Inspired by the prayer of the three monotheistic religions, this original production was brought to life in cooperation with Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai and The Israel Dancers’ Association. The project involved a three-day seminar for local choreographers who were then asked to submit proposals for dance pieces influenced by their reflections during the seminar. Under the guidance of Emmanuel Witzthum, The Lab’s artistic director, six projects of 15 were chosen and were brought to fruition on two consecutive evenings. (see article from Ha’aretz- link here)

 

The pieces performed: “Secret of Communion” by Smadar Imor; “Hell” by Ofra Idel; “God Forbid” by Nimrod Freed; “He Who is Silent and He Who Waits His Turn” by Noa Dar; “Road Number One” by Ronen Itzhaki; and a piece by Alice Dor Cohen where three Western religions were represented separately and eventually form one entity.

 

The whole festival received positive media coverage from Ha’aretz newspaper and television’s Channel One, and was filmed by Channel Two for a documentary film on Ronen Itzchaki’s school, and by a German documentary film crew making a film on German Jews in Israel, connecting the tradition with modernity as seen through the “Dancing Spirit” project.

 

 

TRANCE IN THE SYNAGOGUE

 

Six contemporary dance works, based on religion and prayer and the desire to combine the religious and secular worlds, will be performed today and tomorrow at "The Lab" in Jerusalem

"Haaretz" Gallery, October 27, 2010

 

By: Elad Smorzik

  

Artistic dance in Israel is often perceived as a secular arena, where the creators and audience alike are detached from the world of tradition and religion. Against this setting, three cultural institutions – The Lab Center for Contemporary Performing Arts, Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem and the Choreographers Association - decided to bridge between the worlds. Their shared goal was to create a link between dance artists in Israel and creative themes associated with the three monotheistic religions. They invited dance creators who are members of the Choreographers Association to take part in a three-day workshop held in Jerusalem in June. The workshop consisted of various lectures related to religion and worship, workshops dealing with religious music, and tours of religious sites around the city. After the workshop, the choreographers who attended were asked to submit a proposal for a work.

 

The committee that was set up ultimately chose six works that were consolidated under the title Dance in the Spirit: The Secret of Oneness by Smadar Emor; Shaul by Ofra Idel; One by Alice Dor-Cohen; God Help Us by Nimrod Freed; The Silent One Waiting His Turn by Noa Dar; and Highway 1 by Tammy and Ronen Izhaki. The first three will be performed tonight, and the others tomorrow, at two performances held at The Lab in Jerusalem.

 

"We believed there is tremendous wealth in using prayers, religion and tradition as inspiration for creating dance that focuses more on the abstract," explains Emmanuel Witzhum, Artistic Director at The Lab. "This is a project which attempts to explore the complexity of present-day Israeli society," he adds, "the tensions existing within society, and the identity issue which Israeli society is grappling with in a highly direct manner: who are we as a society, who are we as individuals, and what do we want to represent both morally and ethically."

 

Tempting and Objectionable

 

The choreographer, Noa Dar, claims that the Choreographers Association's approach regarding the project was equally tempting and objectionable from her perspective: "I don't identify with this combination between religious and secular, but the workshop that they suggested I attend seemed to be interesting. I took part in the workshop and later submitted a proposal which I wasn't sure would be accepted, but they did accept it."

 

Dar chose to create a solo piece that she herself performs, The Silent One Waiting His Turn, which is based on Shaul Tchernichovsky's poem I Believe (Laugh, Laugh). "The poem was part of my childhood - my father would sing it to me as a lullaby," she recounts. "For me, it's a poem with a lot of sentimentality." The poem was written by Tchernichovsky in Odessa at the end of the 19th century, against the backdrop of the pogroms occurring at the time: "He was truly distressed when he wrote it, both as a person who was seeking his nationalistic expression and as someone who believed in the need for a social revolution. The poem is a prayer or an articulation of desires, aspirations and dreams to be fulfilled," she adds. "It is also personal, humanistic-universal, socialist, and nationalistic-Zionist. It became the anthem of socialist Zionism because it also includes the idea of the worker who will never go hungry as well as the vision of peace between the nations."

 

Dar wanted to address the poem's current relevance. "Beyond the general and universal aspirations that it contains, and beyond my own sentiments as someone who grew up on this poem, I asked myself what is really relevant in this text and who does it have validity for? When I thought about how it would sound in Arabic, by an Arabic speaker, I understood that this poem is relevant to the Palestinians. In other words, it has validity for the Palestinians, but is already outdated in terms of the Jews."

 

The work has two parts. The first opens with Dar covered up by a pile of colorful clothes. She emerges from it and does some slow warm-up movements while singing the poem in Hebrew, softly and in fragments. "I wanted something whose movements would be routine, something that doesn't contain surprises," she says. "There's nothing in the first part that is really pressing or has strong emotion. It's something more meditative. The song is performed as if it were accompaniment, like a flash of memory, like something that goes along with me but is not in my core. It's not what affects me the most or derives from within me."

