Spirituality and Modern Dance

October 5, 2011

The Gerard Behar Center is a home for the arts in downtown Jerusalem. Vertigo Dance Company and Kolben Dance each have spaces there, and there are two performance halls as well. I went down there last week to drop in on a Kolben Dance company class. Last night, after what was a long day of class and rehearsal, a number of us went down to the Gerard Behar Center to see the first of two nights of a small choreography festival.

From what I understand, the choreographers were prompted to create works that have to do with spirituality, or religion in Jerusalem. After each piece, the choreographers were interviewed by a religious scholar, and questions from the audience were welcomed. There may be other details, but the entire evening was in Hebrew. I was lucky to be sitting next to Inbar, one of my friends from the Academy. She translated a lot of information for me, and for that I am truly grateful!

There were two pieces shown last night, and two pieces that I’ll miss tonight because of academic classes.


שלושים ושלוש חרוזים

The first piece, choreographed by רונית זיו (Ronit Ziv), was entitled ” חרוזים 33 ” or “33 Beads.” What could be considered more dance theater and akin to some works I’ve seen by emerging choreographers in Brooklyn, the piece followed a man searching for spirituality in different places. (I recognized the main dancer, Stefan Ferry, from a Batsheva Dance Company video clip.) There were props included:  a record player and records, large beads, and a costume change. There was text used, in English, French, but mostly in Hebrew. There were three dancers on stage.

Before the show started, I speculated that the 33 beads were a reference to the beads of a Catholic rosary (and they were!). In the discussion afterward, the choreographer revealed that in her process, she used thirty-three photos of people in different forms of prayer, and drew from those images to create movement.


עזרת נשים

Coming to Jerusalem, I had seen a piece on YouTube by דפי אלטבב (Dafi Altabeb), called “Basbusot.” The second piece I saw in last night’s festival by the same choreographer was called “עזרת נשים” or “Women’s Section.” The piece included seven female dancers, with a soloist performing at the beginning and end. The staging and transitions were tricky and seamless. The dance was amazingly well rehearsed. Paul had explained to us that the piece was based on prayers that are said before you sleep and after you wake. I was hypnotized by the piece from beginning to end.


Spirituality and Dance Choreography

Preparing for my studies in Israel, I understood that I would be immersed in spirituality. Now that I’m here, I regularly hear the Islamic calls to prayer, Jewish shofarim, and people singing. I’m in Jerusalem! I am surrounded by people with strong religious beliefs.

Because of this immersion, I am inevitably in a constant state of introspection. I find myself asking many general questions. I ponder about spirituality as a human practice, why it’s done, and what parallels and incongruencies I can find in my own life. But the questions haven’t yet led me to a clearer understanding of my own self and spirituality.

Ronit Ziv had said (and approximately, because I’m relaying a translation) that when she went into the studio to research prayer, she didn’t know where to start. “Me, pray?” She stood up before the audience and bent over forward to touch her head to her knees. I assume that she explained that simply doing that upon walking into the studio is a kind of prayer. Furthermore, in relation to the piece she presented, she claimed that asking questions is a form of prayer.

I can’t say that I belong to a particular faith. But I do ask a lot of questions. And that, it seems, is spiritual in itself. I ask. Then think. Then perhaps find understanding. Or more questions. Questioning is already a part of my own physical research. “How can I access different muscles? How can I imagine soft flesh with heavy bone movement?”

My task now is to hone this flow of consciousness–to apply it to my own dance choreography. Last night, Ronit Ziv and Dafi Altabeb bared to the audience their processes and research, and I left the Gerard Behar Center inspired to ask my own questions.



  1. carlo,
    it is wonderful to hear about your ongoing reflections on these and other “big issues.” i’m quite sure that this process will deepen your choreographic and technical inquiries. thanks for posting!
    ps. good to hear that you’ve encountered many spiritual traditions, and also, it seems, the deep secularism of much of the israeli populations. however, the idea of asking questions as a form of prayer certainly makes sense to me…

    • Jeff, I must tell you I am floored to be here doing Yom Kippur… Thoughts to follow this weekend…

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