“See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It's the way it was in the beginning. It's the way it's always been. It's the way it should be now.” - Footloose (1984)
Footloose is a big movie favourite of mine - the music, the story and the fashion. However I love this movie most of all for one of the most honest movie dance scenes, where Kevin Bacon’s character Ren dances, flips and darts through an empty warehouse to release his frustrations and passion. Yes, there may have been a dance double or two, but the feeling of the dance is far more honest than any Dirty Dancing or Step Up movie moment can ever bring. For those who don’t know the movie, boy moves to small Christian town where normal teenage activities like popular music and dancing are banned. Reasons against these activities are assigned to Christianity. Ren campaigns for a school dance to go ahead, quoting from the bible "David danced before the Lord with all his might... leaping and dancing before the Lord." It would see religion and dance do go hand in hand.
Religion is a big factor here in Israel and especially in my home city of Jerusalem. Living in Jerusalem, I am confronted on a daily basis by the three major religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Whenever I see any of these group members pray, I can’t help but feel a bit of envy to see how deep within their soul, love and passion they are. However as dancers, we know that dance can be and is an art form which reaches deep into the soul both as performer and spectator. Even Martha Graham quoted “dance is the hidden language of the soul”. Religion is seen as a method to access the soul... why not achieve both in one go? Therefore it makes sense that religion and dance unite, and this is what Ka’et Ensemble achieves.
Ka’et Ensemble is an all-male company of seven non-professional dancers. I dislike writing “non professional” here, for the company train, rehearse and tour the world like every other professional dance company. When I saw the ensemble rehearse one of their pieces, they certainly didn’t appear non-professional. The company is comprised of religious Jewish men who “express their cultural and social identities through dance”. The men have come through an unique dance training programme of "Kol Atzmotai Tomarna" (The name is taken from the verse "All my bones shall say: 'LORD, who is like unto Thee"(Psalms 35,10)) where they train exclusively with men, to keep within religious modesty, and have ended up as an ensemble. The school caters for religious men - again to do with religious modesty - and they provide Gaga just for men, Contemporary and ballet. The men all trained at the school, meeting 2-3 times a week around their usual working lives, and came to form the company.
I had the privilege to attend a rehearsal of the ensemble who were rehearsing Tish as part of their performances in Spain. The piece centres around a table, where dancers debate, advance, retreat and rise around a wooden table. As the dancers pushed and pulled around each other with still images, I was reminded of the excellent The Green Table by Kurt Jooss. Not knowing what the piece was about beforehand, I was reminded of Israeli culture: forward, honest and passionate. However, the French style music gave a hint of “drinking” at a Jewish event also. The dancers come away from the table as they run and slide across the table, jump into b-boy baby freezes as a frenzy begins to build. The fiery nature of Israeli dance was beginning to build as if their spiritual awareness was being woken up. The dancers then depart from the table as they darted, jumped and rolled across the stage. Some of the actions and choreographic cannons were quite complex, as though justifying their place in the “professional" world, from quickly changing from high to low levels from a low plank position to a standing held balance. The dancers then separated into groups as some took praying gestures into movement while others broke out on their own: is this their spiritual journey, or trying to break the conventional "Jewish” grouping to be known as an individual?
Most of all, the “professional” qualities that these dancers process was the quality of stage presence: I found it hard to fight off the tears as I watched them dance. They were so in tune with what they were dancing, they believed in every dance action they executed and I felt their aura and their spirituality. They radiated straight into my soul. Most of all these men were an honour to meet, very welcoming, friendly and funny guys.
With such a great community dance field that pushes professionalism in their groups, from Dance United, Youth Dance England and Green Candle I really hope that one day Ka’et Enssemble will come to the UK to perform.
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