Rising high

This year’s Spiritual Dance Festival draws on the principles present in the physical act of prayer.

Ronen Itzhaki’s work ‘Gartel’ 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ronen Itzhaki’s work ‘Gartel’ 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Melveli Order of Turkey, otherwise known as the Whirling Dervishes, believe that through physicality, one can connect to achieve religious ecstasy. The dervishes’ prayer is a mesmerizing practice of spinning on the right foot. Indeed, almost every religious sect incorporates some form of physical activity in prayer. Christians kneel at the pew, while Jews rock back and forth while in prayer. It seems that the link between spirituality and physicality is undeniable.
Now in its second year, the Spiritual Dance Festival draws on this principle. Initiated by Jerusalem’s The Lab and the Choreographers’ Association, the festival asks choreographers to approach dance from a spiritual perspective and vice versa. This month, the festival will present premieres by four local independent choreographers at the Leo Model Theater in the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem.
This year, the directors of the festival asked the four participating choreographers to explore the idea of prayer. Each was free to investigate the topic in whichever ways they found fit. Their cast choices, musical decisions and compositional preferences define the four pieces to be premiered. The one criterion was that each choreographer had to create the work from scratch with prayer in mind.
All of this seemed so natural for choreographer Ronen Itzhaki. For him, spirituality and dance go hand in hand. “I began to dance intuitively without too much formal training, and I found that within my body there was sanctity.
The body holds many secrets,” said Itzhaki. “In this country, dance and politics are so often linked together, which causes a lot of people here to reject Judaism. But for me, they are very separate. I don’t feel I have to apologize for my practice or my beliefs.”
Itzhaki and his wife Tammy has been creating dance together for several years. Last year they presented the trio What Have You Done? during the Curtain Up Festival at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
“In our work, we always begin with a biblical story and then translate it into dance,” explained Itzhaki in a recent interview. The Itzhakis are putting the final touches on Gartel, their second premiere to be shown under the umbrella of this festival. Last year, they created an all-male choreography for Spiritual Dance using students from a religious seminary. This year, they focused their narrative around women.
“The key was the idea of being off balance. From there we decided that we wanted our dancers to wear pointe shoes. The piece is 25 minutes, during which the dancers are on the tips of their toes for about 20,” said Ronen. For the past five months, the two have spent hours upon hours investigating on their own and with their cast.
The title “Gartel” is drawn from the belt worn by religious Jews, most often during prayer. During their many hours in the studio, the Itzhakis began to see parallels between classical dancers and the devout. “Ballerinas also wear these little belts around their waist, which was just one of many similarities we found as we dug into this theme,” said Itzhaki. “In classical dance there is this desire to be like angels, to float around the stage. There is a yearning for the skies,” explained Itzhaki. “In Judaism as well as in Islam, the biggest mitzva one can do is to become one with God. So there, there is also a desire to rise up.”
Joining Gartel in this year’s program are About Resilience, a work in progress by Arkadi Zaides and Ehud Darash; Women’s Aid by Dafi Eltabeb; and 33 Beads by Ronit Ziv. The first evening of the festival will host Eltabeb and Ziv, the second the Itzhakis and Zaides.
The Spiritual Dance Festival will run on October 4 and 5 at the Gerard Behar Center. For tickets, call Beit Avi Chai at (02) 621-5900.