The People of the Book are really dancers, said Judith Brin Ingber, a dance historian from the University of Minnesota. Ingber came to Seattle for the UW World Series premiere of Klezmerbluegrass, a new choreography by the Paul Taylor Dance Company and commissioned by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
The new work commemorates this years 350th anniversary of Jewish Life in America.
Coincidentally, it is also the 50th anniversary of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. His company is traveling around the U.S. to all 50 states to celebrate the companys history and work. Klezmerbluegrass is part of the companys repertoire.
The presentation by Ingber was co-sponsored by the King County Library System, the Seattle Public Library and Nextbook, a national program that sponsors books on the 3,000 years of Jewish civilization.
When Nextbook event organizers heard about the Paul Taylor commission, they decided to bring in Ingber, an internationally known dance educator to speak about the work.
Ingber researches and teaches about the historical roots of Jewish dance. Her work centers around two events, the 1947 tour of an Israeli folk dance company to Displaced Persons camps in Europe after World War II, and the dances of Sephardic Jewish communities before and after their expulsion from Spain in 1492.
A longtime dancer and choreographer in her own right, Ingber spoke with the living legend of modern dance about the new piece and asked him where he got his inspiration.
Paul Taylor was very impressed with Jews and he was very impressed with the Jewish family, Ingber told JTNews, recounting their 7:30 a.m. telephone conversation just before she came to Seattle for the premiere.
She continued, He said, I never knew any (Jews) before I came to New York and I didnt know who was (Jewish) and who wasnt after I started living there. It just was the whole milieu.
Taylor was born in 1930 and premiered his first piece, Jack and the Beanstalk, at the Henry Street Theatre on the Lower East Side. He danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Merce Cunningham and Gorge Balanchine. Many famous dancers, including Twyla Tharp, have come from his original company, which he founded in 1954.
Taylor said he loved the clarinet and how it could reflect both crying and laughing. He believes the clarinet has the ability to speak in a very Jewish way. He told Ingber that he loves the relationship between the two kinds of music.
I just wanted a hint of it, Taylor told Ingber. The music is so cheerful and happy. It is an American combination of bluegrass and klezmer.
Ingber continued, Then there is the blues thing that comes in and gives it an emotional coloring, he told me.
There are no specific characters in the piece but he loved family life and so he wanted to make a statement of that unity, that strength, Ingber said.
The Jewish dance historian traced the roots of Jewish dance through the centuries, from the Jewish expulsion from Spain and Brazil, to the 92nd Street Y in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, to the choreography of West Side Story by Jerome Robbins.
Jewish dance, said Ingber, has always reflected family and community celebrations and advocated for political and social change.
Eighteen years ago, Ingber co-founded a company of her own called Voices of Sepharad, where she choreographed a piece for the company called Peace in the House. She calls it contemporary dance with an ethnic tinge.
Ingber told JTNews she is currently working on another dance called Sarahs Argument. This work in progress deals with the famous biblical accounting of the Akedah, when Abraham binds his young son, Isaac, to be slain as a sacrifice for God. Through her choreography, Ingber says she imagines what Sarah would have argued to Abraham if the story, as recorded in the Torah, had articulated her perspective.
Whether it is the in-and-out weaving of a freylach line dance or the political statements and social commentary made by many of the early New York City dancers like Anna Sokolow and Sophie Maslow, Jews dance to celebrate and communicate.
There is really a lot that he took and put forward in his dance, Inger said. It is a real kick-up-your-heels type of dance. I think that for me, it is a celebration that ties together the very beginnings of Jewish life in America until today.