissioned by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, which sponsored their company piece called "Davenin." An offshoot of Pilobolus was Momix with Daniel Ezralow, which has choreographed for Batsheva.
Arnie Zane (1948–1988) collaborated with African-American Bill T. Jones and Zane occasionally used Jewish references in his work. Meredith Monk uses her own original music as well as choreography to encompass Jewish experience such as her epic to immigration, Ellis Island, or her ode to loss in World War II called Quarry: An Opera and Book of Days about the Middle Ages and Jewish life then and now. Liz Lerman has had a multi-generational, multi-racial dance company, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, since 1976 and often draws on Jewish themes for her dances including The Hallelujah Project and "Shehehianu." Like Monk, she was a MacArthur Prize recipient, a mark of American achievement, and in 2005 Lerman was commissioned by Harvard Law School to do a dance project on the Nuremberg Trials and genocide.
, Ze'eva Cohen (both Israeli-American choreographer/dancers) with Risa Jaraslow, Ruth Goodman, Beth Corning, and Heidi Latsky are some who bring their Jewish experiences into their works.
David Gordon, David Dorfman, Danial Shapiro, and Stuart Pimsler use vestiges of burlesque and vaudeville in their humorous look at themselves as Jewish men through their own choreography, using autobiography and their Jewish families as a base for their choreography.
[Judith Brin Ingber (2nd ed.)]
Russian and European Dance
At the beginning of the 20th century, not a few Jews in Russia occupied a prominent place in classical ballet; yet, many of them did not reveal their Jewish origin.
, the impresario of the great and most famous Diva Ana Pavlova (1881–1931), reports in his Memories that she told him she was the illegitimate daughter of the known Jewish banker Lazar Polakov, allowing him to disclose her origin only after her death.
The outstanding classical dancer, choreographer, and teacher
(1903–1992) belonged to a great artistic family. He was a legendary premier dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet Theater, where he performed the major roles in the most famous classical ballets. He also distinguished himself as a great choreographer and teacher, and staged ballets in Belgium. Hungary, and Poland, and he wrote two books on ballet technique.
His sister Sulamith Messerer (1908– ) was a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi, where she danced leading roles in the 1930s and 1940s, often partnered by her brother Asaf. She moved to London in 1980 and was a ballet guest teacher with leading companies. Her niece, daughter of the cinema actress Rakhail (Raisa), is the legendary ballerina
(1925– ), one of the most famous names in the history of ballet. She danced in many capitals and served as guest director at the Rome opera ballet (1984–86) and with Spanish National ballet (1987–90). She visited Israel several times.
In his autobiography Dance – Imagination – Time, Asaf Messerer refers to several Jewish dancers who began their career together with him, including Miriam Reisen, Lubov Bank, Raisa Stein, Feina Leisner, and others; they are all included in the Russian Encyclopedia of Dance.
A prominent and greatly gifted dancer was Michael Gabovitch (1905–1965), who danced leading roles with the Bolshoi, having for many years as a dance partner Galina Ulanova (1910– ). In the years 1954–58 Gabovitch was the director of the Moscow choreographic school, and he is the author of books and articles on dance. His son, also called Michael, danced as soloist with the Bolshoi.
The star Alla Schelest (1919–1999) was for 25 years a tenured soloist with the St. Petersburg's Maryinsky Theater and the most appreciated dancer of the famous Jewish choreographer Leonid Yacobson (1904–1973).
The ballerina Nina Timofeyeva (1935– ) made her debut with the Kirov-Maryinsky Theater in 1953 when she was 18 years old. In 1956 she became the leading soloist with the Bolshoi and was distinguished by her brilliant technique; she also made her mark in modern ballet. In 1991, she and her dancer daughter immigrated to Israel she and pursued her career in Jerusalem, first at the Rubin Academy and later, along with her daughter, she founded her own ballet company and school.
The famous Russian-born dancer
, who was a star with Kirov-Maryinsky in Moscow immigrated with his wife, dancer Galina, to Israel in 1974. After dancing in several Israeli venues, Valery became art director of the opera ballet in Bonn (1992–97) and also worked in South Africa. At the end of the 1990s he returned to Israel and founded his own ballet company and school in the town of Ashdod.
Another famous Russian dancer who immigrated to Israel was Alexander Lifchitz. He was a soloist with Kirov-Maryinsky Theater (1954–74), where he successfully distinguished himself with brilliant performances of character dances. After his immigration to Israel he directed a ballet school in Jerusalem until his premature death in 1998.
