Over half a century ago, two young women met during an audition in New York City. Both had traveled far from home with the hope of being offered a spot at the Juilliard School.
Over the course of the day, tense and expecting, they noticed one another and got to talking. They had no way of knowing that they would stay in each other’s lives from then on.
Perhaps what drew Pina Bausch’s eyes to Rina Schenfeld was her similar hairstyle (a low ponytail with severe center part) or some other physical likeness that they shared. Perhaps it was a deeper, unseen quality.
That day, both women were accepted to Juilliard, marking a milestone in their careers. As students, they danced together in a number of pieces including a contemporary Indian dance and a creation by American choreographer Doris Humphrey.
“I have never had a relationship like that with anyone.
We had a mysterious, quiet relationship. We didn’t sit around and gossip all day but we had a very strong connection,” said Schenfeld in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. This month, Schenfeld will unveil her newest work, Notes To Pina, at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
The concept of Notes To Pina came to Schenfeld thanks to local poet Hadassa Tal.
“Hadassa came to me with poems that she had written called Notes to Pina and told me that she wanted me to do an evening with them. I told her that she should record herself reading the poems and I would see if I could do something with it. Seven months later she brought it to me and it touched me. I began working on this very complicated evening that has poetry, movement and video,” explained Schenfeld.
During her research for the piece, Schenfeld viewed The Complaint of an Empress, the only film Bausch ever directed.
“It’s a difficult film but a very strong one,” she said.
Schenfeld decided to project the film as a backdrop for her piece. “I dance with the videos. I took bits of my dances that could meet her dances.”
During the creation process for this work Schenfeld allowed herself to delve deep into her memories of Bausch.
At the end of their studies in New York City, Bausch returned to Germany and Schenfeld to Israel, not knowing when their paths would cross again, if ever. Bausch joined Kurt Jooss’ Folkwang Ballet, which she would go on to direct upon Jooss’ retirement in 1969. Schenfeld became a founding member and driving force behind Batsheva Dance Company, where she remained until 1978.
“Right after I left Batsheva, Pina came to Israel and she called me and asked to meet. She asked me to come manage Kurt Jooss’ school in Essen and to open my company there. My husband and I decided to go. That night, I had a dream about the forests of Germany and I called and said I couldn’t go.”
So Schenfeld stayed in Israel and Bausch in Germany.
When Bausch established her own troupe in Wuppertal, she called Schenfeld and invited her to bring her company to perform.
“The connection went on and got deeper over the years,” said Schenfeld. On one of Bausch’s visits to Israel, she mentioned to Schenfeld that she had family in the country.
Schenfeld didn’t ask any questions but understood that Bausch had Jewish roots in the family.
“I didn’t ever ask about it and to this day I regret it deeply.”
Bausch died in 2009 at the age of 68 of an unstated form of cancer.
Into Notes to Pina, Schenfeld wove together all of the meetings that never happened, the letters she didn’t send and the admiration she was too shy to express.
“I build my dances like a bird builds her nest. I included bits in the evening that I wished I could have said or have done. The dance is about the meeting of our worlds, the personal and the artistic. They are very different worlds but they are similar because we are of the same generation. Our character and materials are different but there is a common thread.
“She once wrote to me in a letter, ‘let both of us dance together.’ She isn’t dancing anymore and I am. It is my chance to say that she is with me, that I am taking her with me through this dance. Her projection is dancing on mine and I take her in my body.”
Notes to Pina will premier on June 6 and June 14 at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
For information, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.