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Jewish folk music and dance
Israel's performing arts heritage embraces an active tradition of folkloric music and dance which draws on both ancient Hebrew sources and the cultures of the various Jewish Diaspora communities.
Early waves of Zionist settlement during the 1880s and 1890s brought numerous Eastern and Central European folk music genres into Palestine. Some, like the traditional Yiddish dance music known as klezmer, were to retain their original form. However, many folk songs were given new verses reflecting the new environment in which the immigrants found themselves, or were set to alternative tunes of Middle-Eastern origin. This development marked the start of efforts to create an 'authentic' Israeli folk music style which combined the sounds of the Orient with European traditions. From the turn of the century a plethora of new folk songs was composed using Biblical texts, traditional Jewish texts or new lyrics which reflected communal daily life. Many of the songwriters from the period 1918-1948 were kibbutz members, a situation which is often reflected in the rural and pioneering themes of their compositions. Since the establishment of the state the Israeli folk music repertoire has expanded further with the influx of various Jewish Diaspora communities. Of particular interest are the music of the Oriental Jewish community (mizrahi) and the songs in ladino (a holy language spoken by Jews from Spain and around the Mediterranean Sea) set to Hispanic- and Latin American-influenced music.
Israeli folkloric music is featured at numerous festivals including the Safed International Klezmer Festival, the Ma'asiyot Ve'nigunim - 'Tales and Melodies' Jewish Music Festival, the Festival of Hebrew Songs Tel Aviv, the Arad Music Festival and the Tel Aviv Festival of Vocal Music.
A strong choral tradition also emerged from the communal experience of the return to Zion. Choirs were organised as early as the 1920s amongst members of the Labour Federation and choral singing subsequently became a popular form of musical expression on the kibbutzim.
Today choral singing remains one of the most popular forms of Israeli music-making. The most important event in the choral calendar is the Zimriya World Assembly of Choirs and Choral Song Festival, which was founded in 1952, held every three years until 1973 and biennially thereafter. Leading ensembles currently include the National Kibbutz Choir, the Ichud Choir, the Galilee Regional Choir, the Ankor Youth Choir of the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance and the Na'ama Women's Choir.
The development of Israeli folk dance has mirrored that of the music which accompanies it. During the pre-state period many native dances from Eastern and Central Europe were appropriated and modified to suit their new surroundings; one of the most representative dances devised during this period is the hora, a circular dance of Romanian origin which came to symbolise the pioneer ideology. A turning point in local folk dance development came with the first folk dance festival, held at Kibbutz Dalia in 1944. This event inspired widespread enthusiasm for folk dance and subsequent festivals became the focus of efforts to create a local folk dance idiom, combining Oriental, Sephardic and Ashkenazic motifs, Biblical associations and Arab, Jazz, Latin American and Mediterranean dance rhythms. One important product of this development was the Inbal Dance Theatre. Established in 1950 by Sara Levi-Tanai, this leading Israeli folkloric dance group uses a special language to blend folk, ancient, original and theatrical-modern elements, reflecting in its work a mixture of Yemenite, Hassidic, Moroccan, Arabic, Persian and Kurdish influences.
Today an estimated 300,000 Israelis go to folk dance classes and social dance occasions on a regular basis. Their art is featured prominently at the Carmiel International Dance Festival, the International Folklore Festival and numerous other regional folkloric festivals.
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Jewish liturgical music
Whilst each community has its own unique liturgical traditions, the music of the Jewish synagogue is generally based on responsorial chant. This was codified in notation in approximately 900 CE and involves professionally-trained cantors known as hazzanut who observe set rules, motifs and modes. The performance of many sacred texts, eg Hebrew prayers, has changed little over a period of more than 1,500 years.
Established in 1957, the Renanot Institute for Jewish Music is active in preserving and developing the role of the cantor in Jewish liturgical music. It holds an annual conference for cantors and has been instrumental in the setting up of cantor schools around the country. Renanot also issues recordings of liturgical music emanating from all of Israel's Jewish communities.
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Arab folk music and dance, Arab classical music
The Arab folk music and dance and Arab classical music of Israel forms part of the wider pan-Arab musical heritage and has much in common with that of the neighbouring Palestinian territories.
