The Israel Ballet sticks strictly to classical mode

The Israel Ballet celebrates its 40th anniversary this year - a significant number for any company in today's world of dance. Jewish tradition also holds this number in high esteem. "The children of Israel were barefoot in the desert, and not on pointe," laughs Berta Yampolsky, co-founder and director of the Israel Ballet, in response to the observation that the company's beautiful new home is located on Har Nevoh street in central Tel Aviv, named after the mountain from which Moses saw the Promised Land. Yampolsky and her husband Hillel Markman seem to be strangely linked to the biblical story, though they did their wandering in the land of Israel. They are now enjoying the fruits of many years of hard work in their three-floored, futuristic structure tucked between the apartment buildings and trees of Tel Aviv. Also in common with our biblical ancestors, Yampolsky and Markman have stuck meticulously to the 'Torah' of classical ballet, never succumbing to the temptation of breaking the classical mode. Unlike the rest of Israel's numerous dance companies, Yamposky continues to uphold the pure classical tradition. Asked if she is not worried about artistic stagnation, and whether the company would open its doors to any of the well-known Israeli choreographers who have achieved international fame, Yampolsky, remains the epitome of grace and elegance as she eats a piece of dark chocolate and adjusts an earring: "I love modern, but our way is classical, neoclassical, contemporary on pointe. The demand from our public is classical ballet, and the dancers also only want to dance classical works, mainly the Russian dancers. They even have a hard time with the neoclassical repertoire. We're so pressed for time, we can't experiment." Markman and Yampolsky are satisfied with the company they founded. "We have a world-class company to be proud of. We are unique. There are many modern companies in Israel, but we have survived as a pure classical ballet company. The response of a loving, appreciative public encourages us all the time. Our sore point is funding; we need much more government support. I'm constantly worried about paying the dancers on time, they earn so little. What we need is a dance-loving patron." Nonetheless, the company is still the biggest in Israel, boasting 20 immigrant Russian-Israeli dancers and 15 locals. The repertoire includes classical as well as neoclassical works, some of them choreographed by Yampolsky, who also serves as house choreographer. The indefatigable couple have started a second company for younger dancers. They gain experience as they perform for children's audiences. Two dancers from the main company will soon be conducting choreographic workshops with the aim of creating new ballets for the younger one. One of the most exciting new events is "Exposure - Who's Afraid of Ballet?" a lecture demonstration in the 300-seat studio. This hour-long show in full costume is for all ages, and appeals even to audiences who have never seen ballet. "We had a group from the ORT school and were afraid that they wouldn't be quiet or would fall asleep. But for a whole hour they didn't move! The magic of classical ballet must have touched them." Besides all the activity, there is also a newly founded ballet school that boasts 150 young students. To keep everything running smoothly, manager Dan Rudolf was brought in. "I always thought classical ballet was boring, for the old folks," he admits. "People tried to warn me not to take the job. I got such a surprise when I saw the discipline and quality of the dancers. The dancers here actually dance; they don't just fall and roll on the floor, as in modern dance." Onegin by John Cranko, a popular ballet from their classical repertoire, will be performed at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on June 3, 4 and 5.