A performer’s dream

Former child prodigy, dancer Momi Rachmo breathes magic into a very special dance troupe.

theater370 (photo credit: Jorge Novominsky)
(photo credit: Jorge Novominsky)
My mouth falls open and tears stream down my face as A Performer’s Dream breaks into its first musical number at the Jerusalem Theater earlier this month.
I have been watching, spellbound, from the opening curtain, when the setting, a cozy bed center stage and an equally cozy grandmother, stage left, combine with the show’s title to give the impression that magic is about to happen.
As a beautiful young actress – wearing pyjamas, socks and her arm in a sling – interprets the sweet Keren Or in need of bedtime babying, the love her grandmother lavishes upon her is so special it touches the hearts of the entire audience. With humor mixed into the fray, Keren Or calls her grandmother back again and again, finally for the classic glass of water, until her savta, exhausted, leaves her to sleep and dream.
Keren Or’s first dream is of the shlosha gamadim, the three dwarves from an Israeli children’s song. Although her arm is in a sling, she plays ball with the dwarves, but her magical moment is interrupted by the arrival of a wicked witch. The girl stands up for her new friends, not afraid to confront the evil presence, and tells the bully to pick on someone its own size.
The scene that follows is so extraordinary it is hard to believe that this is not a Broadway show of the tallest order, put together by lighting experts, costume mavens and choreography geniuses. Covered with chiffon, the dancers whirl and twirl in a controlled frenzy. Their professionalism is unquestionable, especially considering they are a group of people with special needs – accompanied by several madrichim (assistants).
DIRECTOR, CHOREOGRAPHER, creator, costume-maker and scene-builder Momi Rachmo was a child prodigy who found himself at the age of 18 in New York City.
Today he has different priorities as he teaches special young people how to dance.
“All my life, everything I have done has brought me to this,” he says. “Before, when I was young and appearing in front of massive audiences, doing what I did best, I had a large ego.”
But this has brought him back to himself, he says, back to the child within him who trained his classmates to dance at school.
“It means that I closed the circle,” he adds. “God decided I was going to be a dancer, using dance to heal in this ugly world. For the kids it is so deep and strong and important, you can see it is the best thing they do all week. I love to see them.
I know it is my destiny in life, really.”
As a child, says Rachmo, “I used to choreograph whatever I could.” During class breaks he would teach his classmates dances, making them rehearse for shows they would perform for Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) at school. He spent his high school years at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, with Yiddish Dance’s Tamara Mielnik as his first teacher, and he studied with “various Jewish folk dance companies.”
At 16 he joined the Batsheba Ensemble and also danced for the Bat Dor company.
It was at this point that he was discovered by Yigal Perry, who offered him a scholarship to the Peridance Center. By 18 he was in New York and performing across the United States and internationally.
“By the time I was 25,” he says, “after doing Broadway, MTV music clips and all kinds of dances,” he decided he had had enough and wanted to come home.
Back in Israel he wanted to study dance therapy, but there was only one place to do that in the country – Leslie College, and at a masters-degree level. Since he didn’t even have a bachelors degree he spoke to the late Bracha Dudai, his first teacher with a folk dance company. She mentioned that Hora of the Culture Department of the Jerusalem Municipality was looking for volunteers to teach folk dances to a group of “special children.”
“She told me about a group that was doing activities for disabled kids,” he relates. “I volunteered. At first we would work all year to put on a single dance, and now it has become a whole musical.”
The problem, he bemoans, are the conditions under which the dancers have to work. They have no permanent place to rehearse and nowhere to store their costumes, which means that sometimes they have to rehearse without them or have their changes of clothes piled up in a corner.
Worst of all, the rooms they practice in have no mirrors.
“Have you ever heard of dancers rehearsing without mirrors?” he asks.
“I wish to have better conditions for them,” he goes on. “Originally, I did it without caring about the infrastructure, but now I realize they deserve proper conditions.
I need to find a way of raising money for this.”
Another issue is transportation for dancers who have to be brought to rehearsals by family members, or for caretakers who are often busy or do not have vehicles.
RACHMO’S WORK is a true labor of love.
He knows the foibles of each of his troupe members and adapts to deal with them accordingly, weaving their different abilities and disabilities into the choreography itself.
“For me it is entertaining. I am so happy people get it, that people feel it,” he says.
“The father of someone I invited said to me: ‘I have seen many shows, but this is one I will never forget.’” People, he says, have told him that they came to see the show thinking it would be “a different kind of show.” No one expects it to be fully professional.
”I see people crying during the performances, crying from happiness. I see the reactions and see that the audiences really enjoy themselves. People really get it, it touches their hearts,” he says.
His reward is that “I can let people feel. I get nothing material out of it. But these young people, they work on your soul, stir your soul,” he relates. “A lot of people cry during these shows from excitement, not from feeling sorry for them. It is the other side of crying. We touch the other side of people. We awaken the sleeping part of the soul.”
When Rachmo thinks up a show he says he does not think about how he is going to obtain a good performance from the group’s members.
“I think of the concept of the story,” he explains. “I think about the situation on stage. If they are water or wind, I want them to be water or wind, and if they need to reach for the stars, then that is what I want them to do. First comes the story concept, then the movement.”
Twenty years ago, when he started working with the group, if he would tell them to walk and dance “they would stop walking; they didn’t get it.” But over time, slowly, they became more aware, felt more relaxed, expressed themselves more easily” “They know me and I know them. We feed each other,” he explains.
It is also clear how much they love him and what an important part of their lives this has become. Of course, not all the performers have been with him since the start, but over time he has managed to create a cohesive unit.
The show is called A Performer’s Dream, Rachmo says, because he asked them what they wanted it to be about, and they told him they wanted it to be about their dreams.
One of the dreams is to sing a capella.
Another is to sing to the accompaniment of an electronic keyboard, another to play percussion and yet another to be a fairy.
All of these dreams and more come true in the hour-length of the show.
(For more information contact Danny at 050- 5651678.)