The Israeli choreographer Emanuel Gat has a theory about artistic creativity. Basically, there are two types of artists: one has a fairly clear vision of the work he wants to create before he begins, while the other has no idea at all. Instead, this latter type only uncovers something that already existed; he is merely a midwife, or as Gat puts it, a sort of scientist discovering hidden laws of nature that have existed all along.
Four years ago, Victoria Neznansky was faced with a difficult task. She was the newly hired chief program officer at the YM & YWHA in Washington Heights, which serves a predominantly Dominican community. And it was her responsibility to find a way to attract families from the area’s Jewish population, which had been dwindling for decades — all without alienating the dominant population.
In the 1970s, Ohad Naharin’s career as a dancer in Israel was just taking off when he left for America to be with his wife. Naharin was, at the time, one of Batsheva’s most promising dancers, doted on by Martha Graham, the iconic American choreographer who helped train many performers in the budding Israeli company. But then he met Mari Kajiwara, an American dancer with the Alvin Ailey company.
These days, a musical about a community where all members gather in the nude to sing and dance wouldn’t seem all that strange. After all, “Hair” has been around for decades.
But if you heard that this community was devoutly Christian, took vows of celibacy, and actually flourished nearly 200 years ago, you might raise an eyebrow. Perhaps you’d raise the other one if you heard that both the creators of this show were Jews.
When Avi Scher was accepted to the School of American Ballet almost two decades ago, when he was 10, he and his family faced a stark choice: they could stay in Israel with their tight-knit Orthodox community, where Scher was already training with one of the country’s prestigious ballet companies.