The cast of Pshutot is comprised of five dancers from the Jerusalem Academy of
Music and Dance, where Izhaki teaches, and three other female dancers whom Izhaki
met over the past several years.
By ORI J. LENKINSKI
(photo credit: Courtesy)
RONEN IZHAKI’S creation ‘Pshutot.’
Occasionally, a work of art strikes a nerve in society.
In 1830, a performance of Daniel Auber’s opera La muette de Portici riled
the audience to the point that a massive riot erupted, resulting in the
Belgian Revolution, which claimed Brussels as the capital of the newly independent Kingdom of Belgium rather than just another city in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
When Stravinsky debuted The Rite of Spring, members of the audience were
so outraged they began screaming and beating on any surface available,
causing so much commotion that the dancers could not hear the music.
And Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses is credited with
causing more than a handful of violent exchanges between religious groups and authorities around the world.
Such was the case with David Perlov’s 1963 film, In Jerusalem, which is the inspiration for choreographer Ronen Izhaki’s creation Pshutot, made for this year’s Israel Festival.
“Sixty years ago, Jerusalem was segregated. David Perlov was commissioned by the Israel Film Service to make a documentary about the city. In fact, it was meant to be a promotional video about Jerusalem for the State of Israel.
Perlov went around the city and interviewed people from all different walks of life,” explained Izhaki over the phone.
Of the many individuals captured by Perlov, there was a woman with whom Perlov is seen sitting in her small kitchen. She was an anonymous Orthodox woman who turned out to be one of the most prolific and celebrated poets ever to live in Israel, and the words she imparted to Perlov, seemingly offhand, inspired so much controversy that the dispute reached the highest levels of government.
“The fact that he went to talk to her was already a big thing. For a religious woman to sit alone with a man in her kitchen was an extreme act. And then she began speaking,” said Izhaki with wonderment.
Zelda, the then-unknown poet, is recorded saying to Perlov that the Messiah ben Yosef (the Messiah slightly inferior to the Messiah ben David) could be anyone, a beggar in the street or a woman.
This radical thought broke with the nearly universally accepted notion that the Messiah would take the form of an old, learned Jewish man.
When the film aired, Zelda’s comments infuriated so many that the Israel Film Service demanded that Perlov reshoot the film. This caused riots and demonstrations and, eventually, then-prime minister Levi Eshkol ruled that the film could be screened as it was.
“Thankfully, Eshkol sided with the film. I love this film.
“I have been a fan of Zelda’s for a long time. The meeting of Perlov and Zelda is such an incredible occurrence. They are two people from different worlds. He is secular, left and from Tel Aviv, and she is Chabad, haredi and from Jerusalem, yet neither of them works for anyone other than their own truth.
“And I loved this idea that the Messiah ben Yosef could be anyone; it is incredibly subversive.”
Izhaki, 48, who identifies as secular “but full of faith,” took this exchange as the seed for his creation, which is part of an initiative set out by the Israel Festival in which artists from various fields create new works in response to existing creations.
Other artists participating in the four programs of this kind are Sha’anan Streett, Nava Zuckerman, Dalia Shimko, Rona Kenan, Echo and many more.
The surrounding artistic team for Pshutot includes Izhaki’s partner, Tammy, as dramaturge; Neta Henik, who both dances in the piece and designed the costumes; and Roy Zu-Arets and Gideon Lewensohn, who created an original score.
“The music captures the insane vibes of Jerusalem. There are samples from the muezzin, from Christian prayers and from Ammunition Hill.”
The cast of Pshutot is comprised of five dancers from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, where Izhaki teaches, and three other female dancers whom Izhaki met over the past several years.
“I wanted to create a tribe of beggars. At first I didn’t know if they would be men or women, but eventually it was clear they would be women. I haven’t worked with dancers I don’t know for a long time, and I haven’t made a short piece for a long time either. The challenge was to find the essence of the movement and, though it is not something we could take for granted, we found it,” said Izhaki.
Izhaki will present Pshutot as part of the Israel Festival’s Inspiring