Still kicking after all these years

Celebrating her golden jubilee, Rina Schenfeld, the first lady of Israeli dance, has outlived passing trends.

Rina Schenfeld dance 370 (photo credit: Ilan Besor)
Rina Schenfeld dance 370
(photo credit: Ilan Besor)
Aside from the obvious functions such as eating, sleeping and breathing, few people can say they have done any one thing for 50 years. Especially when that thing is as physically challenging as professional dance. But for dancer and choreographer Rina Schenfeld, the golden jubilee is just one more landmark on a truly singular, awe-inspiring career path.
As a creature of the stage, Schenfeld has chosen to mark this momentous occasion with a tour of performances. This month, Schenfeld, along with Maestro Gil Shohat, will present Bach, an evening-length work danced by Schenfeld and company to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Freshly back from an engagement at the Off The Edge Festival in Atlanta, Bach will enjoy its Israeli premier at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
Schenfeld is often referred to as the queen of Israeli dance, a title she wears with pride. She has outlived various trends, troupes and tribulations in the local community, remaining a beacon of elegance and grace.
Her story and the history of Israeli dance are virtually inseparable.
Born in 1938, Schenfeld began classical ballet training in Tel Aviv. Schenfeld first set foot in a dance studio in the early 1950s, a time when modern dance was a fringe form practiced by rebels and free spirits. In 1956, while the company was in town, Schenfeld attended a performance of the Martha Graham Company. Sitting in the auditorium, Schenfeld knew that she had found her calling.
She quickly transferred her training to modern dance, merging streams with a movement that was quickly renovating the international dance world. In the years since, modern technique has become the main dance practice in Israel, transitioning from side dish to main course.
Eight years after that life-changing moment with the Graham Company, Baroness Batsheva De Rothschild came to Israel to establish the Batsheva Dance Company. Schenfeld spent 14 years as a soloist and choreographer for the troupe, leading her fellow dancers in repertory by some of the world’s leading choreographers.
Martha Graham’s voice was a major influence in the company in those years and continues to be an inspiration in Schenfeld’s choreographies.
In 1978, Schenfeld broke off to start the Rina Schenfeld Dance Theater, which she has kept alive until today. In 2005, Schenfeld was listed as one of the 200 greatest Israelis of all time.
For the past several years, Schenfeld has collaborated with composer and conductor Gil Shohat. Their mutual love of music has brought forth pieces such as La Sylphide, an ensemble piece dedicated to the life work of Frederic Chopin. “She’s a real artist,” said Shohat of Schenfeld.
As always, costumes play a large role in this work. In Bach, Schenfeld wears a dress that her fans may recognize. Designed by Inbal Leiblich for Schenfeld’s Dance Me To The End Of Love to songs by Leonard Cohen, this larger that life garment has taken on an integral role in Schenfeld’s eyes.
“That dress became a second skin for me and it’s impossible to remove it,” Schenfeld explained.
“In the design of this piece, I rediscovered my love of recycled costumes and materials.”
In this way, Bach represents a kind of collage of past staged moments.
During the 20 vignettes that comprise Bach, Schenfeld takes the audience through a colorful labyrinth of images and memories.
At times, Schenfeld’s dancers seem to represent former versions of her; dressed in fluffy tutus leaping through the air.
As in many of her works, Schenfeld has incorporated video and props. Video artists Shiro Takatani from Japan and Yuval Cohen wove together a dreamlike sequence to compliment Schenfeld’s movement.
Beyond her many awards and achievements, Schenfeld’s most impressive claim is that she is seemingly tireless. At 74, Schenfeld has the energy of a woman half her age. Her daily routine includes a session spent stretching, hours in the studio with her cast of dancers, quality time with her growing family and development on ongoing artistic processes. After all of these years, Schenfeld admits that she still wakes with the same questions every morning: is life art or is art a choice? Perhaps it is this dilemma that has propelled her to create and that inspires her to continue performing.
Bach will run at the Suzanne Dellal Center on May 28, June 2, June 11 and July 16. For more information, visit