Meet the Dance World's Most Surprising Mash-Up: Rabbis who Double as Professional Contemporary Dancers
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.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.