Dancer, performer, writer and choreographer Judith Brin Ingber has experienced and performed within the rich dance spheres of ballet, tap, modern and Jewish and Israeli folk dance. She has been privileged to hone her craft with such dance companies as Martha Graham, Inbal Dance Theatre, Batsheva and Bat-Dor. She expresses herself through dance, her feelings through movement, and observes that she is part of the dance necessity of life.Daughter Of The Arts is delighted to be able to share this exclusive interview
Judith Brin Ingber in “Minush”
DOTA: Where did you grow up? Are any members of your family in the arts?
JBI: I grew up in Minneapolis, and I have very interesting and marvelous parents. My mother is named Ruth F. Brin. She is a published poet and a Jewish liturgist. She was the first woman to have her prayerful poetry liturgy published in the conservative, reform, and reconstructionist prayers books.
DOTA: Is she also from Minnesota?
JBI: Yes. She was a very unusual woman in the 50’s when she was doing this it was unheard of. She was really unique at the time.
DOTA: What was your first experience with dance?
JBI: I was taken to a dance performance by my grandmother when I was three, which I never forgot. I insisted on lessons when I was very young. It was probably a Spanish folk dance troupe at the University of Minnesota.
DOTA: What type of lessons?
JBI: A little of everything, tap and ballet and acrobat. I had the good fortune when I was seven to study with a couple, Lorand and Anna Andahazy, who settled in Minnesota, and had been in the Ballet Russe. They gave me all of my dance training and my performing experience until I went to New York for college.
DOTA: When was your first experience with Jewish or Israeli dancing?
JBI: There were some older kids who were interested in Israeli folk dance in our Jewish community and they would teach at the conservative synagogue where I grew up. It was very common for us at the luncheons for the B’nai Mitzvot, to do Israeli folk dancing after lunch. That was my first important experience. It happened when I was around 12, going to different people’s Bar Mitzvahs.
The truth of the matter was, that my father was a very active Zionist and had interesting ties with Israel. That brought the Israeli connection into our household in an unusual way.
DOTA: You lived in Israel from 1972-77. Did you visit Israel before 1972?
JBI: Yes. I was there first for my Bat Mitzvah, I got a present to go on a trip and I went when I was 15. Then when I finished high school, my parents took the whole family. My father was a personal friend of Yigal Yadin so we had very special connections to Israel. My father dug at Masada when I was a freshman in college. Israel was very prominent in my childhood and in my upbringing.
DOTA: When you lived in Israel, you were working with the Batsheva Dance Company. Did you go there for that purpose?
JBI: When I was a freshman in college in 1963, around the year that Batsheva started, the company members were being sent to the Graham (Martha Graham) school to study in New York. I was hoping to join up at that point. I started taking Graham classes, in addition to the fact that I was a dance major at Sarah Lawrence College. That was my first connection with modern dance. There wasn’t any in Minneapolis. I read Dance Magazine since I was young, so I knew about Fred Berk at the 92nd Street Y (New York). Sometimes there would be an article about him. He also had an ad in the Dance Magazine so I knew about his “Jewish Dance Division” at the 92nd Street Y. During my senior year at Sarah Lawrence, he came to teach, and I met him. It was very inspiring, and thrilling.
Originally, when I was at Sarah Lawrence I had the idea of performing with Batsheva. Then I came back to Minneapolis and decided I would audition for Batsheva. In the meantime, I met the man that I fell in love with, and we got married, then we went to Israel together. This was all in 1972.
When I finished at Sarah Lawrence, I started my first job at Dance Magazine; I became very connected with him (Berk). He asked me to edit some articles he was writing for Dance Magazine. He gave me a scholarship to the 92nd Street Y to take lessons. When I moved to Israel, he would bring youth groups, and I would teach occasionally for him. When I first moved to Israel, I was asked by an editor in New York (from Dance Perspectives) whether I would consider writing a monograph for her about Sara Levi-Tanai, who created Inbal. I said I would like to investigate the whole field, because I really didn’t know much about what was going on. In the meantime, I met Fred’s teacher and dance director, who was living in Israel. Her name was Gertrude Krause. She took me to meet her best friend who was Gurit Kadmon.
There was changing of the guard at Batsheva, there was one school for the two companies, Bat-Dor and Batsheva. So I ended up teaching the apprentices for the two companies at the one school then called The Batsheva Bat-Dor Dance Society. I choreographed a dance for them that was a children’s program that was put on television called “What Is Dance?”
It took me a long time, but I started meeting very remarkable and very fascinating people. When I interviewed Sara Levi-Tanai, I explained that I had all this dance background. She said, “I always wanted my dancers to have more stagecraft and more ballet, why don’t you come and teach, besides interviewing me?” Then, she decided that it would be even better for me to be her assistant. So I actually worked as the assistant for Sara Levi for two years, besides teaching the apprentices for Bat-Dor and Batsheva. In addition, I was interviewing all these people and trying to figure out what I was going to write plus keeping up my weekly meetings with Gertude. My article in Dance Perspectives was published in August of 1974, called “Shorashim, the Roots of Israeli Folk Dance.”
Judith Brin Ingber in “La Serena”
DOTA: Do you choreograph non-performance dances?