The British Mandate period saw a thriving tradition of urban Arab music throughout the area now occupied by the Israeli state, but during the war the majority of Arab musicians fled to neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Syria and Egypt, with the result that much was lost. In the meantime, finding themselves isolated from the rest of the Arab world, those remaining musicians living in Arab communities such as Nazareth, Haifa and Acco (Acre) looked to their roots in an attempt to preserve the music and dance heritage of their communities. The Arab music produced in these cities today is thus somewhat more representative of the pre-state period than that of the neighbouring Palestinian territories.
Today Arab folk music and dance (mainly dabke) is practised widely at community level and is featured prominently in annual cultural events such as the Nazareth Festival of the Arts and Beit Hagefen's Arab Cultural Month and Dabke Arab Folklore Carnival. Classical Arab music has also grown in popularity in recent years; its foremost exponent is the acclaimed Arab Music Orchestra of Nazareth, which includes several immigrant Russian musicians.
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Classical music and opera
Classical music began to occupy an important place in the cultural life of the Jewish community of Palestine soon after World War I. With the development of urbanisation, organised music institutions began to appear. The first music school was set up in Tel Aviv in 1910; Jerusalem in turn acquired an Institute of Music in 1918 and a Conservatory (now the Rubin Academy) of Music in 1933. The first Music Teacher Training School was founded in Tel Aviv in 1945.
One of the most formative events in the development of pre-state musical life took place during the 1930s when a flood of Jewish musicians - including first-rate performers, composers, teachers and music historians - fled to Palestine to escape Nazism in Germany. The dominant influence of western European cultural values in the development of Israeli classical music was subsequently assured by the placement of these musicians in positions of influence and authority, and in subsequent years, as increasing numbers of touring European musicians visited Palestine, the early hegemony of Eastern European music was brought to an end.
The Palestine (later Israel) Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1936 by renowned Polish-born violinist Bronislaw Huberman. The orchestra quickly became a focus of the country's musical life and acquired an international reputation for excellence. The same year also saw the establishment of the British Mandatory Broadcasting Authority, which immediately formed its own radio orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
Attempts to fuse European classical music with Near-Eastern melodies and rhythms were first made during the 1940s by immigrant composers such as Paul Ben-Haim, Alexander Uriah Bosovitch, Oedon Partos and Josef Tal, and since that time the creation of a specifically Israeli musical style has been a priority for many Israeli musicians. The work of the latest generation of Israeli composers - including Noam Sheriff, Zvi Avni, Yizhak Sadai and Ami Maayani - has achieved substantial international recognition.
Over the last three decades Israel has steadily built up a reputation as one of the world's most dynamic centres of musical activity. Mass immigration from the former USSR during the early 1990s has brought a further wave of professional musicians into the country, leading to a proliferation of new orchestras, chamber music groups, choirs and soloists.
At the time of writing Israel has 10 major professional symphonic orchestras spread throughout the major centres of population - Jerusalem (Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, IBA, Israel Camerata Jerusalem), Tel Aviv (Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Chamber Orchestra), Haifa (Haifa Symphony Orchestra), Be'ersheva (Israel Be'er Sheva Sinfonietta), Rishon Lezion (Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion), Ra'anana (Ra'anana Symphonette Orchestra), Ashdod (Ashdod Chamber Orchestra) and Kibbutz Shefayim (Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra). The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has long been the country's major performing institution, attracting around 45% of the total number of concert-goers every year. There are also three ensembles specialising in performing contemporary classical music - Musica Nova, Kaprisma and the Israel Contemporary Players - plus the Baroque Orchestra, an ensemble which specialises in Baroque music. During the late 1980s the country's only professional opera troupe - the New Israel Opera - was established to revive an art form which had been in decline in Israel since the disbanding of the country's first permanent opera company some years earlier.
