Addressing Oct. 7 through the lens of the biblical flood

The story of the biblical flood and the massacre of Oct. 7 have inspired Israeli dancer and choreographer Hanoch Ben Dror to create The Jerusalem Dance Theater (JDT) production of The Great Deep (Tahom Rabbah)presented at The Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv.

After a 20-year break, Ben Dror comes back to the dance world as the artistic director of the theater and creator of this powerful dance performance.

JDT is a “professional contemporary repertory dance ensemble inspired by cultural and social developments of the city of Jerusalem” that was “established in 1985 by dancer and choreographer Tamara Mielnik, who was interested in creating dance with a relationship to Jewish tradition that would have an educational and ethical message but that draws from international dance,” according to its Instagram page and website.

Using various metaphors, Ben Dror deals with ongoing traumas in Israel’s recent tragic experiences. Watching the show during the ongoing war can have a catharsis effect. Falling Hebrew letters as part of the set design, accompanying a solo dance in the second part of the performance, take us to the abyss, deeply explored by the creators of The Great Deep.

The show is divided into three acts, set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Arvo Part, and Franz Liszt, all performed live by the piano duo of Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony. To the three parts, after the dance’s premiere, Ben Dror decided to add an epilogue, which he revealed during this interview for the Magazine: “It talks about hope and the way to overcome a tragic event,” he said.

Why did you call your show ‘The Great Deep’?

In Hebrew, it is tahom rabbah (the great abyss). This is a phrase that appears for the first time in Genesis. It refers to fountains of the great deep, in the time of the flood. Creating the show, I was inspired by a philosophical approach, the Iridosophical®, which sees the biblical flood story as an analogy to our present life experience.

You compare the times of the biblical flood to the experiences of the Oct. 7 massacre.

Yes, there are similarities in many aspects: I felt it very strongly when the war started. But even before the war, I felt that the world was on shaky ground. Anything that didn’t have a strong enough foundation didn’t stand the test of change.

We started to work on it after Oct. 7. I had a very strong sense that metaphorically, we were going through the same process but in a different costume. In Genesis, where it is written about the flood, there is also mentioned the word ‘hamas’ (Genesis 6:11, ‘robbery’; translation source as given below).

The flood also happened from the sky; the water came from all directions. I felt on Oct. 7 that we were (metaphorically) flooded from Gaza, the North, later on from Yemenand now from Iran – just like in biblical times, from all directions.

You transformed it into a dance performance, with live music (piano duo) and video art. In my subjective perception, the first two parts with the music of Bach and Part were very connected to each other and very strong – they felt like one. And the third part, with the music of Liszt, felt like a separate piece. Why did you choose these specific composers, and why did you make an intermission before the third part? It’s not a long show.

The last few years have changed human relations; it started with COVID-19. People found themselves closer to their families, the close people. It was not easy for some people. I felt that the first part (of the show) was talking about relationships and intimacy; I felt we were obliged to practice it because many other distractions (like entertainment) were taken away from us.

In the last part, the story of Don Giovanni by Liszt, I referred to the Supernova festival as a big party disconnected from reality, which ended in a huge tragedy. It’s all metaphorical. I believe that showing something in a different context can be stronger than being too literal about it. The story of Don Giovanni is a big fiesta – colorful in costumes, a euphoric party – that ends with a tragedy. It represents The Great Deep.

And what about the second act? Of course, this is very individual, but to me personally the middle part of your show was the most powerful. Screened in the background, falling Hebrew letters (like rain), together with a solo dance was very dramatic.

To me, this part was the story of Noah. This was the first time when rain was poured on the land; this was in the time of Noah. Humanity is destroyed – almost. Of course, he and his family are saved.

Why are the Hebrew letters in the background?

These are the letters from the Bible that speak about the flood, that appear throughout the Bible in different contexts. The first meaning (of them) is the original water of the universe that gave the land its life from within, which represents the internal voice of God (within people).

Have you worked with biblical stories before?

