Today’s NYT had a nice piece about an Orthodox Dance Ensemble just for men. You can go to their Ka’et website to find out their bios and pieces they perform as well as the schedule of courses. Facebook page of Ka’et Israeli Religious Zionists have created a film school and teach film and poetry in their high schools, here is another element for them to create a rich expressionistic religious life. This are the types of arts which American Orthodoxy lacks.
Perhaps the epitome of this effort is Ka’et, a group of five Orthodox men working under the direction of a Tel Aviv choreographer, Ronen Izhaki. Together they create spare yet emotionally rich work that takes gestures from daily prayer movements along with chants and synagogue attire, and gently shifts and reframes these elements as postmodern dance. It’s a savvy move, reflecting both the explosive body of Ohad Naharin’s choreography and its social opposite, the trancelike swaying of devout Jews in deep prayer. “We are using the stage to awaken a new discussion between our lives and our bodies,” said Amitai Stern, 25, the youngest member of the group.
The men of Ka’et (a Hebrew acronym that means “timely”) are not professional dancers. In their 20s and 30s, some have families; all have day jobs — one is a rabbi at a yeshiva, another works with runaways from ultra-Orthodox homes. But when they made their debut in the fall at the Lab, an important alternative space in Jerusalem, and afterward in sold-out concerts elsewhere, their lack of performing experience didn’t matter. They presented an astonishingly intense dance, “Highway No. 1,” with movement, costumes and sound score taken from Jewish religious practice.
Starting with Emmanuel Witzthum’s techno music overlaid with chanted Kabbalah passages, the dance revealed prayer as not just its medium but also its subject. The men, barefoot and wearing worn slacks and shirts, sway softly, palms forward, eyes rolled back, lips moving noiselessly. Suddenly one begins accelerating his movements. With growing agitation he tries to climb over the others clustered around him — like a sleepwalker driven by a disturbing dream. The ensemble responds reflexively, folding his swimming arms down to his sides and pressing him back into a posture of quiet prayer without breaking the steady rocking motions of their own davening.
When a group of religious men from Mr. Izhaki’s dance school saw a performance, several chuckled out loud at this passage. “It reminds me exactly of when I am praying and an errant thought keeps trying to interrupt me,” one of them, Yuval Azulay, said. “You try to put it aside and get back to the focus of the prayer, but it keeps coming back.”
“Highway No. 1” takes its title from the road connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which epitomize the secular and religious in Israel. “If you work in Jerusalem with religious people, you are right wing,” Mr. Izhaki, 38, said. “And if you live in Tel Aviv and are a dancer, you are left wing and a vegetarian. But I didn’t take the package with either of those.”
The men’s ability to draw religious and secular Israelis into the same theater for a dance performance is highly unusual. Alon Ben-Yaacov, a tour guide and the one member of Ka’et who wears long payos, the side curls of Orthodox Jews, said it took three years for his family members to understand that he wanted to dance, but now, he said, they are supportive.
Hananya Schwartz, the young rabbi in Ka’et, was anxious about his own rabbi’s seeing him dance onstage. His anxiety wasn’t entirely misplaced: after the performance, his rabbi quoted a passage from the Talmud that Mr. Schwartz said could be summed up as “interesting but you are wasting your time.”
… and all of the men said they were looking for a way to teach movement in yeshivas and religious centers.
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