Dance Review: The movement of a massacre

"Thirteen Fragments" is an exploration of the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.

“THIRTEEN FRAGMENTS” takes apart the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, performed by choreographer Abigail Rubin and dancer Ran Ben-Dror (photo credit: Courtesy)
“THIRTEEN FRAGMENTS” takes apart the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, performed by choreographer Abigail Rubin and dancer Ran Ben-Dror
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In modern Israeli political discourse, many mark the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a critical turning point, a moment that continues to define the country’s standing. Choreographer Abigail Rubin subscribes to a different theory, one that takes one step further back into Israel’s history to isolate not Yigal Amir’s action but the origins of his motivation.
“Fourteen years ago, Baruch Goldstein walked into the Cave of the Patriarchs and committed a massacre,” she explains over the phone. “After this massacre, this book came out called Baruch The Man. Yigal Amir read this book and was inspired to assassinate Rabin.”
Rubin, 38, is a graduate of the School of New Dance Development (SNDO) in Amsterdam. She has been presenting work as an independent choreographer since 2003. In 2004, she received the Culture and Sport Ministry’s prize for outstanding young choreographer. In 2009, she founded the Homemade Ensemble with her life and work partner, actor and director Yoav Bartel. Together, they have created dance theater works such as “Shall We Dance,” “Yabalek,” “Drop Dead,” “Ambush” and “Hummus, Chips, Salad.”
In their new work, Rubin and Bartel deeply explore the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre. Entitled “Thirteen Fragments,” the duet is performed by Rubin and dancer Ran Ben-Dror.
For both Rubin and Bartel, the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre stands out as a pivotal event from their childhood.
“It’s one of the events I remember most clearly from when I was growing up,” explains Rubin. And though they both recalled the outline of what had happened, it took a deep dive into newspapers and literature to get to the details. “We did a lot of research, a lot of reading and watching, a lot of talking.”
Rubin and Bartel then took the event and broke it into components.
“It took Goldstein 1.5 minutes to walk into the mosque and kill all those people,” Rubin says. “We took that act and fragmented it in small particles. We turned that 1.5 minutes into a 45-minute piece. We wanted to see how we could embody the massacre in movement in drama.”
The process began one year ago with a ball game.
“We played a children’s game where people throw the ball at each other, which is called Chayei Sarah in Hebrew, which is similar to dodge[ball.] When we started to read about it, we found that the name is connected to the Cave of Patriarchs. So, we had the game and the movement of the massacre. That felt like an interesting beginning to look at,” Rubin recalls.
Bartel devised 13 themes or concepts to address. Rubin and Ben-Dror then went into the studio and worked with those ideas to generate movement. Rubin gives an example: “Yoav wanted to see how we take a gun and decompose it, how we take apart a weapon. How you take apart a weapon became a physical thing. We started with videos on YouTube of children taking apart weapons in half a minute. Then we did it ourselves, without the weapon, then we transcribed the movement on my body. How do you take apart a female dancer as you take apart a weapon? We made it into a movement language.”
Other themes they considered were Goldstein’s steps into the cave, the movement of the bullets and the reactions of those entering the mosque following the massacre. Rubin and Ben-Dror spent months embodying each of these types of movement.
“The process became heavy, but I don’t say that in a bad way,” Rubin adds.
Three weeks ago, Rubin and Bartel took a trip to Hebron to see the location of the event they had spent so long interpreting.
“We’ve never been there before,” she says. “When we went there, we physically understood the place that we are trying to make on stage. As a performer, I feel engaged more because I know where he walked, where the shooting happened because I saw it. This helped me to be clearer about it.”
Now, just a few days before the premiere, Rubin is prepared to reveal her most political piece to date.
“In these times, we have to do a political piece,” she says. “Because of this whole Loyalty in Culture bill that Miri Regev is championing, we, as artists feel pressure not to do this or that. You censure yourself anyway. But I feel it’s that much more important now because of this. The more she talks about it, the more artists feel we need to respond to it.”
Rubin goes on to add that while she and Bartel had every interest in exposing the event at the highest physical resolution possible, they did not come to share bias.
“I don’t feel we are taking a side. I think we’re showing this and asking the audience to think what they feel about it. The piece is either making amends with it or getting to understand that it’s part of our history and we have to accept it,” she says.
“Thirteen Fragments” will be presented on Thursday, November 15 at Tmuna Theater. For more information, visit