Rina Schenfeld dancing in a 2018 production.
(photo credit: RONI DADON)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said, “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old; they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
According to this theory, Rina Schenfeld is one of the youngest 80-year-olds in the world.
Born and raised in Tel Aviv, the dancer/choreographer is poised to become the first Israeli artist to ever perform on the stage of Paris’s Palais Garnier. And if that weren’t a large enough claim to fame, she will also be the first person to utter the Hebrew language on that stage.
Months ago, Schenfeld received an email inviting her to take part in the Palais Garnier’s operatic interpretation of Jean Racine’s play Berenice. Directed by Michael Jarrell, the libretto follows the tragic love between Titus, the emperor of Rome, and Berenice, the queen of Palestine.
The role offered to Schenfeld was that of Phenice, a trusted confidant of Berenice.
Schenfeld jumped at the opportunity and headed to Paris for a first round of rehearsals. In August, she returned for the second installment of work. She is now preparing to return to Paris for the premiere and six performances of Berenice. If all goes as expected and the performances sell out, 14,000 people will see Schenfeld as Phenice.
Schenfeld is one of the most prolific Israeli performers of all time. She came of age amid a swell of modern dance, studied with Pina Bausch, and danced in works by countless greats such as Martha Graham and Kurt Joos. For decades, she has worked as an independent choreographer, weaving together particles of memory with her signature movement style.
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A tireless artist, she is known to wake up each morning, strut down to her ground-floor studio in northern Tel Aviv, and complete a full ballet barre before most people have poured their first coffee.
Recognized at home and abroad for her impressive contribution to contemporary dance, Schenfeld has been awarded many prizes throughout a long and admirable career, during which she has been a source of great pride to Israel. Among her awards is the EMET Prize, often called the Israel equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
A 2003 EMET Prize laureate, she was honored “for being a dancer, a teacher, prolific and innovative choreographer, and an inquisitive researcher who has contributed greatly to Israeli dance through her unique character as a dancer and created a new standard for excellence, diligence and innovation.”
After five years of studying classical ballet with Mia Arbatova, Schenfeld saw the dancing of Martha Graham, whom she calls “my spiritual mother.” She became so entranced that she felt the need to change her own style and switched from classical ballet to modern dance.
“It’s adding to the basics,” she explained to The Jerusalem Post
earlier this year. “You don’t throw it away.”
The well from which she draws her motivation appears endless, pushing Schenfeld to create new works, seek out performance opportunities and achieve major milestones in her career year after year.
This engagement puts another notch in an already impressive artistic belt.
Rina Schenfeld will perform in Berenice at the Palais Garnier on September 29, October 2, 5, 8, 10, 14 and 17.
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.
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