we live in a time when ‘bon ton’, dictated from above, speaks of brotherly hate to a despicable degree, it is a joy to go back and revel in the life enterprise of a woman who managed to bring together the best of all worlds and create, or rather give birth to, a new art form in a new land. This exemplary figure is Sarah Levy-Tanai (1910-2005), who later was also awarded the Israel Prize. Levy-Tanai used words for her creations, composing dozens of songs that we grew up with, from “To the Walnut Garden” (el ginat ha-egoz) to the Chanukah song “We Came to Dispel the Dark” (banu hoshech legaresh). And she composed music to go with these songs and to go with dance pieces.
In the field of dance, she turned out to be not only a choreographer but also someone who knew how to innovate and her major achievement was to set up the Inbal Troupe and later the Inbal Dance Theater. Necessity is the mother of invention; so, as a kindergarten teacher at Kibbutz Ramat HaKovesh, when she didn’t have children’s songs for the Israeli festivals, she made up her own. When she came up with choreographic ideas for her troupe, she offered them to the synagogues in the Yemenite Quarter in Tel Aviv. She incorporated elements of Western music through which she and those around her could record and document the music she had imbibed. The Inbal Troupe, formed in the 1950s, was an expression of a new Israeli identity, a combination of West and East, folk tradition and contemporary art. Already in the early fifties Jerome Robbins – one of the most important choreographers in the world, who conceived, choreographed and directed the great work “West Side Story” – came to Israel to see the Inbal Troupe and persuaded the choreographer Anna Sokolow to come here and work with the Troupe. This resulted in an extensive tour from coast to coast in the United States by Inbal, delivering the message of renewed Israeli culture – which was warmly received overseas. But of course they couldn’t leave it at that and rather petulantly the troupe which was so greatly appreciated when it represented us around the world, was later dismissed here at home as Levantine culture and all that implies.
Be that as it may, Sarah Levy-Tanai’s life work is unique and we should always remember her and her accomplishments, not just on Women’s Day.
(ed. Gill Teicher)
Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher