Minneapolis Star Tribune, February
An Evening by Judith Brin Ingber
by John Habich, staff writer for the Star Tribune
A secretly plotting woman murders an enemy leader during a drawn-out ethnic
conflict in the Middle East: Comparisons between the ancient Hebrew tale of Judith
and modern acts of terrorism by individuals against nations were too rich to ignore.
So choreographer Judith Brin Ingber created a dance-drama exploring those unquiet
echoes. Voices of Sepharad will perform the work this week at the Southern Theater
in Minneapolis. Ingber calls it "Thirst!" -- because of "our thirst
for coming to a solution about terrorism, about our thirst for connections with
people, about quenching our disquiet."
Judith was an Israelite beauty held captive by Holofernes, commander of the
army of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who was on the march against her people.
The Apocrypha tells how she entered the enemy encampment and beheaded Holofernes
him while he slept.
"Thirst!" moves between ancient times and the present, between scroll
and newspaper, to recontextualize the moral of Judith's tale.
"We have the feeling that we get lost in the news, but individual people
can still do something," Ingber said.
Her new work makes reference to recent reports of people doing so -- Iranian
students getting a professor's death sentence commuted, refugees rallying in Africa.
Ingber wants questions to reverberate: How do we stand up to leaders? Who takes
action and why?
"Judith stood up for being terrorized. She did one action that changed
the whole course of everything," said Ingber, who compares today's suicide-bombers
unfavorably with the biblical heroine. "She was one person killing one person,
not blowing up crowds of people."
The premiere blends dance and speech with a score by Michael Karmon. It's a
big undertaking for the troupe, which usually has Ingber dancing solo as a few
musicians play ethnic instruments. Three extra dancers, an additional musician
and a narrator were recruited. The participation of dancer Canae Weiss led the
choreography in new directons because, as a deaf woman, she offered another approach
to storytelling through movement.
Weiss, who portrays the handmaiden to Ingber's Judith, incorporates American
Sign Language into her dance.
"For example, I draw my hands down my head to show that I am sad,"
she said by e-mail. "I bring my hands horizontally sharply in to my chest
and stomach to show pain and fear. These movements are based on the ASL signs
and placement for sad, hurt, scared, but are changed a little to flow smoothly
with the dance movements and be more dramatic."
The two methods of communicative movement have enough in common to merge easily.
"The language of dance uses the whole body and some facial expressions,
while ASL uses only the upper body and a lot of facial expression," Weiss
said. "Both have an order or grammar. Both use three-dimensional space."
"Thirst!" is the latest knot in Ingber's lifelong twining of art
and religious faith. After childhood training in ballet, she studied modern dance
at Sarah Lawrence College and performed in the company of her schoolmate Meredith
Monk. She moved to Israel and discovered "a living dance tradition":
dancing at the end of the Sabbath, at marriages, at harvest time in the fields.
After five years of working with a Sephardic troupe and the Israel Ethnic Dance
Project, she returned to her Minneapolis hometown with an armful of records and
a new way of looking at her life's work.
She and composer David Harris founded Voices of Sepharad in 1986. The name
refers to the diaspora of Sephardic Jews expelled in 1492 from Spain (sepharad
is the Hebrew word for Spain), which previously had been a thriving center of
Judaic leadership. The exiles scattered across North Africa and through the Middle
East to India and beyond, so the Sephardic tradition encompasses the intersection
of Judaism with myriad other cultures.
Voices of Sepharad has performed all over the United States as well as in Canada,
Poland and Turkey.
This week's program also includes reprises of two earlier Ingbar pieces, one
in which she dances and speaks about a personal experience in Jerusalem and a
panoramic 500-year vista of Sephardic history.