Sara Levi-Tanai

Taking ancient Yemenite moves to create modern dances.

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Achievements and Legacy

By 1952, Sara Levi-Tanai had a group performing her own dances. That year Jerome Robbins came to Israel to report on the dance scene for the Norman Fund's American Fund for Israeli Institutes, and was introduced to Sara and her work. Robbins found Sara Levi-Tanai's choreography brilliant, original, and unique, and called the mainly vertical dance movement of the Yemenite men ''Yemenite Gothic."
 
He was also fascinated with the softly bent knee of the Yemenite dancer and regarded it as "the perfect demi-plié." His report recommended supporting the fledgling company, called Inbal Dance Theatre, and bringing technique teachers from abroad to instruct its dancers, whom he found fascinating but untrained. He specifically recommended that Anna Sokolow be sent to teach modern technique and stagecraft, which she did for many extended periods in the 1950s and early 1960s. Robbins also suggested to the impresario Sol Hurok that Inbal be brought on tour to America.
 
In 1956-57 Hurok sponsored Inbal on its first tour of the United States and Europe. The critics and the audiences there and in Western Europe were enthusiastic, captivated by the bearded men and the lithe women who accompanied their dance with singing and the playing of drums.
 
Audiences saw Sara's inspiration from the bible realized on stage along with images effectively showing the landscape of Israel, the desert as well as poetry, especially that of the 17th century Yemenite poet Shalom Shabazi. Sara forged out of the Yemenite-Jewish ethnic materials a unique modern dance style all her own.
 
Some of her major works are: Song of Deborah (1955); Yemenite Wedding (1956), The Story of Ruth (1961 and revived in 1996), Carry us to the Desert (1964), Jacob in Haran (1973), and Song of Songs (1982, revived in 1996).
 
Like many great artists, Levi-Tanai tenaciously resisted any attempt to recreate or restage her choreography. Only in 1996, when she had become director emeritus of Inbal, were dances successfully re-staged by veteran Inbal dancers including Lea Avraham and Ilana Cohen, who has been Inbal's artistic director since 1997.

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Giora Manor

Giora Manor is a theatre director, journalist, and dance critic in Israel. He recently completed a biography of Sara Levi-Tanai called Sara's Way and is writing a book on important non-dancers who have had an impact on the art of dance.