Noga, Israel’s first modern dance company to give the stage to religious women performers, brings to life the dance between Jewish spirituality and contemporary choreography.
They recently presented two new pieces created by prominent Israeli choreographers at the Gerard Behar Theater in Jerusalem and the program will be repeated at the annual Karmiel Dance Festival later this month.
Noga is an all-women troupe founded in 2009 under the auspices of Orot Teacher’s College, which established Israel’s first academic dance program in 2007 dedicated to cultivating the artistic talents of religiously observant women. Noga dancers adhere to the strictures of religious observance, and eschew many aspects of the discipline often associated with a “secular” career in dance, such as the intense focus on physique and the deferral of motherhood to later years. Noga performs in front of women-only audiences and costumes reflect a deliberate balance between an appreciation of the female form and a culture of physical modesty.
The program, “Racing Heart” (Merotz Halev) offered two original works by Israeli choreographers, with seven dancers from the troupe. In the first piece, “The Women’s Section” (Ezrat Nashim), created by Dafi Altabeb, the dancers interpreted the space of women’s prayer through fluid and abrupt movements. They performed solo, in pairs and as a troupe with steps and rhythms that expressed their strivings to connect with themselves, one another and God.
The second piece, “Geometry of Transcendence" (Hitalut shel Geometria), created by Sharona Florsheim, was inspired by a verse from the biblical book of Isaiah and offered a physical interpretation of the Hebrew letters and words and their meaning.
The two pieces offered musings on religious experiences from a feminine perspective. Sharona Florsheim, artistic director of Noga, notes that the “Racing Heart” program was an exception in that most original Noga works are created by the religious members of the company. Often, they reflect the dancers’ interpretations of universal themes of life and nature (and not solely religious themes).
The choreography is most often inspired by contemporary European expressionism and provides few traces of Jewish folk dance or music. This challenges the audience to cipher passionate, religiously inspired dance in unfamiliar modern and postmodern forms. The Noga Dance Company is clearly charting unfamiliar territory, but they take the creative leap with a valiant energy that strikes a receptive chord with their female audiences.
Performers who combine spiritual inspiration with their art are gaining ground on the Israeli cultural scene. A religious men’s dance troupe (Kol Atzmotai Tomarna, “All my bones will call out”) has created its own public profile and other religious women’s dance troupes are following in Noga’s steps. This summer, at Israel’s annual Karmiel Dance Festival (July 28-30) there will be a locale devoted to dance studios and workshops for women only on July 29, and a repeat performance of “Racing Heart.”
Eva L. Weiss is a writer and editor who lives in Jerusalem; she is the author of a newly released children’s book, “I am Israeli.