The freedom to move

At 74, dancer Rina Schenfeld is shaking off her classical background and performing to Shlomo Artzi numbers

Rina Schenfeld521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rina Schenfeld521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rina Schenfeld is living, breathing and pirouetting proof that you’re never too old to get into a new scene.
Now 74 years young, the lithe-as-ever veteran dancer is about to perform a new production entitled Waltz at 5:30, which also happens to be the name of a song by long-standing pop superstar Shlomo Artzi. The show premieres on next week at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Jaffa.
The production’s subtitle is Rina Schenfeld Dances Shlomo Artzi, and there are several other Artzi numbers in the sonic backdrop to the dance show, including “Hiluch Hozer,” “Hom Yuli-August” (July-August Heat) and “Tahat Shmei Yam Tichon,” all of which were smash hits for Artzi in the 1980s and ’90s.
Schenfeld’s original musical soundscape was of a purely classical nature, and she has performed several productions to works by Bach, Chopin et al. But in recent years, she has tuned in to some more contemporary musical material.
“Around three or four years ago I danced to songs by Leonard Cohen, and that opened up new avenues to the public,” she declares. That, she says, not only gave her access to new market sectors, it also had a definitive impact on her choreography and on-stage work.
“Before that, I think my dancing was a bit more closed, and the relationship [between the music and dance] became warmer, more open and more genuine,” she says.
Schenfeld enjoyed the commercial music venture, but followed that with a large number of shows based on classical music, in collaboration with 39-year-old pianist-conductor and composer Gil Shohat. Still, she was keen to feed off something more indigenous.
“I kept wondering when I’d get around to doing something with Israeli music,” she recalls. “That really bugged me.”
The turning point came last year.
“I marked my 50th anniversary as a dancer, and I was doing some performances in the United States,” she explains, “and after that I performed in Poland and Thailand. When I was in America... when we were in a car, someone put a CD of Shlomo Artzi on. I was looking for some music to go with a video presentation I was doing, and I heard Shlomo singing, ‘Yesterday was good, and tomorrow will be, too’ [from the title track of his 1992 album Yareah], and I thought that was perfect for my presentation.”
She soon became an Artzi fan. “I started listening to more of his songs, and my dancers were very happy about it because they were all into his music and they started bringing me more and more of his CDs.”
The choreography for the new show was created independently of Artzi’s music, but Schenfeld says the seeds had already been sown.
“We created the dances irrespectively of the songs, but the energy was there in the background. Then I started taking Shlomo’s songs and matching them with the dance pieces, like the Chance Operations method that [choreographer] Merce Cunningham devised together with [composer] John Cage. Some wonderful things came out, and made up a whole show and, in fact, I had to weed out all sorts of things because there simply wasn’t room.”
ARTZI’S SONGS were not the sole spark for the multidisciplinary Waltz at 5:30 project.
“There are different channels from three languages,” explains Schenfeld. “There are dance, and music with words, and video.”
The final three-pronged production is the sum of works that were created as standalone items and only later merged.
“The video was made separately, with images from my home and studio, and of Tel Aviv,” she says. “You see me, for instance, dancing from the Azrieli Tower with cars zooming past on the Ayalon Highway in the background, and I adapted Shlomo Artzi’s ‘Hiluch Hozer’ to the video. Things come together in a surprising way, and I think very successfully.”
She says she is a keen fan of the go-with-the-flow approach to life: “I hate it when things are all painstakingly planned out.”
Naturally that necessitates an open attitude.
“That’s the objective,” notes the dancer. “The idea is, as you get older, to achieve that release. When you are young, you are suffocated by all the things you are taught. You learn so many things and then it is so tough to unlearn them. I see that with my students. It takes them quite some time to unlearn all the mistakes they make with the way they use their body. Merce Cunningham said you can sit by the sea, and you see a ship in the distance, and close by a child riding a bicycle, and an old man with a dog, and the sky, and you hear all sorts of sounds. No one planned that mixture of things, but you don’t have any trouble managing with it.”
Practice also makes perfect.
“I don’t particularly like the word ‘education’ but it’s all a matter of what you are used to,” she muses. “You might hear some piece of music that you don’t like, or just don’t get, to begin with.... But if you hear it over and over, eventually you will get into it.”
Still, it is not just a matter of tossing the artistic ingredients into the cauldron and letting them brew until a form emerges.
“I studied at the Juilliard School of Music [in New York] in the dance department, and we were taught to dance together with the music, with the tempo,” she says. It was not to her liking.
“The music strangled the movement. It was only in the ’60s, many years later, that the choreographers rebelled and said, ‘We have our own music in our bodies.’ It’s not that I’m against learning the basics – that is very important – but you have to have freedom, too. You have to have the courage to be open, to take risks. But that is the beauty of all art.”Waltz at 5:30 is showing at 9 p.m. on April 25, June 3 and June 17 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Jaffa. For tickets and more information: (03) 510-5656, (03) 604-6745 or