Breaking Stereotypes

Meet the Dance World's Most Surprising Mash-Up: Rabbis who Double as Professional Contemporary Dancers

Ka'et Contemporary Dance Ensemble in the studio. Still from IFAF documentary.

Mash-ups aren't uncommon in the dance world: Performers of varying styles have been known to share the stage, from ballerina Tiler Peck and famed clown Bill Irwin to Michelle Dorrance, who's mixed tappers and break-dancers. Likewise, collaborations between choreographers and artists from seemingly mismatched disciplines have produced magical creations, such as Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream, featuring Mark Ryden's whimsical and even grotesque designs and costumes.

But the Israeli troupe Ka'et Contemporary Dance Ensemble has found success in one of the most unlikely partnerships: Secular contemporary choreographer Ronen Itzhaki creates movement for a group of rabbis and religiously observant men.

The International Fine Art Fund, a nonprofit organization that shines a light on artists worldwide, recently visited Ka'et in rehearsals in Israel. This five-minute documentary is a testament to Itzhaki's unconventional work, and the power of movement to unite and nourish across religious divides.

In the video, Itzhaki explains how the group was born: When he was a young choreographer in Tel Aviv, a group of religious men invited him to work with them. Despite not knowing much about Judaism, except from popular culture, he accepted. "They paid me, and I had to make my living," he says. Itzhaki goes on to admit that it only took 10 to 15 minutes for him to fall in love with them.

"Usually, people think in boxes," he says, "like 'I am a religious man' or 'I am a choreographer. I live in Tel Aviv.' And in Israel there is very clear boxes...So, when I met these people, I met people who live out of the box and think out of the box. I've been touched by this."

While an abstract art form may seem at odds with the disciplined life of a rabbi, Itzhaki says Ka'et has allowed the men to respectfully explore their boundaries. "Because the dancers are very religious, and because they love their Jewish-ness...they can play with it," he says.

The troupe also takes contemporary dance into the Orthodox community. The company members are not just deeply religious men who want to memorize dance moves, but artists whose performances are full of emotion, humanity and arresting beauty.

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Breaking Stereotypes
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