Where the ̶D̶r̶e̶a̶m̶ Popularization Can Lead.
(by Nata Holava)
I already wanted to get off from the preparation of this material, since, after looking at my almost ready longread, I burst out sobbing. No text can convey all my feelings as they spark with electricity from the photos and spring with living water from the video streams of Weimar. But then another shtick caught my eye.
Let’s omit details such as traditional Jewish “kokoshniks” from the Gomel region worn by funny aunties, this is a matter of personal taste (maybe not entirely personal, but it would be another longread of sobbing…). Let’s omit dramaturgical miracles like “we were playing Belarusian dances and suddenly decided to switch to Jewish” in an interview, because once we gave ourselves a handle to such miracles…
…in 2017, when a Barisawclub asked Minsk musicians to learn several Jewish dances for a master class, “conditionally” Jewish dances from the traditional Belarusian repertoire were added to them (photo by V.Tsvirko)
And yet, if something is called a “Jewish dance party”, then I want to clarify: comrades, did you mean a party in a Jewish community? Or that people will dance Jewish dances? I beg your pardon, but are you sure that what you are dancing at this party are actually Jewish dances?
Let’s start ab ovo. In the fall of 2019, an article about the performance of a Belarusian ethno-choreographer at a cultural event in Minsk saw the light. The honorable Sir Dancing Master offered a certain Jewish dance from his village, which no longer exists as a folklore pattern, but the “old-timers remember” because they “spied it on local Jews.” At the same time, he demonstrated textbook movements of a stage parody of Jewish folk (Soviet!) choreography. Elderly rural musicians played the 7.40, the dancers repeated the steps, the audience watched, and the national edition highlighted (and added video proofs).
Alena Liaszkiewicz Youtube channel video
“Maybe you could repost it?” – asked the author of the material.
Or maybe we won’t try to get from our grandmother’s wardrobe what we have never put there? Because, in the wake of hype regarding the revival of everything Jewish, the Seven-Forty, and the Shabbat Shalom on Sunday, and Israeli cuisine at the Litvak festival (the realities of Belarusian promoters of Jewish heritage) will come into play. Nothing Jewish, as they say, is alien to us. In the same way, “Belarusian vyshyvanka” was being recently sold. Who stamped it first, is the one with the profits.
There is a good fairy tale about it, but I will save it for the finale. And now, let’s talk about dancing.
No, I’m not a professional dancer and not an expert in ethnography, thank God. I am an event organizer and filmmaker. And it’s not so much a folklore pattern in itself that is attractive to me, as a situation in which there an interest of different people in this phenomenon arises and uncontrollable branding and creation of myths begin.
But my personal, deeply internal resonance with this subject excites me even more. As one of my friends recently said, “what is one’s own, resonates”. Let’s take me at the moment when I already began to consciously ask about the Jewish dances Minsk musicians who have been playing at parties for ten years. These are parties where people come not just once (because of master class or animation), but constantly, because it is part of their life and a favorite leisure. The same as disco, just a little older.
Such parties are organized by the Sita Club, in the Upper Town in Minskon Sundays in summer, and in Mikhanovichi (Minsk District)in winter.
Why did I ask them specifically? Because everything Jewish that I managed to find in actual Jewish sources was either catastrophically scenic or Israeli flash mob, based on the new Jewish mass choreography. I mean the Israeli dances and work of Mr. Baruch Agadati (Kaushansky) who created a new dance genre in the nineteen-thirties. Perhaps, only wild Ukrainian and Jewish dances of modern American weddings stand out by their “authenticity” and traditional origin. Google Kolomiyka, Hora, Perenitsa – you will see for yourself.
So, our Belarusian musicians play real! not invented by a stage director! …but village dances. Because these dances were the ones that they collected in expeditions and reconstructed from ethnographic records. But it turns out that no one has explored the city dances, since amateur ethnographic communities, which have recently become very popular, are looking for their Belarusian identity in the village. They do not seek Jewish identity in small towns. But we have neither townships in their true form where one could search, nor carriers of this identity. Therefore, when dances “remembered by old-timers” suddenly appear that strongly resemble the repertoire of a district folk song and dance ensemble, I intuitively want… to cross myself.
Video from the Dance Hayat YouTube channel
Well, so it goes. Our musicians told and showed everything that they knew about Subota, Nazhnichkі, Zhydok and Zhydovachka – Belarusian traditional dances that tell us about the good relations of two neighboring cultures. And then I had to go through… Moscow. Our Belarusian, Vitebsk dance master from a slightly different genre, contemporary dance, introduced me to the dance master Dana Lifanova. And Dana told me about the American researcher Walter Zev Feldman. I invite the respected public to get acquainted with his book Klezmer: Music, History, and Memory (you can by it, for example, on Amazon). This is a scientific and ethnographic book, which, in addition to specifics, historical data, curious details, surgically accurate analysis and references to other sources, helps to imagine the full power and space of the dance and musical tradition that we have lost.
