Moshiko (Moshe Itzchak-Halevy) has created more than 180 Israeli folk dances since 1959. He is an award-winning dance choreographer. He has been a professional dancer with the Inbal Dance Company, a character dancer with The Ballet Company of Mia Arbatova, and created his own ensemble, The Hapaamonim Company. In addition, he has written the music, played the instruments and sung his own songs to many of his Israeli folk dance creations.
Through the years he has not only taught technique and choreography to his students, but also learned with them and from them. He has evolved, mellowed, and shared his talent and wisdom with dancers from many cultures.
He reveals to Daughter Of The Arts, in this exclusive interview, the heart and soul of his spirit and passion for music and dance.
Ramah Rikkudiah 2002
DOTA: When did you first start choreographing Israeli Folk Dances?
MH: My first dance was in 1959, Debka Uriah.
DOTA: How did it come about?
MH: With Debka Uriah, for example, I choreographed first the steps. The dance was based on six parts. Each one is different. I was not familiar with how to arrange a dance at that time. I felt inspired, so I choreographed this dance, Debka Uriah. I completed the six different parts. At the beginning I was thinking of accompanying the dance with drums, only rhythms. But after that, a friend of mine told me that there was a melody that he thought would fit the dance. Then, I got the music Debkat Habir from Nachamia Sharabi. At the beginning it didn’t have any words to it, only the melody. A performing group gave a gala performance before they went to perform in a dance festival in Vienna, 1959. They demonstrated my dance, and unfortunately I don’t know why, (it wasn’t because of me), they didn’t mention his name as the composer, they only mentioned my name as the choreographer of the dance, and that created a conflict.
After that he felt offended by that since he saw the show. When he left, he said that he didn’t want me to use the music at all, and he is going to write lyrics to that music, and he is going to call it Debkat Habir. And, when he came to settle in the United States, Fred Berk wanted to record this music for my dance with the Victor (record) Company. Then Nachamia Sharabi told him if you want to use the music, you have to call it Debkat Habir. What he did confused the folk dancers. They didn’t know if the dance was called Debkat Habir or Debka Uriah or what. I choreographed this dance and dedicated it to my oldest son Uriah for his birthday; he was two years old. Then I happened to arrive in the United States, where I lived for 16 years in New York, from the end of 1973 to 1990. I tried to explain to the folk dancers, when they asked why some call it Debkat Habir and I call it Debka Uriah, and I had to tell the story. I don’t mind, if you want to sing the song, you can call it Debkat Habir, but if you want to dance the dance, you have to call it Debka Uriah.
DOTA: What attracts you first; do you first find the music or first decide on the steps?
MH: Most of the time the music inspires me to choreograph a dance, movements, and steps. For me, if a rhythm comes to me, then I am creating elements based on certain rhythms; and when I finish the choreography, I compose music to that. From about 180 dances that I choreographed, about 150 are to my own music. When I did a recording in New York, it was sometimes hard to find somebody to come and sing the kind of style of songs that I needed, like Yemenite or Arabic. Sometimes I had to do the singing. Sometimes I have been forced to do it by myself. Not that I liked it, but I didn’t have a choice. Especially when it was Yemenite style of music.
DOTA: What is your dance background?
MH: I was a classic ballet dancer, jazz, tap dance, and character dancer before I joined Inbal Dance Company. I didn’t come to the field of Israeli folk dance, as many of the other instructors did, who grew up through the recreation. My background is more academic. I studied in ballet school, learning professionally to move my hands, my back, my body.
DOTA: Which instruments do you play?
MH: I used to play trumpet but the trumpet made my lips hard. And then I couldn’t play the flute that needs soft lips. So I had to quit the trumpet.
DOTA: You’ve often told dancers, “If you make a mistake do it with spirit.” What does that mean?
MH: With a lot of confidence! First relax, and be able to absorb things, and be able to do it without any fear that maybe you will make mistakes. Since my job, my duty is to encourage the dancers and not to discourage them, I’m trying to give them an idiom by telling them, “Don’t worry about the mistakes. Make mistakes with a lot of confidence.” Don’t hesitate, because when you are hesitating then all your body is freezing and you are afraid to move, because you are afraid to make mistakes. You can’t move this way when your mind is just thinking about the mistakes that you might do. The dance needs relaxation and not a tight body. I’m giving them an idea: don’t worry. Sometimes students want to impress the teacher and I don’t think that this is something good. They don’t want to disappoint the teacher, or disappoint themselves. We are human beings and we make mistakes. I used to use a phrase that said: perfection is a value of God; but the ambition to be perfect is the value of mankind. We are trying to achieve the best we can. But, when we make mistakes from time to time, it gives us a message that there is no space for another God.