The prevailing antisemitism in Soviet Russia imprinted foremost the major theaters, which refused to enroll many excellent Jewish dancers; those who were lucky enough to be admitted preferred to conceal their Jewish origin; one finds among them such Jewish names as Violetta Bobet, Alexander Klein, Ella Fein, and others. Other dancers moved to cities like Novosibirsk, Kiev, and Riga, where they found recognition and favor as leading dancers
The choreographer and ballet director Boris Eifman (1946– ) belongs to the generation of Soviet ballet masters
who tried at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s to change traditional Russian ballet and make it more contemporary. Eifman, a spiritual disciple of Leonid Yacobson, endowed with a creative style of his own, is considered an important force in contemporary Russian culture as the director of his own dance theater.
Among the scholars and critics of Soviet dance, the Jews occupied important place. Akim Wolinsky (born Haim ben Lev Flakser in 1861) became famous among the most influential thinkers and writers on Russian ballet art. He was the author of several books and articles on all major personalities in dance. In 1921, he founded and directed a Russian dance school in Petersburg, where many of the prominent Soviet dancers studied. Another remarkable writer and critic is Vadim Gaievski, author of books on such celebrated artists as Petipa, Balanchine, Ulanova, Plisteskaya, and others.
After World War I and the Russian Revolution, many Russian dancers and choreographers settled in Central and Western Europe and where they enjoyed intense activity as dancers and choreographers. The most prominent were those associated with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The most famous among them is
(1885–1960), who was the star of this prestigious company in the years 1909–11 and 1920. Rubinstein also founded and directed a company of her own (Paris, 1911–13) and then a second one with Bronislava Nijinska as choreographer (Paris, 1928–29, 1931, 1934).
Another outstanding artist is David Lishem (born David Lichtenstein in 1910). Although he left Russia at an early age he absorbed the Russian ballet tradition via L. Yegorva and Bronislava Nijinski, with whom he studied. He made his debut as a soloist with Ida Rubinstein's company and had as stage partner Ana Pavlova; he excelled in character dances. He immigrated in 1940 to the U.S. and danced there with the Ballet Theater.
Mentioned should be also made of the legendary Lituanian
, who studied in Russia and Paris and founded the famous National Dutch company in Holland.
In her book The Blue Maiden Dancer, Nina Tichonova describes admirably the Parisian and Berlin's ballet in the period between the two world wars, mentioning the leading Russian names, which include not a few Jews. She also refers to the extraordinary phenomenon of the Russian Romantic Ballet Theater in Berlin, whose founders were Anatoli and his son Andre Shaikovitch, who also wrote books on ballet in French and German.
The dancer, teacher, choreographer, and ballet director Marie (Cyvia Rambam) Rambert (1888–1982) was born in Poland and came to Paris in 1906 where she studied free dance with Raymond Duncan and later eurhythmics with Jacques Dalcrose in Geneva. In 1913, she was dancer and teacher of eurhythmics with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and the musical adviser of dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinski when he created Stravisky's Sacre du Printemps. In 1912, she settled in London, where she pioneered classical ballet and was founder and director of the Rambert Ballet School (1920) and the Ballet Rambert (1935). Among her honors are the Queen Elizabeth Coronation Award (1956); Chevalier, Légion d'honneur (France, 1957), and Golf medal of the Order of Merit (Poland, 1979).
Another outstanding ballerina is the British-born Alicia (Alice Lilian Marks)
(1910–2004), who danced at the Ballet Rambert. At the age of 15 she joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Markova created many major roles in the ballets of Balanchine and in the 1950s was the prima ballerina of the London Festival Ballet. She was made a "Dame" (female equivalent of knighthood) by order of Queen Elizabeth.
The South African dancer, choreographer, and ballet director
(1927–1973) came to London in 1945 and joined the Sadler Royal Ballet. This master of various styles of ballet was the artistic director of the Stuttgart Ballet and chief choreographer of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.
The French dancer and choreographer
Jean *Babilée (Gutmann)
, born in 1923, showed astonishing technique and natural grace as a child. He was the star of Roland Petit's Les Ballets des Champs Elisées (1945–50) and in 1955 earned the gold star for best dancer at the International Festival Dance in Paris.
[Amnon Shiloah (2nd ed.)]
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