In almost every setting that involves prayer, the number of books and pamphlets will easily outnumber the number of people in the room. Scripture is an almost inseparable part of religious practice.
At the start of the creative process for the Nehara Dance Company’s new evening Draft, which will premiere next week as part of the Suzanne Dellal Center’s Hot Dance Festival, choreographer Rachel Erdos wanted to explore the connection between text and paper to prayer and religious observance.
Erdos had several questions about the subject in mind, such as: Is prayer a moment of personal reflection or a ritualistic recitation of text? Can reading words written by others allow for individual thought? For the four female dancers of the piece – Snunit Baraban, Leia Rose Weil, Tzipi Nir and Dalia Peretz – as well as Daniella Bloch, founder and director of the Nehara Dance Company, prayers are part of everyday life. As religiously observant Jewish women, the cast of Draft have years of firsthand experience with the texts that fill the Siddur.
Bloch founded the Nehara Dance Company in 2012 as an all-female troupe dedicated to presenting a platform for observant women to perform. As an aspiring dancer and later successful performer, Bloch often felt tension between her passion for dance and her religious practice. For years she tried to find a way to bring the two sides of herself together. Then she attended a performance by Ensemble Ka’et, an allmale religious company based in Jerusalem, and was inspired to create a female version of the idea.
Nehara functions as a repertory company. Erdos is the third female choreographer to contribute to the troupe’s works following Tami Itzhaki and Sonia D’Orleans Juste.
To begin their creative journey together, Erdos got down to the basics of text – paper. She entered the dance studio every morning toting packages of A4 paper. The first few days of rehearsal passed in a blur of blank sheets and the sound of crinkling. The material served as fodder for attempts at origami, draft boards for poems and countless paper airplanes. The four dancers of the piece each found her own way of relating to the paper. While one dancer hopped from one sheet to the next in a kind of hopscotch pattern, another perched small birds on her toes, trying to keep them all in place as she moved across the room.
From the investigation of the many forms that paper can take on, the process progressed to the union of togetherness and personal space during prayer. While wishes and words of thanks may be uttered in the heart at any time of day or night, we often convene in order to reach out to a higher power. For observant Jewish women, religious services offer an opportunity to be together, away from members of the opposite sex. This sense of community is echoed throughout the work.
For Draft, Erdos called on longtime collaborator Alberto Schwartz to compose an original score. And they invited singer Sharon Rotter to join the dancers on stage. Costumes by Rosalind Noctor complete the picture beautifully, lending a unifying fabric to the many paper elements on stage.
Draft will premiere at the Hot Dance Festival in Tel Aviv on August 19 at 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.