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
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
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
“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.