Remembering a consummate performer

Sara Levi-Tanai, founder of Inbal Dance Theater and the first person to win an Israel Prize for dance in 1973, passed away last week at the age of 95.

October 10, 2005 15:57
2 minute read.
sara levi-tanai dance theater 88

sara levi-tanai 88. (photo credit: )


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Sara Levi-Tanai, founder of Inbal Dance Theater and the first person to win an Israel Prize for dance in 1973, passed away last week at the age of 95. Tanai was revered as a cornerstone of Israeli culture. Her unique dance dramas were often set in exotic places, incorporating unusual customs and attracting the attention of international audiences. An artist of Yemenite descent, Tanai was born in Jerusalem. As a result of unfortunate circumstances she was raised in an orphanage and exposed primarily to western culture. It would be years before she’d come to know her own rich cultural background. Despite her lack of formal education in the arts, Tanai founded the Inbal Dance Theater in 1949, at the age of 40. With an exceptional ear for music, deep knowledge of the Bible, and endless intellectual interest in Jewish philosophy, she believed in her ability to create a new form of stage art; to go beyond mere folklore and incorporate an indigenous eastern element in her modern dances. In more ways than one, she succeeded. Having adopted a 19th century European Romantic approach to dance, Tanai was aware of the exotic appeal of the eastern motifs in her music and dance compositions. For decades she had strived to codify her dance vocabulary, and define the basic building blocks that will ensure the continuation of her unique language of movement, as did Martha Graham, her role model. This was one task she would never complete. Her company started as a simple, unpretentious group, lacking stage experience, but gifted with unique talent. American choreographer Jerome Robbins (of West side Story fame) spotted her company’s potential and gave the group their first push toward international recognition. For two decades the Inbal Dance Theater was the darling of dance stages in Europe and the States, even taking part in Hollywood productions. But after the Batsheva and Batdor dance troupes arrived on the scene, the glory of Inbal began to wane. In the early Nineties, Tanai was removed from her position as artistic director of Inbal against her will. She was showered with accolades for her artistic achievements, but sadly was left without a venue to express her artistic inclinations afterward. Nevertheless, her achievements are destined to leave a marked imprint on Israeli culture.

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