No, this is my first time. This is also my first creation after the 20-year break from the dance world in general. In the past, I was a dancer (in Israel and abroad), a choreographer, a dance teacher, and the artistic director of the Gvanim Dance Festival at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv. But for the past twenty years, I dedicated myself to teaching children (ages three to seven) in the Rudolf Steiner education system (also known as Waldorf education – a holistic approach focused on imagination and creativity of students). I also deeply studied – connected to Judaism – the Iridosophical® philosophy (I need to mention Shlomit Tamir, a very important person in this field), which inspires me today while working with the dancers. My interest is not only to approach a ballet audience because what I am interested in trespassing (to reach out to a wider audience, who have never been to a ballet) are philosophical ideas, not just movement.

But you and the dancers in your performance have a classical ballet education.

Yes, I studied classical ballet and modern dance at The Bat-Dor School of Dance in Tel Aviv; and during the army, I was recognized as an outstanding dancer, so I got to continue dancing. At the age of 21, I started my international career in Europe. I danced with Jean-Christophe Maillot (in Ballet de Tours), I was at the (Swedish contemporary dance) Cullberg Ballet Company, and then I joined the National Ballet of Spain. I finished my career at the Batsheva Dance Company, under the artistic direction of Ohad Naharin. For the next ten years, I taught dance and made choreographies in Israel and abroad.

Why did you stop? And what made you come back now?

I felt that dance was not satisfying me at that point anymore, and I wanted to explore different fields. I came back, a bit by a coincidence – I didn’t plan it. I was asked to help a friend once a week, and eventually, a few months later I became the artistic director of The Jerusalem Dance Theater. Now I feel I integrate all the worlds I have been moving in during my journey.

Going back to ‘The Great Deep,’ why did you choose those specific composers?

I felt that (the music of) each one of them represented specifically what I was trying to say. (The music of) Bach, for example, has something very pure in it. For me, his represents intimacy, and something very naked, basic of life, just like the great deep that gave water to the land from within.

The second part by Arvo Part is so minimalistic, that it allows for creating that solitary process, that a man like Noah (a tzaddik of his generation) has to go through to arrive at purity. So if you think of the letters of tahom rabbah (the great deep), and you mix them as I did in the video, they become mahut barah – the clean (pure) essence. The Hebrew word ‘barah’ can mean ‘very clean and pure’, but it can also mean ‘creation.’ It is like creating your essence from the beginning, again.

As for Liszt, he is an extravagant composer, so to me his music fits the context of Supernova festival.

How was it for you to work not only with the dancers but also with two pianists on the stage?

I like working with artists of other disciplines. I also think that live music is more interesting to the public. I worked with these two pianists on another project many years ago, and I wanted to come back to this cooperation.

The dancers are young people, the age of the participants of the Supernova festival, and you gave them the task of dancing the Supernova festival…

Yes, but at the same time, we cannot look at it literally… Life before Oct. 7 is not the same as now, just like life before the flood. It all affected us. But conflicts never stop, they only change – back in Noah’s times, and now. We are just human beings.

Why should people see ‘The Great Deep’?

That’s a hard question – I have to think about it…This is a show that represents what we are going through. Sometimes, when we look at things very closely, we are drowning in them; and when we look at something as a metaphor, it can help to put some order in our thoughts and emotions. I think that watching this show with such a perspective can bring order to the chaos. It summarizes the process that we are going through in a short time – 50 minutes of the show.

The next performances will be slightly longer, and to the three parts I will add an epilogue – on how to deal with catastrophe after it had already happened. Sometimes a catastrophe unites a broken society, (so that we can begin) making our way to the new reality with compassion.

Whose music have you chosen for the epilogue?

Edward Elgar. The piece was also arranged for two pianos.

So I will have to come again, for the new ending. Or the new beginning, as you said – and then I will ask you why Elgar.

Absolutely! 

For more information about The Great Deep, visit:

suzannedellal.org.il/en/shows

(Hebrew translations from The Tanach, ArtScroll Series/ Stone Edition, 1996, 1998, Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)





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