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Dorris Avner

Keeping the Fred Berk legacy alive through Adinah Margolis.

Avner, Dorris: "Keeping the Fred Berk legacy alive through Adinah Margolis", 14th International Congress on Dance Research, Aridaia, Greece, 13-17/9, 2000.

1. Fred Berk

Fred Berk was born in Vienna. The first images of Jewish dance came to him through the Viennese expressionist of modern dance Gertrud Kraus. It was her dancing that touched the Jewish fibre in him. In 1932 he established a modern dance group. As choreographer and teacher he toured Europe until 1938. After performing with Hanya Holm, he came to the United States in 1941. With his wife Katya Delakova they became interpreters of Jewish dance. He spent 10 years with her. He then directed Jewish dance at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA for more than 20 years and was in charge of the American Zionist Youth Foundations festivals. He wrote and edited several books and publications about Israeli dance. He established a newsletter, Hora, until 1979 (11 years). All his dances were inspired by Jewish and Israeli folk sources.

2. Why was he so special?

He is considered the father of Israeli dance in America and organized the resources and history of Israeli dance including costumes, encouraged Israeli folk dance choreographers to demonstrate the dances which he later taught. He recorded the music to the dance and helped arrange it in an artistic manner with correct tempo for dancing. Instruction for the dances were clearly written out and accompanied each record. He organized the dances into categories: 1 for children, 2 for beginners, 3 for intermediate and 4 for advanced. He choreographed dances about Israeli life which centered around a theme, i.e., in the vineyards, picking the grapes to the drinking of wine, with all the steps in between.

His teaching methods developed as a result of the fact that he was not able to demonstrate due to a hip replacement. Therefore, he was forced to teach sitting in a chair. The result was that he defined the basic Israeli dance steps in such a clear way that the dances could be taught verbally. Because of that, the steps were written so clearly in his instruction booklets that anyone could teach themsleves the dances. He always encouraged his dancers to base their choreography on existing folk dances, and to present them on the stage as well. He gave to those who studied with him an awareness of the beauty of Israeli dance and an insight into the sources and inspiration of the dance.

3. Adinah Margolis

Adinah Margolis is an Israeli dance director extraordinaire and the driving force behind the Holit Israeli Folk Dance Theatre. Education background: MA, 1967 in dance from SarahLawrenceCollege. Recipient of the Bessie Schonberg award for people who want to teach dance. Performance background: Directed and performed with Rimonim Israeli Folk Dance Theatre in Richmond, Virginia, 1971-1975; directed and performed with the Israeli folk dance group at Michigan State University, 1971-72; established and directed Ayalot, a teenage performing Israeli folk dance group, 1969-71; performed and choreographed for the New Haven Dance Theatre (modern), 1969-71; danced with Fred Berk, was also his assistant and choreographed several dances for him 1965-69.

Immigrated to Israel in 1975: Directed and choreographed Israeli folk dances for the city of BeerSheva 1975-79. In 1979 Adinah established the Holit (Dune) Israeli Folk Dance Theatre. Holit consists of dancers from various high schools from BeerSheva. While their main emphasis is on dances from Israeli folklore and culture (biblical and modern) they perform ethnic dances from other countries as well as dancing with other groups. There are over 266 graduates, many of whom choreograph for the company. With Adinah's encouragement a group of graduates established their own company under the Holit umbrella. They have represented Israel in Greece, China, US, Isle of Man, England and throughout Europe.

What makes Holit unique? The dance company is different from other companies because they are tied to the historical essence of the country in general and the Negev in particular. It is the only company that represents all aspects of Israeli life in the Negev. Adinah's philosophy is to encourage young people to find their own way of moving, coming from their own history, that which is authentic and real, not just a copy of someone else's work. These days it is a big challenge to get young people interested enough to dedicate themselves to dancing their country's folklore and traditions when the pull is toward hip-hop, funky, jazz and modern dance. She encourages them to get excited about Israeli folk material and make the connection between their lives and Israeli dance. They must find the power, truth and natural movement which is Israeli dance and get it into their soul. These young people are disciplined and committed to folk/ethnic dance as an art form, and the group. It is an expression of oneself and be appreciated. Adinah's spirit for the dance and its process is infectious as anyone can tell after observing a performance.

The group has and does work with Ram Doaz (well known composer), Margalit Stander (well known actress from the BeerSheva theatre), Max Stern (well known composer), and Emil Eibinder (full time director for 9 years of the Holit orchestra). Some of the dances performed are: Desert Suite, Angel from Jacob's Ladder, Yeminite men's and women's dances (inspired by Inbal Dance Theatre and Tali Eyshel), Shepherd Suite, Harvest Fishing Village (reconstructed from Fred Berk's choreography), Legends of King Solomon (King Solomon and the Bee), Debka, Memorial Day dances in memory of fallen soldiers, and Ana Eili (inspired by hearing impaired fellow students).

Adinah keeps Fred Berk's tradition alive by trying to insert the folk dance in its original form somewhere within the choreography. Then it could be developed into other things. Fred Berk's choreography always had a theme or an idea he wanted to convey. Proponents of Fred Berk would be able to recognize the source and origin of the dance. At some point the dance would include a circle if that were the original design of the the dance. Other changes might take place yet keeping the original intent of the dance. In order to create a folk culture in a country that was established in 1948, it is important to go back to the roots of that culture and dance. It is also important to present the same original dance that began with the development of Israeli folk dance in a new and exciting manner as the country develops yet keeping the essence of the dance alive. As a dancer of Fred Berk's and teacher of other teachers keeping the original tradiition of the dance alive is essential in order to reach as many people as possible.

Every dance has a spirit or soul behind it, not just steps and music. The idea behind it is what drives the composition. Fred Berk used a cerebral way of documenting and presenting folklore, as does Adinah Margolis. Choices of dances that he used at that time is the basis of what Adinah uses at this time, i.e., festivals, annual Israeli celebrations, and ideas of a theme. Adinah states that everyone within her group would give a different view and contribute to the theme as did her teacher and mentor Fred Berk, thus keeping his legacy alive.

Dorris J. Avner

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