Every year Israel plays host to an extraordinary array of world-class musical events; these include the International Harp Competition, the Zimriya World Assembly of Choirs and Choral Song Festival, the Artur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, the Israel International Guitar Festival, the Red Sea International Classical Music Festival, the Red Sea International Jazz Festival, the Renaissance Music Festival in Western Galilee, the Tel Aviv Festivals of Chamber Music and of Vocal Music, Tempus Fugit - the International Biennale for Contemporary Music, the Abu Gosh Music Festival, the Festival Music Sacra Nazareth, the 'In the Footsteps of the Magnificat' festival, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA's Liturgica Festival, the Ein Gev Festival and the Kol Israel Upper Galilee Chamber Music Days festival in Kfar Blum. Each attracts large and appreciative audiences.
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Although Yiddish theatre was popular amongst East European immigrants in turn-of-the-century Palestine, the roots of modern Israeli theatre may be traced to the emergence of Hebrew as an everyday spoken language amongst the Jewish community.
The first professional Hebrew theatre company was Habimah ('The Stage'), founded in Moscow in 1917 by Nahum Zemach. Starting out as one of three studios affiliated to Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre, it achieved international recognition with Vachtangov's production of Anski's The Dybbuk (1922) before travelling the world and eventually settling in Palestine. Based in Tel Aviv, the company attracted increasingly large and appreciative audiences for its dramatic offerings, which from the 1930s included new works by local playwrights. The company was awarded the Israel Prize in 1958 and became Israel's national theatre in 1968. Today its mix of American and European classics, alternated in repertory with home-grown plays, continues to attract sizeable audiences.
Disillusioned with the heroic and somewhat melodramatic early style of Habimah and its sister company, the now-defunct Ohel ('Tent') Theatre of Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor in Israel), actors Josef and Yemima Millo, Avraham Ben-Yosef, Rosa Lichtenstein and Batya Lanzet decided in 1944 to set up the Cameri ('Chamber') Theatre of Tel Aviv. With its diverse repertoire of original Israeli creations, selected world classics and contemporary dramas - all socially and politically alert, with a distinct Israeli slant - the company has remained at the forefront of Israeli theatrical life ever since. Cameri became the municipal theatre company of Tel Aviv in 1971.
Israeli theatrical activity was largely confined to Tel Aviv until the opening of the Haifa Municipal Theatre in 1961. Under successive Artistic Directors - including Yosef Millo, Oded Kotler and Roni Pinkovitch - this important company launched the careers of several of today's most outstanding Israeli playwrights, including Yehoshua Sobol, Ya'akov Shabtai, Hillel Mittelpunkt, Danny Horowitz and Hanoch Levin. Meanwhile Jerusalem and Be'ersheva remained theatrical backwaters until the establishment of the Khan Theatre and the Be'ersheva Municipal Theatre in 1972 and 1973 respectively. Both companies have since attracted critical acclaim for their work.
Notwithstanding this shift in emphasis to other cities, Tel Aviv has continued to play a pre-eminent role in the development of Israeli theatre. A large number of today's most distinguished theatre practitioners, including Shmuel Hasfari and Ephraim Kishon, started their careers at Tsavta Theatre (1966) whilst many others cut their teeth at Beit Lessin (1980).
One of the most significant theatrical developments of recent years has been the founding of Gesher Theatre (1991) by new immigrants from the former USSR, initially with a view to providing work for immigrant actors who had not yet mastered the Hebrew language. Now performing bilingually in both Hebrew and Russian, Gesher is one of the most innovative and interesting theatre companies in the country; during its 1997 tour of the UK it was described by the Observer newspaper as 'one of the world's leading ensembles'.
The innovative work of Mario Kotliar's Habamah Theatre in Jerusalem and Rina Yerushalmi's Itim Theatre Ensemble in Tel Aviv has attracted considerable interest in recent years. Also noteworthy are developments in the field of Arab-Jewish theatre pioneered by the Acco Theatre Center Artistic Ensemble and the Diwan Group in Acco (Acre) and the Beit Hagefen Arab Theatre in Haifa.
Israel has also become known for the quality of its children's theatre, the leading practitioners of which are the Orna Porat National Theatre for Children and Youth (1970), Bimama Children's Theatre (1976), the Haifa Municipal Theatre (1961) and The Train Theatre (1981).