Moshiko with Natalie Stern
Ramah Rikkudiah 2002
DOTA: What is the future of Israeli dancing?
MH: Israeli folk dancing gives us opportunities to: gather, and enjoy dancing together; share culture together; get to know each other; enjoy together. There are different varieties of reasons of how to enjoy things. People go to nightclubs, to bars, to see a film. Some people like to dance. The effect of meeting each other and dancing together is a kind of therapy that each of us needs. It doesn’t mean that we are sick people! There are so many reasons why people want to leave home, they don’t want to stay home, they want to be with other friends, other people, instead of being alone and thinking about negative things. So meeting and dancing is one of the therapies, one of the ways of healing our minds and body.
DOTA: You have many dances derived from different styles and cultures. How do you express the essence of these in your dances?
MH: For me as an artist, I am open to other influences on me. We have different communities of ethnic groups in Israel. And I am one (of the choreographers) who likes to dig in different ethnic sources and see how I can interpret their movements, interpret their elements to the needs of Israeli folk dance. For example, there is Machol Gruzini (1991, Georgian) Maybe if the Gruzinian people would see it, they might say, ‘Well it’s not exactly Gruzinian, but it has influence.” But it’s enough!! When you are trying to interpret something that belongs to a certain environment, and you take it from this environment and change the environment, all that will be left is the influence.
The Yemenite dances that you see today are not exactly the Yemenite dances that have been in Yemen. Because in Yemen those dances look quite different because they belong to that environment. The environment is so important for the “tree” to grow up. This what happened when the Yemenite people moved to Israel, and they were really not living in the same conditions and environment they used to live in Yemen. Also, the elements of the dance have changed because they lived in open areas, and they let other influences permeate them. If they did things by knowing it, or by not knowing it, it’s penetrating. Suddenly you see here and there, something else. On one hand it’s ok. Because our interpretation, what we do, and how we do it, it only gives us a reason to do something to be influenced from something. And to try to build it, to develop it, and at the end to come out with something. You will see whether it’s correct, or not, if it’s good, if it’s a success, by the reaction of the people. Some people like it, some people don’t like it.
Moshiko teaching one of his dances
Ramah Rikkudiah 2002
You will be surprised to know that there is an audience, there are folk dancers for everything no matter what you put, what kind of music, there is always somebody to get up to dance. And the quality doesn’t really bother “him,” if it’s original, if it’s not original, if it has any roots, or influence. All he needs is to relieve his nerves, and get up and dance. He really doesn’t care about the quality, particularly, or if you do precisely the element or not. If you choreograph a dance, and you mix up, if you make an Arabic debka for example, and you add to it a Yemenite step, and then you add it to another element, that has nothing to do with Arabic style of dance, the people are dancing. They really don’t care, they really don’t know if it’s original, if it’s not original they hear the music, they follow the music. They do whatever the instructor says to do. They are enjoying and that’s it.
But, people who really care about quality and really care about the truth of this work, they will not get up and dance. It doesn’t attract them. We know in a social, recreational surrounding while the music is playing, not everybody gets up to dance. Some people don’t like the melody. Some of them don’t like the choreography. We have a problem with the choreographers that they have difficulty to reach with their movements to the level of the music, the quality of the music. And sometimes there is a difference.
MOSHIKO IN MOTION
Machol Hashalom, Lile France, July 2005
Photo copyright Alex Huber
To learn more about Moshiko Halevy and his music and dances, go to his website at:
To listen to a clip of Moshiko’s Debka Uriah/Debkat Habir:
LINKS TO VIDEO CLIPS
(Links site – Les Posen)
Moshiko at Hora Melbourne, July 2004 leading his “Ya Abud,” “Shirat Hayam,” Ga’agu’im,” and “Buki Dalale”
Moshiko leading his 1989 classic “Galey Hamizrach,” shown at Hora Shalom
Moshiko leading his 1978 classic “Hora Yamit,” at Horati 2001
Moshiko leading his “Odeh Ya,” (1989)
Moshiko leading his “Yom Tichon” at Hora Shalom, 1988
MOSHIKO GUEST APPEARANCES
Moshiko will be one of the guest choreographers at:
Machol Hashalom – folk dance camp – July 24-July 29 – in France. For details contact: www.horaor.org
Hora Keff 2006 – Folk Dance Camp – August 22-27, 2006 – Camp Monroe – New York. For details contact: (212)942-4143 Or Call (516)569 – KEFF (5333).
Daughter Of The Arts homepage photo of Moshiko, courtesy of Alex Huber