The Martha Graham of modern Yiddish dance, Tamara Mielnik, whose Jerusalem Dance
Company, established in Jerusalem in 1985, averages two shows a month at the
Suzanne Dallal center in Tel Aviv, is set to premiere, on February 17, a modern
dance company made up of observant women, who perform for observant
The Jewish Dance Theater, as the new company is called, is “for
women who love ballet; they are dancers, ballerinas, but the lives they lead are
not exactly what is expected among members of a regular ballet troupe. Many are
mothers; some are pregnant even as they rehearse the show.
have to bring their babies or small children to rehearsal,” says Mielnik,
choreographer and artistic director of both companies.
“The idea of
putting the company together came from the fact that many religious women are
dancers and want to realize their potential in a professional way,” she
“Last year I asked an Israeli choreographer to come back from
Germany to direct the main company. Now there are three companies: the main
company, the religious company and the young company with over 40 kids, aged 13
to 18,” she says.
“Now that we have a religious company we are going to
build an audience, because they need it. My idea is to give an opportunity, not
only to the religious performers, but also to build up an audience within the
religious population. They can’t go to see the Batsheva Company, for example,
because it is not tsnua (modest). So we are building a repertoire which is
Mielnik’s repertoire covers insights into facets of Jewish
life. Even the name of the show, Shpirala (spiral), says Mielnik, has
kabbalistic references, and describes the going out into the world and then
coming back to one’s center, to a core of Jewish values.
The company was
inaugurated in January 2012, when rehearsals began for Shpirala.
Mielnik had to carry out auditions within her Jerusalem School of Dance, based
at the Beit Hanoar Haivri in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Mordechai, to
replace three pregnant dancers who were already too far along, but she takes
this as par for the course.
“All my pieces are based in Judaism, and here
I have an opportunity to work with a population that is connected with all my
pieces in a personal way, which is a special experience,” she
Mielnik, the Belgian daughter of Holocaust survivors, has been
dancing and teaching in Israel for almost 40 years, using her life story and
heritage as a basis for her art.
“Dance is not theater,” says Mielnik.
“It is a way to express belief. It is not a story, it is an emotion. I express
my feeling about the Jewish people and about my identity.”
University Theater professor Yehuda Morali has compared Mielnik to Lindsay Kemp
and Pina Bausch, other famous members of the European dance theater movement.
Talmudist Adin Steinsaltz, too, was a great fan of Mielnik’s in the 80s,
appreciating her use of what she defines as “the abstract of
The Jewish Dance Theater is a repertory company, open to all
It consists of 11 dancers, all in their early and
mid-20s, who hail from all over the country, and ballet mistress and rehearsal
director Sveta, who has been teaching ballet within the religious community
“The girls are all very much into spirituality, but they are
still very connected to their rabbis, what he says you can and cannot do, for
TV, for commercials and for photos, etc. We are always discussing what is
possible and what is not possible. We are always in a situation of dialogue and
pluralism, which is very important. Dance is a language which offers opportunity
Dance is a bridge,” says Mielnik.
The Jewish Dance
Theater will premiere Shpirala on Sunday 17 February, at 8:30 p.m. at the
Gerard Behar Center, Bezalel Street, Jerusalem