Ka’et Orthodox Dance Ensemble

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.

Whirling Along The Borders Of Israeli Life By JANICE ROSS

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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7 responses to “Ka’et Orthodox Dance Ensemble

  1. Random related thoughts on Orthodoxy the body:
    The other day I was at a fascinating forum made up mainly of Dati Israelis – along with two American olim, including myself. The topic was the sexual challenges of singles – especially older singles – in the Orthodox community. It was fascinating to watch the different discourses, Israeli and American, take shape. The Israeli discourse about the body was so different than the American Modern Orthodox one – or lack thereof. One hippy-ish Israeli there who has trained seriously in tai chi and leads a chabura in Jewish sources and body movement gave an impassioned speech about how sexuality should be allowed to flourish independently of relationships, issurim like negiah and shikhvat zera levatala, etc.
    I cannot for a moment imagine anything similar being said at an American MO gathering about singles and sexuality…

  2. Random response to the random thoughts on the body;
    As a single person who does an internal tai chi related system, I’m amazed this Israeli seriously trained in chi-work didn’t discuss *sublimating* the sexual thoughts, drives and body functions into cultivating such energy productively…which is precisely a component of these systems! And I think THAT does need to ‘flourish’ in Judaism. There are such profoundly unhealthy views of the body going on in the world at large, observant Jewish societies have lashed back not simply the ‘other’ direction – but away from the body as such. I think this Israeli was seriously trained in being Israeli more than anything else.

  3. That’s precisely what he was talking about, but he considered it a nonconventional form of sexuality.

  4. The old joke of the necktie being a brisker gartel has much truth for the Orthodox world writ large. To extend the joke/metaphor a bit, perhaps many Modern Orthodox Americans look to moving to Israel in order to no longer having to wear a tie.

  5. That is certainly the case with me and some of my friends – and I refer more to the Platonic tie.

  6. but you’d said Israeli wanted that sexuality should be allowed to flourish apart from relationships – I’m not sure what other sexuality was intended, as you then listed what are generally considered issurim outside of sanctioned relationships. Chi Gong and tai chi and similar systems have people – within the parameters of their own bodies – conceiving of sexual energy as something that can be and should be refined and channeled, and then manipulate it through routes throughout the body (and not confined to ‘their’ organs), to lead to healing, vitality and with practice, higher insight – again, for the most part in ways that aren’t the issurim you describe that the Israeli seemed to be encouraging. It is not necessary to physical touch anyone to do much of this work, and avoiding emission for any but reproductive purposes is something precisely esteemed.

  7. I must not have been clear:
    “sexuality should be allowed to flourish independently of relationships, issurim like negiah and shikhvat zera levatala, etc.”]
    Sexuality is independent of (1) negiah (2) shikhvat zera, ec. He was saying what anyone mildly familiar with sexuality studies knows. That sexuality is not simply using sexual organs or erotic touching… We are both saying the same thing.

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