Ori Lenkinski brings ‘Jackie’ to Mahaneh Yehuda

SINCE MAKING aliyah in 2007, Canada-born, New York-bred Tel Avivian Lenkinski has become a fixture on the local dance scene.

Jackie in the market (photo credit: ELAD SCHECHTER)
Jackie in the market
(photo credit: ELAD SCHECHTER)
In these days of reality TV, ubiquitous social networks and smartphone cameras, not to mention the myriad surveillance image-capturing devices stationed all over the show, it is hard to imagine a time when anywhere was considered off limits. But before Jackie Kennedy introduced an international audience to some of the interior design treasures of the White House, on Valentine’s Day 1962, only a privileged view had ever seen the inside of the US president’s official residence.
That landmark TV coverage, with what now seems a very stilted session with the then-first lady and CBS News correspondent Charles Collingwood, opened the door for what eventually became a deluge of voyeuristic-leaning “entertainment.”
It also serves as the artistic springboard for Ori Lenkinski’s slot at the forthcoming seventh edition of the annual From Jaffa to Agrippas Festival, which takes place in and around Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market under the auspices of the c.a.t.a.m.o.n dance group in Jerusalem, which works out of Alliance House, the delightful 19th-century edifice located right next to the shuk. The two-dayer (September 9-10) is primarily a dance-based event with plenty of edibles thrown in, and all overseen by joint artistic directors Elad Schechter, who also serves as general manager, and Sofia Kranz.
SINCE MAKING aliyah in 2007, Canada-born, New York-bred Tel Avivian Lenkinski has become a fixture on the local dance scene, besides fitting in contributions to The Jerusalem Post about her professional beat. Her North American backdrop coupled with artistic insight and experience make the Kennedy-style romp through the shuk an ideal vehicle for both Lenkinski and the festival attendees.
“I suppose I would say it is a presidential, historic and choreographic tour of the market,” she notes, “as Jackie Kennedy, or as a character I’ve developed which is somewhere between myself and Jackie Kennedy.”
The mention of Kennedy’s name, for anyone of a certain vintage – let’s delicately place that in the 60ish and over age bracket – instantly conjures up images of her by the side of her husband Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis in the late sixties-mid-seventies, or, more probably, as the wife and then widow of slain US president John F. Kennedy in the early sixties.
Lenkinski says her shuk performance is more a tribute to the woman herself, rather than as the distaff side of this or that famous male figure. “I am not that interested in Jackie as the first lady or Onassis’s wife. I am more interested in her as her own woman.”
It has been a slow boiler, and has an artistic forebear. “I have been working with information about her for over a year now,” explains Lenkinski. “I premiered a piece last summer that was based on her tour of the White House. It was a piece called ‘The Suit’ in which I gave a two-dimensional tour of the Tmuna Theater’s biggest space, the parking lot. There is the tour part of the piece, and the more personal part of the piece, which is a combination of my history and Jackie’s.”
The creation gradually took on a life of its own. “The piece began to be invited by a number of theaters, so I would rewrite the text each time, to point out the less glamorous corners, or details, of each location and then highlight them in a very presidential and positive way.”
Sounds like a fundamentally oxymoronic line of thought, and one that seems eminently commensurate with the spirit of the shuk, and with its street-level daytime grime and kaleidoscope of human-driven hustle and bustle. And then there is the after-hours transformation which, in pre-pandemic times, brought thousands of people from all over the country to the market, to sample some of the variegated vittles and booze and enjoy the outdoor musical offerings.
It is something of a challenging venture for Lenkinski, which is supported by fruit and alcohol beverages company Machya 13. Art often acts as a means for challenging thoughts, emotions and, indeed, juxtapositions that seem at odds with acceptable modes of behavior.
Lenkinski embraces that with gusto. “There is something that really doesn’t make sense about Jackie being here now, in Israel, and the language and everything. I was offered by the festival to bring Jackie into the market, in whatever way I thought, and it turns into a tour. It is like a walking tour of the market, which culminates with dinner at Rachmo restaurant, which is the oldest restaurant in the market.”
Art and reality interweave as Lenkinski makes her way along the alleyways of the shuk, shades, cocktail dress and high heels notwithstanding. “The tour goes back and forth between factual historic information about the market and what has happened there and how it has developed, with anecdotes from my and her [Jackie’s] lives. There is sublimation between the characters.”
IT HAS been a voyage of discovery for Lenkinski, and sometimes an uphill struggle with plenty of zigzagging and dead ends en route.
“The shuk, as I have learned about it in my research, holds a lot of secrets and mysteries,” she says. “The locals are not very forthcoming with information. I’ve had to do quite a lot of digging to find out why things are the way they are, who was in charge, who handed things over and who is there now.”
There has been nary a breather on offer. “The shuk is constantly changing even now,” Lenkinski adds. “The focus of the festival is the shuk at night. This is a relatively new development. It has only been around 20 years that there have been any kinds of bars or that sort of thing there.”
The neighborhood is also undergoing the counterpoint tension spawned by the interface between the past and the movement into a “brave new world” for the timeworn distric
“I think there is real loyalty, among the shuk stall owners, to the history and legacy and what’s there, and who has been there. I don’t think the locals are very keen on the gentrification of the market. It is not always met with open arms,” says Lenkinski with more than a touch of understatement.
All of which will come into play, in her Lenkinski-Kennedy trip through the much beloved Jerusalem spot and, no doubt, the festival agenda which stretches around the area, taking in the likes of Alliance House and Muslala over in the Clal building.
For more information about the From Jaffa to Agrippas Festival: www.catamon.com