 

In the second part of the work she performs more uninhibited movements that also incorporate some improvisation, against the setting of the song's composed version in Arabic. The musical arrangement was created by Arik Shapira, who took Tuvia Shlonsky's original score, changed the keys, the instruments and the rhythm, and gave the song an Oriental flavor. The song is performed by Rena Khoury, accompanied by Yousuf Makhoul on the violin.

 

"When the song begins in Arabic, it turns into the thing itself," she explains. "Only then does the text actually assume its full expression and become something that's alive, that's happening now from an emotional perspective. The two parts are really two different approaches to the poem."

 

Unlike Dar, the choreographer Ronen Izhaki comes from the world of Judaism. Although he grew up in Tel-Aviv's secular milieu, he has in recent years grown closer to his Jewish identity in different ways, mostly due to his encounters with the young observant Jews who study at the dance school he founded in Jerusalem, named "All My Bones Shall Say."

 

The school, which has operated as a professional enterprise for three years, is only for men, most of whom are religious. "We're responding to a need that existed for a long time but could not be met, of observant men who wanted to dance," says Izhaki. He explains that at the school he meets "people who have a strong need that bursts out of their body," a need which derives, he believes, from the many years when they were unable to realize their desire to dance."

 

Five of the school's graduates are performing in the work that Izhaki will present as part of the project. He describes the work (which he created together with his wife Tammy) as a moving and formative moment because it embodies a first-time combination between his role as director of the school and his identity as a contemporary choreographer. "In this job, after a long time, I felt the time had come to take some guys who were no longer students at the school and undergo a process with them that is entirely professional, a laboratory that has a clear concept."

 

The work that emerged looks like a blend of synagogue worship and a wild trance party. After combining these two worlds, Izhaki chose to call it Highway 1, named after the highway that links Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem – the same road he takes daily between his home and family in Tel-Aviv and his work with religious men in Jerusalem.

 

"A trance party and praying share a common denominator," he claims. "It's something that's mesmerizing. In the synagogue as well, there's a point in the prayer that is trance-like." He explains that the work was influenced by one of Kafka's images which appears in the recently uncovered story In Our Synagogue. "It contains a neat image of an indeterminate creature, reminiscent of a mongoose. The creature is suspended on the wall of the synagogue and everyone is frightened of it, and it too is afraid of everyone. Everything happening around the creature is quintessential Kafka. The story has no moral or an educational element. But this image had a profound impact on me and I made use of it in the work."

 

The main question that the work explores is "what will prayer look like in another 37 years?" Why 37 years? Because Izhaki's school has been operating as a professional enterprise for three years, and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, he explains. "To what degree will the Jew be physical? To what extent will he continue to be verbal? And how will prayer be affected by secular culture?" he adds. "The setting is a synagogue and the image described by Kafka exists in the synagogue, but I took in a somewhat different direction: the image is actually the one who's generating the change; he's the prophet, he's the one heralding the change, namely that worship has become physical, is inside the body, and has fewer words."

 

As opposed to the previous two choreographers, Alice Dor-Cohen chose to treat the three monotheistic religions equally and created a trio for three men (Yoni Southi, Liron Ozeri and Idan Porges) – who represent Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The work, named One, is accompanied by Philip Glass's music in the background, and there is a huge climbing wall on the stage which the dancers are mounting.

 

"When we had to submit the proposal, I thought about the image of three people climbing a mountain," she recounts. "And when I asked designers how to go about constructing a mountain on the stage, it became apparent that it would be very difficult and complicated to create such a mountain. We eventually decided that a climbing wall would fit the bill. My partner, who is involved in action sports, has a climbing wall made up of stones that we've collected around the country, but we had to adapt it to dancing."

 

The Dance Heats Up

 

The work is divided into three parts: the first part is a kind of presentation of the three religions, and each of the dancers has a turn to perform a fixed routine. In the second part, they "chase each other's tail" – performing the same routine but with a different rhythm. The third part primarily takes place around a prayer podium which contains magnesium powder. "Each of the dancers gathers up the magnesium and throws it," she explains, "leaving their mark on the wall, a kind of imprint of history on the wall."

 

According to Dor-Cohen, the dance heats up the more it progresses, but towards the end a consciousness begins to emerge which she describes using a quote from the prophet Isaiah: "and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks." She goes on to explain that the dancers are initially dressed in costumes which are symbolic of the religions they represent, and very slowly they start to remove the layers and eventually end up wearing the same basic outfit. "In the struggle over who will be the first to reach the top, they help one another and learn to live collaboratively."

 

She joined the Batsheva Dance Company in the early 1980s, and was later appointed the company's House Choreographer. "In 1982, I created The End of Innocence for the troupe, which is based on William Golding's The Lord of the Flies, she relates. "It appears that I was passionate about this social issue, the wars and the ego, even then. In 1985 I also created Neighbors, which dealt with a couple of neighbors who are fighting over a flower and ultimately destroy the flower and themselves."

 

Dor-Cohen says that she finds herself dealing once again with a similar theme. "When I was at the workshop I was searching for a muse, an idea for a work, and the entire time the idea of "why fight with one another?" kept on coming up. You all believe in the same God, and religion is actually the harbinger of  what is good and of love, so what's the point of all these wars throughout history?"