In 1832, Marie Taglioni danced the role of Sylphide for the first time, a
performance that would change the ballet world forever. Her father, legendary
Swedish choreographer Filippo Taglioni, created the role for his daughter, whose
talents, he felt, needed to be shown. Sylphide was the first lead part danced
entirely on Pointe shoes. Prior to the premier of La Sylphide, women had twirled
on their tiptoes as a kind of stunt, and were generally pushed to the side in
favor of their male counterparts. However, La Sylphide presented dance on Pointe
shoes as a purely feminine, utterly justified element of classical ballet. This
change catapulted female dancers onto their toes and into the spotlight, where
they remain to this day.
Though Taglioni’s debut took place far away and
long ago, the event bears much meaning for Israeli dancer and choreographer Rina
Schenfeld. This month, Schenfeld will unveil her newest in a long string of
evenings, a homage to movement, music and women on stage entitled The
“The place of women in dance interests me. I feel a
continuation, that I am a link in the same chain as Taglioni,” explained
Schenfeld in a recent interview at her home studio on Harav Friedman Street in
north Tel Aviv. Though the piece takes its name from Taglioni’s ballet, the
story is entirely new.
“You won’t find the tale of Sylphide in this
piece, but the motifs, the feeling and the atmosphere are there,” she
Schenfeld is undoubtedly one of Israel’s most highly regarded and
distinguished performers. She is a former star of the Batsheva Dance Company
turned choreographer and the founder of the Rina Schenfeld Dance Theater, which
recently celebrated 35 years of existence. She has enjoyed an
uncharacteristically long career (Schenfeld is in her early seventies and
continues to perform), and shows no signs of slowing down.
This is not
Schenfeld’s first encounter with Taglioni’s ballet.
“There is a picture
of me as a 17-year old dressed as Sylphide,” she said. Then, she was a student
of the famous teacher Mia Arbatova, who helped to open the doors of classical
dance and music for Schenfeld.
“In those first classes, I heard Chopin
for the first time and I felt in love. Chopin is the real story of this
evening,” she explained.
EARLY IN the creative process, Schenfeld
partnered up with Gil Shohat, known Israeli composer, conductor and the director
of the Elysium Ensemble. The two have worked together on several projects in the
past; however, this event marks their fullest and most involved collaboration to
date. Shohat will perform live alongside Schenfeld and her dancers. “I haven’t
danced to live music since my days in Batsheva,” admitted Schenfeld.
dance to live music with Gil is an extraordinary experience. It’s challenging
and requires a lot of work and coordination, but it’s amazing.”
Sylphide is a collection of many short sections: solos, duets and trios woven
together to make a cohesive storyline. Many of these pieces have been pulled
from older works.
“One of the big parts of my research is recycling. I’ve
taken a section that was once a duet and turned it into a solo danced to
Chopin,” she said.
For Schenfeld, reviving and reusing already performed
passages is a choice made not out of laziness, but out of ideology. “I think we
waste way too much today. I recycle a lot of things, plastic bags and parts of
Throughout the evening, Schenfeld will dance the main role,
supported by the dancers of her company, with whom she gladly shares the
“My dancers are mature, talented individuals, who were a huge part
of the creative process of this piece,” she said.
Many of Schenfeld’s
recent works have including strong text, prop and video elements. In Hasoosa,
Schenfeld recounted tales from her childhood, using an array of artifacts. Other
pieces have shown video archives of Schenfeld’s daily life and her original
songs and poetry. However, this tribute to Chopin is dance only, she
“This time I said ‘no props’. I said that Chopin is enough on
his own. The only prop is the dress and the tulle.”
Indeed, one of the
distinguishing traits of Taglioni’s Sylphide was her dress, which Marie
scandalously shortened to reveal her expert footwork.
“After the debut,
women in Paris all wore dresses like the one that Marie wore in the ballet. She
started a trend,” explained Schenfeld.
When she set off on her artistic
quest to recreate Sylphide, Schenfeld knew she had to find the perfect
“I have a bunch of dresses here,” she pointed to the corner of the
room, where a mound of fluffy white tulle lay on the floor. Then, one day,
Schenfeld received a call from a colleague.
“She said she wanted to bring
me a present but wouldn’t say what it was,” she said.
“In my heart I
said, ‘Rina, she’s going to bring you what you’re looking for.’ Then she showed
up with this big package and inside was the dress. It was the kind of
coincidence that I really believe in when I work.”The Sylphide will
premier at the Suzanne Dellal Center on April 4 at 9 PM. For tickets, call
03-510-5656 or visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.
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