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Yardena Cohen


COHEN, YARDENA (1910– ), dancer, choreographer, teacher. Cohen was one of the pioneers of Israeli dance and in the vanguard of modern dance in pre-State Israel. She was born in Haifa, a sixth-generation Israeli. In 1929, she went to Vienna and studied at the Academy for the Arts and, after two years, left for Dresden and studied with Gert Palucca. In 1933, she returned to Haifa and began teaching.

The solo compositions Cohen produced were dramatic portraits of biblical women: Eve in the Garden of Eden, Lot's Wife, Hannah in Shiloh, The Sorcerer's, Jephtah's Daughter, and Hagar are but a few. Contrary to Central European Expressionism in dance (Ausdruckstanz) practiced by other dance pioneers who had recently arrived from Europe, Cohen's dance was rooted in the soil of the Land of Israel. Accompanying her on the drums were Oriental Jewish musicians. In 1937, Cohen was awarded first prize in a national dance competition in Tel Aviv.

Cohen was a forerunner in organizing the holiday pageants that took place in agricultural settlements (kibbutzim) where the members wanted to relive and celebrate the ancient holidays as in former times, albeit with a modern approach. The pageants took place outside and people of all ages participated. There was a medley of dancing, singing, and instrumental performances as well as readings from special texts. The "Bikkurim" Festival (First Fruits) (1943) and Vineyard Festival (1944) at kibbutz Ein ha-Shofet were famous, as was the pageant dedicated to the biblical story of Jael and Sisera that took place at kibbutz Sha'ar-ha-Amakim (1945), located at the spot where the narrative took place, and the "Mayim Mayim" (Water, Water) Festival (1947) at kibbutz Ginnegar, celebrating the installation of running water at the settlement. Some of the dances created for these pageants became folk dances.

Cohen was also a leader in the new field of dance therapy, which she called "convalescent dance." She wrote two books: With Drum and Dance (1963) and The Drum and the Sea. (1976). She continued to teach in Haifa well into her nineties.


R. Eshel, Dancing with the Dream – The Development of Artistic Dance in Israel 1920–1964 (1991), 24–26, 74, 89–90.

[Ruth Eshel (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.