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Uneasy Duets: Contemporary American Dances about Israel and the Mideast Crisis

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Abstract:

In the first half of the twentieth century, American Jews sought to integrate themselves into American life. At the same time, Israel assumed a central place in Jewish collective identity. Throughout the century, American Jews have grappled with these two “homes” and nationalisms. While dance is mostly absent from scholarship on American Zionism, Jewish choreographers have consistently created dances that reflect the shifting role of Zionism in American Jewish life.

In this presentation, I map the evolution of American Zionism alongside that of American modern and postmodern dance, in order to offer a detailed analysis of how two contemporary dance-works creatively intervene in political crises and crises of identity. I begin by briefly chronicling two critical engagements between American dance and American Zionism in the early and mid-twentieth century: Dvora Lapson’s labor Zionist dances of the 1930s, which aimed to educate Jewish and non-Jewish American audiences about Palestine, and Sophie Maslow’s choreography of the annual Chanukah Festivals for Israel Bonds at Madison Square Garden in the 1950s and ’60s, which ideologically and financially bonded the U.S. and Israel and equated American modern dance with the modern Jewish state. In recent years, the conflict in the Middle East has been wrenching for many American Jews—including choreographers—inciting some to examine their relationship with Israel using the dancing body itself as a site of contestation and reparation.

The bulk of my presentation will focus on two duets: Liz Lerman’s "Fifty Modest Reflections on Turning Fifty" (1998), a work that conflates the choreographer’s and Israel’s histories to question the terms of this bond, and Kristen Smiarowski and Tom Young’s "Attempts" (2002), which explores the artists’ fraught attempt to depict, assess, and intervene in, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In both works, the duet structure enables active dialogues, between performers, between dancers and audiences, and between disparate political positions, and situates choreographic and performance processes as opportunities for open-minded inquiry, critical analysis, and vigorous debate. While these duets do not offer a path toward peace or aim to effect changes in policy, they destabilize the notion that American Jews are unconditionally supportive of Israel or that “Jew” and “Zionist” are synonyms, and therefore represent a distinct shift in how American Jewish choreographers perform their relationship to Israel.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509062_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Rossen, Rebecca. "Uneasy Duets: Contemporary American Dances about Israel and the Mideast Crisis" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, Oct 20, 2011 <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509062_index.html>

APA Citation:

Rossen, R. , 2011-10-20 "Uneasy Duets: Contemporary American Dances about Israel and the Mideast Crisis" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509062_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: In the first half of the twentieth century, American Jews sought to integrate themselves into American life. At the same time, Israel assumed a central place in Jewish collective identity. Throughout the century, American Jews have grappled with these two “homes” and nationalisms. While dance is mostly absent from scholarship on American Zionism, Jewish choreographers have consistently created dances that reflect the shifting role of Zionism in American Jewish life.

In this presentation, I map the evolution of American Zionism alongside that of American modern and postmodern dance, in order to offer a detailed analysis of how two contemporary dance-works creatively intervene in political crises and crises of identity. I begin by briefly chronicling two critical engagements between American dance and American Zionism in the early and mid-twentieth century: Dvora Lapson’s labor Zionist dances of the 1930s, which aimed to educate Jewish and non-Jewish American audiences about Palestine, and Sophie Maslow’s choreography of the annual Chanukah Festivals for Israel Bonds at Madison Square Garden in the 1950s and ’60s, which ideologically and financially bonded the U.S. and Israel and equated American modern dance with the modern Jewish state. In recent years, the conflict in the Middle East has been wrenching for many American Jews—including choreographers—inciting some to examine their relationship with Israel using the dancing body itself as a site of contestation and reparation.

The bulk of my presentation will focus on two duets: Liz Lerman’s "Fifty Modest Reflections on Turning Fifty" (1998), a work that conflates the choreographer’s and Israel’s histories to question the terms of this bond, and Kristen Smiarowski and Tom Young’s "Attempts" (2002), which explores the artists’ fraught attempt to depict, assess, and intervene in, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In both works, the duet structure enables active dialogues, between performers, between dancers and audiences, and between disparate political positions, and situates choreographic and performance processes as opportunities for open-minded inquiry, critical analysis, and vigorous debate. While these duets do not offer a path toward peace or aim to effect changes in policy, they destabilize the notion that American Jews are unconditionally supportive of Israel or that “Jew” and “Zionist” are synonyms, and therefore represent a distinct shift in how American Jewish choreographers perform their relationship to Israel.


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