In every religion, the duties of women and men are defined differently. In regard to clothing, prayer and responsibilities within the home, individual sects have clear frameworks for what is acceptable and what falls outside of the norm. These rules are often very controversial, creating chasms of inequality between the sexes. However, for many, the relation to each gender in religion provides useful guidance and offers a window into age-old beliefs regarding rituals and behavior.

For Daniella Bloch, being a Jewish woman is a major point of inspiration and thought. An observant follower of the faith, Bloch has sought to define and express her feelings from within Judaism in many ways.

She was born and raised in Israel, where she studied ballet at the Bat Dor Academy in Tel Aviv. As a professional dancer, she worked with many companies in Israel and abroad before striking out on her own a year ago to form the Nehara Dance Company. The ensemble, which consists of four practicing Jewish women, melds together religion and movement, providing a platform for the performers and the audience to ask critical questions about the role of religion in daily life.

This week, the Nehara Dance Company will perform a new evening of three choreographies at the Inbal Theater at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv. The performance follows in a line of engagements in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that have further exposed the budding company to the eyes of both the religious and dance communities. It is perhaps the contrast between dance – which many religions find immodest – and ritual practice that makes the works of companies such as Nehara so intriguing. To witness the women of Nehara on stage is to take a rare peek at the ins and outs of this contradiction.

The evening will begin with a piece by choreographer Tami Itzhaki. The work is an exploration of the role of hair in the life of an observant woman. In Itzhaki’s eyes, hair is the part of the body that connects a woman to herself. Many observant women spend the better part of their lives with their hair covered, be it by a scarf or a wig. The moment each woman is able to free her hair is a moment of release and deep enjoyment. Through the piece, the dancers work with their hair as an essential prop, allowing the different situations of their locks to inform their movement.

Together with her husband, Itzhaki has become a pioneer in the world of spiritual dance. Their festival, the Spiritual Dance Festival, offers secular and observant choreographers and dancers an opportunity to explore the place of religion in their lives. The Itzhakis also work with the male counterpart to the Nehara Dance Company, the Ka’et Ensemble.

The second piece of the evening is an intimate look at the daily life of a religious woman. Choreographed by Nehara dancer Snonit Barban, this short piece offers an insider’s perspective on the joys and hardships that women encounter in Orthodox Judaism.

Closing the evening will be Sonia D’Orleans Juste’s Transcending Lights. In her creative process, Juste looked at each dancer’s strengths and weaknesses, focusing on their ability to emit light and energy. The piece is deeply personal to each of the four performers, allowing space for each individual to present herself openly and honestly. Juste is a half French- Canadian, half Haitian choreographer and former professional dancer. She worked with several companies in Canada, such as the Toronto Dance Theater, before moving to Israel to continue her stage life with the Batsheva Dance Company. This is her first creation for the Nehara Dance Company.

The Nehara Dance Company will perform at the Inbal Theater in Tel Aviv on January 29 at 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.


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