Friday, October 21, 2005

Yemenite dance queen dies

The death of the founder of the Inbal Dance troupe, Sarah Levi-Tanai, who did much to nurture Yemenite culture and pride in Israel, prompts The Guardian to publish this obituary by Lawrence Joffe:

....."(Sarah)Levi-Tanai's life changed dramatically during 1949-50, when Operation Magic Carpet flew some 50,000 Jews from Yemen and Aden to the newly-independent Jewish state. She tracked down musicians, dancers and storytellers from the remotest villages, and they, in turn, taught her the distinctive footsteps, which she likened to "sinking in soft sand". Their pride and enthusiasm re-awoke her Yemenite roots.

"The timing of the troupe's creation was fortuitous: over time, Jewish immigration from Arab lands grew to form nearly half of Israel's population. Inbal's flamboyant costumes and onstage humour and pathos represented a confident oriental contribution to a nation still dominated by its invariably wealthier Ashkenazi founders.

"Levi-Tanai won the Israel Prize for arts and culture in 1973. Inbal gained a permanent theatre and its dancers co-operated with other groups, including local Arabs, Druze and Circassians. Gradually, however, as other Israeli dance troupes emerged, what had seemed avant garde about Inbal came to seem passé.

"Ora Brafman, who in 1995 released Bare Feet, a documentary about Levi-Tanai, admitted that Inbal had been used as a political tool. The company, she wrote, was depicted as the rebirth of a 2,000-year-old nation, and "a symbol of the smooth integration of newcomers, the adjustment of eastern Jews to prevailing western cultural codes".

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