Principal drama festivals include the Teatronetto and International Teatronetto festivals, the Tsavta Festival of Short Theatre, the Haifa International Theatre Festival for Children and Youth, the Acco Festival for Alternative Theatre and the Phenomena - International Festival of Performance, Puppet and Visual Theatre.
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Ballet and contemporary dance
For over a decade after 1948 the development of an ethnic dance genre continued to occupy the minds of leading dance practitioners. However, during this period audience reaction to the steady flow of European dance groups visiting the new state indicated that the time was right for the introduction of professional western dance to Israel.
It was the arrival in 1958 of Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild which set events in motion. A close friend of Martha Graham, Baroness de Rothschild sponsored the Martha Graham Company's 1956 visit to Israel and accompanied the troupe on its tour. She was later instrumental in the establishment in Tel Aviv of both the Batsheva Dance Company (1964) - the work of which was initially based on Graham's methods - and the Bat-Dor Dance Studios (1967) and Company (1968) - the aims of which were to teach and perform modern dance, with a strong emphasis on ballet training.
Directed since 1990 by former Béjart dancer-choreographer Ohad Naharin, the Batsheva Dance Company today maintains its reputation as a leading exponent of cutting-edge contemporary dance. The Bat-Dor Dance Studios in Tel Aviv is still one of Israel's most important centres for professional dance training and its resident troupe, directed by founder Jeannette Ordman, continues to showcase the works of some of the world's best-known choreographers. In 1975 the company's activities were further expanded with the establishment of the Bat-Dor Beer'sheva Municipal Dance Center, the only professional dance school in the southern region of Israel.
In 1965 dancer-choreographer and Holocaust survivor Yehudit Arnon set up the Mateh Asher School of Modern Dance, now the Mateh Asher School of Performing Arts (MASPA), on Kibbutz Ga'aton in the Western Galilee. Arnon later formed her own dance company which in 1970 became the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC). Now directed by Rami Be'er, KCDC is one of the finest dance groups in Israel.
The late 1970s witnessed further interesting developments in the field of contemporary dance, both initiated by former Batsheva Dance Company members. KolDmama ('Sound-Silence') was founded in 1978 by Moshe Efrati as a vehicle for his special technique of transmitting vibrations from dancer to dancer which enabled both hearing- and hearing-impaired dancers to perform together; the acclaimed Rina Schenfeld Dance School and Dance Theatre was also established in the same year.
Israeli contemporary dance continued to grow in creativity during the 1980s and early 1990s with the establishment of many new companies, notably Oshra Elkayam Movement Theatre (1981), Anat Danieli Dance Company (1983), Jerusalem Dance Theatre (1984), the Liat Dror and Nir Ben-Gal Company (1987), the Ruth Ziv-Eyal Group (1989) and the Vertigo Dance Company (1992). The work of Tnuatron, Ido Tadmor, Barak Marshall and Inbal Pinto has also broken important new ground. However, perhaps most significant recent event in the Israeli dance calendar was the establishment in 1988 of the Suzanne Dellal Center, an institution unique in Israel and the Middle East which was conceived and constructed as a dedicated centre for dance theatre. The Center creates or commissions original dance works and is committed to the development of dance education.
The origins of classical ballet in Israel may be traced back to the return from overseas of dancers Berta Yampolsky and Hillel Markman during the early 1960s. This husband-and-wife team founded the Israel Ballet in 1967 in order to provide a platform for talented dancers and to foster public awareness of classical ballet. The country's only professional classical ballet company, it performs classical, neo-classical and contemporary works created by Yampolsky as well as ballets by Balanchine and other international choreographers. During the early 1990s the company absorbed several new immigrant dancers from the former USSR.
Israel's principal annual dance showcase is the Carmiel International Dance Festival, which has grown in recent years into one of the most important international dance fixtures. Also of note are the Adi Agmon Flamenco Festival and three major events organised by the Suzanne Dellal Center - the Curtain Up Festival for new choreographers, the Shades in Dance Festival (Gevanim Be'mahol) for the encouragement of new dance competitions, and the Suzanne Dellal International Dance Competition which seeks to encourage and promote young choreographers and performers in the field of dance.
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