Zev was the leader of the revival of the Klezmer movement in America in the 1970-80s; he is a charismatic dancer, an excellent musician and an incredibly interesting talk partner. Well, yes! Thanks to dozens of years of research, musical environment, expeditions, and dances. His father was also an excellent dancer. And the most curious thing for me is that Zev has Belarusian origins, his mother’s family is from the vicinity of Mogilev. But Zev himself has never been to Belarus.
Zev Feldman, Weimar, 2019
My Moscow friends said: “Write to him”. I thought: “Yeah, right. Some lady from the city of “B” will write “To America, to Mr. Professor.” Like he cares about the existential torment of this one lady. Nevertheless, a fascinating correspondence began. As it turned out, Belarus is a blank spot of klezmer and Yiddish dances not only for ourselves. In Weimar, for example, no one has ever seen any Belarusians, with the possible exception of Zisl Slepovich (as they call him, “the last Belarusian klezmer”), who went to America ten years ago. And it’s even worse for dancing.
Both Moscow friends and Zev recommended to go to the “Yiddish Summer Weimar” in Germany for information and to feel the atmosphere of a real Yiddish community. According to the stories, that is the most Jewish place in Europe, as far as one can imagine. With (un)klezmer girls from the Zhydovachka kapelye, we wrote an application for the MOST Program and unexpectedly received support… and in August 2019 we came there… where the Dreams lead. If, of course, you know exactly what you really want.
On a break between workshops in Weimar, 2019
Perhaps, now I’ll say the most important thing about Jewish dances and will get scared myself. They cannot be danced outside the Jewish community. Because when you simply repeat the movements after the dance master or other dancers, trying to copy and remember the steps, you get a pantomime. But Jewish dance is never a pantomime. And why am I scared? because no one dances it no win the Jewish Belarusian community. There are communities, there are holidays and weddings, but there is no Yiddish dance tradition. There are no dances that we still had here before the Second World War. And there is nobody with whom to dance them. And the saddest thing is there is no one to play them for the dancers. I’ll even say more, those klezmers that you heard at the “first free klezmerfest” are not really klezmers.
We returned from Weimar in tears, because it was clear that we no longer wanted to go to Zingeray and other mass venues that appeared in Belarus during 2019 (including due to aggressive promotion) and to be animators there. Because for us, as a kapelye, and for me personally, as a dancer, there is no sense in this crazy popularization. Fair crowd, which came to “receive Jewish communion” (to the vogue on which we ourselves accidentally had a hand), does not care a whit about dialogue and depth. People come to the festival and, quite right, they want fast food. Historical, dance, any of it. And in these conditions, only fast food can be given to them. But the Jewish dance, in order to be understood and felt, first of all needs silence, the ability to hear oneself and the musicians, the desire to speak out through the movement of one’s body. Alone or together with people like you.
Khosidl Workshop, Weimar, 2019: Zev Feldman, Alexey Rozov and Alan Bern
We talked in the summer of 2019 with a good friend who could support the dance workshops with Zev Feldman. The conditions were simple: “In Minsk, there will be the Israel Day, and it would be nice if Zev gave his master class in the square”. Not good, gentlemen, not good. I was somehow even ashamed to offer this option to our Dance Master. He did not refuse, he politely replied: “Of course, if possible, I would like to do without “square” master classes …”. Thank God, we rescheduled the workshops to the fall of 2020 and refused the “sponsors’” help.
But there is one more nuance of such support: “Natasha, no one needs someone to be imbued with the Jewish philosophy of dance and go dance at home. This is not interesting for the sponsor”. But I’m not, as for me, interested in multiplying the next in turn choreographic “masterpieces” àla Jewish on the stages of palaces of culture and 7.40 and havanagila chains during city holidays. Here it is, you know, as in the famous meme “quickly, efficiently, cheaply – select two criteria”. For Jewish dance, “quickly, efficiently, en masse”. Select two of them.
I will continue this topic a little later.
In the next part I’ll tell what is wrong with the “klezmers” that many of you have seen here, where to look for the lost Jewish dance gesture, and the tale that I promised you somewhere at the beginning.
Nata Holava, Barysaw
The idea of the text arose thanks to workshops in Weimar, where we were able to get with the support of the MOST Program, research & materials by Zev Feldman © and personal conversations with him.
Translated from the original by Igor Shustin
Corrected by Tanya Karneika
Published April 04/2020 12:06