A Los Angeles-based modern dance troupe has been asked by the U.S. State Department to act as cultural ambassadors to Israel and Jordan.
BODYTRAFFIC has just returned from five weeks in the Middle East. On its way home to L.A. the company has stopped in Philadelphia for a five-night run at the Prince Theater.
"It was an extraordinary experience," said Tina Finkelman Berkett, co-founder and co-artistic director of the company, one of three chosen by Dance Motion USA to travel abroad. They performed and conducted residency workshops with professional dancers, amateurs, and people with no dance training at all.
"They really want companies that will represent the diversity of the states, with a clear understanding of what dance means in the U.S.," said Berkett. "In Israel we felt we were sharing that in a beautiful way. But it hit us really hard in Jordan, where kids had never seen dance at all. Forget YouTube -- they've never even heard of what we were doing."
While the traditional Jordanian folk dance, a dabke, is often performed at weddings and ceremonies, modern dance performed in a theatrical setting is rare in Jordan.
On the other hand, Israel has a vibrant contemporary dance scene, if sometimes literally underground.
BODYTRAFFIC worked with a collective of women choreographers in Jerusalem who make work to be performed exclusively for women. The city has allowed the collective to rehearsal in a municipal bomb shelter.
"There were so many layers to that workshop that left a huge impression on me," said Berkett. "Even though I went to Barnard College, it was the first time I was in a room dancing only with women. On top of that, to be in a bomb shelter."
BODYTRAFFIC spent three weeks in Israel, two weeks in Jordan at the invitation of the U.S. State Department. The point, Berkett said, was to represent the joy of American dance. She also felt a need to represent her American Jewish heritage while in Israel.
"There's something beautiful about representing another people that I'm a part of," said Berkett. "But when we went to Jordan, the embassy encouraged us to not talk about religion and, in particular, not reveal that I'm Jewish."
Her role as cultural ambassador is meant to start dialogues in Jordan about dance. Mentioning her religion would have immediately shut down any dialogue.
BODTYTRAFFIC will perform in Philadelphia through Sunday.
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