Rina Schenfeld steps into the role

With a new work premiering this week, the renowned Israeli choreographer and dancer is still going strong.

Rina Schenfeld seen here performing her latest piece, ‘The Dancer Forgets A Step.’ (photo credit: GADI DAGON)
Rina Schenfeld seen here performing her latest piece, ‘The Dancer Forgets A Step.’
(photo credit: GADI DAGON)
To the outside world, Rina Schenfeld appears tireless. The committed dancer, the graceful ager, the fierce matriarch. And yet, most days, Schenfeld, 77, has to convince herself to walk down the stairs into the studio on the ground floor of her home.
“I wake up and I don’t feel like dancing,” she admits following a rehearsal of her new solo The Dancer Forgets A Step. “I have lots of troubles. But when I get into the studio and I start to set up the props, I slip into a different world. Props love me and I love them. For me, objects are the whole point. Without them, I can’t dance.”
Schenfeld’s new evening, which includes The Dancer Forgets A Step and a new group piece entitled Pizzicato, will premiere tonight at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
For many years, since starting her own company, Schenfeld has presented a type of object theater to her audience. Though firmly based in modern dance techniques, Schenfeld’s aesthetic includes jaunts into other genres such as video art, multi-media, theater and poetry. This new production is no exception. In the course of the 45-minute solo, Schenfeld interacts with wigs, masks, costumes, dishes, screens, balloons, video, music, spoken word, pieces of foil and more.
The Dancer Forgets A Step began with poems.
“Yossi Yizraeli gave me 10 books of his poetry a long time ago,” explains Schenfeld. “I was very inspired by his words. I asked him if it was possible to record sentences from the poems, to create a structure out of pieces of the poems that I could then dance to. I made myself a kind of dance play.”
Schenfeld uses Yizraeli’s poetry as a backdrop against which she creates a collage of images. Music by Romanian composer Roman Balenescu illuminates the words with melody.
At one point, a projection of a masked and hooded figure gesturing in slow, butoh-esque motion fills a makeshift silver screen. Moments later, Schenfeld dons the same mask with a number of different wigs. The various hair colors seem to seep directly into Schenfeld’s body, throwing her into different moods and movement styles. Further into the work, Schenfeld wields two long poles, each of which is outfitted with three golden balloons. The metallic theme, which is a recurring visual in many of her works, harks back to her childhood, Schenfeld explains.
“As a girl, I used to collect pieces of foil, anything that was shiny. I would look for candy wrappers, clips, shreds of confetti. In The Dancer Forgets A Step, I allowed myself to touch on that place inside of myself. A lot of these props were recycled from other objects.” Schenfeld points out two vases of flowers, which she sculpted from chocolate wrappers, a gift brought to her from abroad.
The desire to give objects new life is a major element in Schenfeld’s artistic and personal lives.
“I hate how wasteful our society is. We are constantly picking things up and throwing them out. It’s disgusting.
Everything gets filled with trash. I want to find a way to keep things alive, to give them a new home, a new identity.”
Longevity, one could argue, is Schenfeld’s greatest virtue. As the many talented dancers who shared the stage with her in her youth moved on to other pursuits, Schenfeld stayed committed to performing, facing down hardship after hardship. To see her perform is to partake of a rare experience, the observance of an older dancer.
Her company, which is comprised of 11 dancers from Israel and abroad, receives bare-bones funding from government sources.
“I invest a lot of my own money to make these productions possible because I need to do this, I believe in this. My works are about the magic of this career, this form in a chaotic and insufferable world. This is my little corner,” she says.
Sharing the evening with The Dancer Forgets A Step is a new group work entitled Pizzicato. This work, too, is danced to music by Balenescu. Here, Schenfeld put her props aside to focus on pure movement. “Everyone brought their own bits of movement. I worked as Pina Bausch did, giving each of my dancers time and space to make their own phrases, then putting them together.”
Following the Suzanne Dellal Center performances, Schenfeld will travel to perform in Thailand.
The Dance Forgets A Step will run at the Suzanne Dellal Center tonight, May 28 and June 2. For more information, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il.