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Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance ed. by Judith Brin Ingber (review)

From: Journal of Jewish Identities
Issue 5, Number 2, July 2012
pp. 83-85 | 10.1353/jji.2012.0019

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Judith Brin Ingber has long been an important scholar of Jewish dance in both Israel and the United States and in Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance, she has collected in a single volume a diverse and important array of contributions to the literature on dance and its role in the construction of multiple Jewish identities. This volume's chapters, many of which have appeared in other venues, concern dance traditions and events in Israel, the United States, and Europe, and the contributors represent this geographical and cultural diversity as well. Updated, revised, or expanded material from two special journal issues edited by Brin Ingber forms the backbone of the book, along with four new pieces and an important older work. Most of the chapters focus on folk dance or modern dance (concert dance), an unusual combination in one anthology.

The volume enacts contemporary theoretical and methodological concerns in Dance Studies, including the voices of choreographers and performers, critics, and scholars trained in history, anthropology and sociology, and performance studies. Brin Ingber's own "Shorashim: The Roots of Israeli Folk Dance" includes lengthy sections from oral history interviews first conducted in the 1970s with individuals who participated in the creation of a body of Israeli folk dance. Their words are introduced, clarified, and commented upon by Brin Ingber, who aims to show the roles specific individuals played in the creation of dance traditions, even as Socialist Zionist ideology attributed them to anonymous groups.

In her introduction, Brin Ingber addresses the challenging question of what makes something "Jewish" and notes the multiple identities, religious and secular, that the word encompasses. In their variety, the chapters implicitly compare Israeli experiences of "Jewishness" to those of Jews living outside Israel, and in the final chapter, Israeli dance critic and writer Gaby Aldor addresses the issue more explicitly, particularly in the context of theatrical modern dance. Brin Ingber's introduction also briefly identifies the various dance genres considered in the book, the often slippery boundaries between them, and both the tensions that arise around and investments made in their distinctions. She goes on to address other general topics relevant to investigations of Jewish dance: commonly-used movements and themes, attitudes within Judaism about the body, conceptions of time and place, and the impact of the diaspora and the varied Jewish cultures that have resulted. Because the introduction tries to cover so much territory and raise so many issues, it offers readers entry points but few conclusions. It does not provide a particularly useful overview of the individual chapters.

Several chapters draw attention to and document dance practices among national minority Jewish groups in Israel: Kurds, Yemenites, and Ethiopians. All three of these focus on the importance of danced traditions in the maintenance of immigrant identity and the negotiation between cultural preservation and assimilation. Other chapters present memoir, biographical accounts, or chorographic analyses of the work of individual performers or choreographers, for example Sara Levi-Tani, Felix Fibich, and Leonid Jacobson. Jill Gellerman's chapter focuses on the simcha dancing organized by Lubavitcher girls and compares it with the more visible dancing of the men in the streets of Crown Heights, New York.

Josh Perelman and Naomi M. Jackson examine the work of Jewish American modern dance choreographers. They argue that these choreographers' representations of Jews and Jewish traditions on stage both reflected and shaped perceptions of American Jewishness. In "I'm the Everybody Who's Nobody, I'm the Nobody Who's Everybody," Perelman examines the 1940s choreography of Jewish-American modern dancer Sophie Maslow. He argues that the left-wing Popular Front ideology in her dances helped construct Jews in America as socially integrated "members of a general—albeit imagined—American folk." (95) Similarly, in "Searching for Moving Metaphors: Jewishness in American Modern and Postmodern Dance," Jackson considers how the artistic conventions of modernism and postmodernism in dance interacted with the efforts of several generations of Jewish-American choreographers (including Maslow) to negotiate a Jewish identity that both honored their history and allowed them to be part of a larger American identity.

Brin Ingber's "Shorashim" describes the importance of the invention of an Israeli folk dance tradition to the creation of a modern...

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