JBI: No, I was trained with a certain philosophy by a composition choreography teacher by the name of Bessie Schonberg at Sarah Lawrence College. There is something now in New York presented called The Bessies, which is like the Academy Awards of dance that is named after her. So it was my good fortune to leave Minneapolis and become her student. Her concept was that dancers have to understand how to make dances. What goes into the craft of choreography? If you graduated from the dance program at Sarah Lawrence you had to take her classes in how to make dances and what are dances. It was a very full and involved and amazing dance education. So when I was working at Bat-Dor and Batsheva, if I was creating dances for those apprentices to do, it was in the vein of how you create a dance in a modern dance way.
The longer I was involved in Israel, and the more I worked at Inbal, the more that I saw what was going on. The more things that I went to see, I began to realize how Sara Levi was working, and what Yardena (Cohen) said about using the props and the influences of dance in the environment with the biblical experience come to life. When I came back with my husband, after living in Israel for five years, my own dances were contemporary dances, but definitely had an ethnic flavor to them. I started making pieces that had a lot of inspiration from my Israeli experience. First I was doing solo shows, and shows with an Israeli dancer Rachel Kafri who was living in Wisconsin. I toured synagogues with my own programs, and I created solos.
Judith Brin Ingber in “These Things I Remember”
Then I met a man who is a singer and a cantorial soloist in Minneapolis named David Harris. He was interested in Sephardic song. So it’s been twenty years, since we created The Voices of Sepharad together. He auditioned musicians, and we became a group of four. We became sort of a chamber group.
Judith in costume performing with Voices of Sepharad
We have a piece that we call “Peace in the House.” We have six dancers and six musicians. It is a project where they work on curriculum of tolerance for high school and college (students). We performed it two Sundays ago, on July 9 at a conference of Palestinians, and Jordanians and Israelis that was held at a university in Minnesota called Hamline. On July 10 everything started falling apart in Lebanon and Israel.
Voices of Sepharad with: Judith Brin Ingber,
David Harris (vocalist/co-founder), Mick LaBriola (percussion),
David Berk (guitar)
Photo by Alvis Upitis
DOTA: What are some of your current projects?
JBI: I’m excited about working with the reprinting of the “Dance Perspectives,” and the “Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review” that I did in 2000 and also the “Dancing Into Marriage: Jewish Wedding Dances,” that I did for the Dance Research Journal. There are going to be some 20 authors in this new dance book and new essays. It’s through Wayne State University Press. It takes a while for this to happen, but it’s in the making.
DOTA: Would you please explain about the paper you presented in Quebec in 2005 at the International Conference of the Congress on Research in Dance at the University of Quebec, Montreal, titled “Dancing Despite the Scourge: Jewish Dancers During The Holocaust?”
JBI: Yes that was based on research that I’ve been doing at the Yad Veshem; it’s a very amazing experience to present that. I was brought in as an artist in residence to a synagogue in Chicago where Rabbi Ze’ev Harari is the rabbi. I did a weekend there. When I presented aspects of that, survivors came up to me with all kinds of amazing stories. I am going to do that paper again for Second Generation Survivors, children of survivors, in the summer. Even though I’m trying to concentrate on a book, there are always other projects that keep happening!
DOTA: You are going to the dance camp Machol Europa. Have you been there before?
JBI:Yes, five years ago. I’m going to do a lecture about Sephardic dance, which is considered too sexy by many of the rabbis. (Her essay, “Is Sephardic Dance Too Sexy?” appears in the recent book Sephardic Identity: Essays on a Vanishing Jewish Culture (2005) Mc Farland Publishers. ) It was a result of a big conference on Sephardic culture. I’ll be doing an aspect of that with slides and information about Yemenite dance.
DOTA: When dancers attend, what are they most interested in?
JBI: They come from all over Europe. Some are coming for repertoire to teach dancers they work with. The idea that I’m asking them to look at pictures, and think about their own background and how they can hook it into a bigger picture.
DOTA: Summing up, why dance?
JBI:Unlike Sara Levi-Tanai who was a natural choreographer, and driven in an entirely different way, I was trained in it. But, maybe I was driven too. You don’t start out in dance if you don’t have a commitment in your soul. It isn’t quite explainable to other people that you just have to do, no matter where you are, or what your age is, or the circumstances you find yourself. You are expressing yourself in your world through dance, and explaining how you feel things through movement, and connecting with people through this way of being. I’m not the only dancer in the world to say those things. I am part of that dance necessity of life.
Judith Brin Ingber’s “The Come Back Performance of Bari Simon,”
What happened to me, as a Jewish person, was that once I lived in Israel, I understood that Jewishly there is a whole important strain of Judaism that expresses itself in dance. Growing up in the Midwest, in an Ashkenazic observant family, I didn’t understand that all my dance training could become part of my Jewish life. And being in Israel I understood that there is a whole part of Judaism that is part of Jewish life.
It’s not some new idea of Gurit’s that we all do Israeli folk dancing in our “new” society; it is a whole part of the oral Jewish tradition to be involved with dance. This is not some little weird aspect of certain people who love Israeli folk dance, or some strange little part of Judaism. This has been a part of every Jewish community forever.
Link to website of Judith Brin Ingber
Link to list of Israeli folk dances by Sara Levi-Tanai
Link to list of Israeli folk dances by Gertrude Kraus
Link to list of Israeli folk dances by Yardena Cohen
Link to list of Israeli folk dances by Fred Berk
New York Public Library Digital Library Collections
Link about Fred Berk: