Stories in Motion: Israeli Culture Bridging Political Gaps

Stories in Motion engages participants with pieces of Israel’s history through creative movement and physical expression. As participants bring to life the story of an Israeli dance company that faces and overcomes a difficult political situation, the cultural exchange finds resonance in the hearts and minds of the participants.

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Core Learnings: 

Roughly half of Jews in Israel are of Middle Eastern descent
Cultural exchanges can bridge political gaps in a way that discussion cannot
Israeli artists sometimes find themselves in dangerous situation when they tour because of people's negative opinions about Israel


1. Background information: The following background information will help the participants understand the story that this program is based upon. Facilitator introduces these three pieces of information to the group.

A. The Oslo Accords:
The Oslo Accords were bilateral agreements signed in Washington following negotiations, part of which was clandestine, between Israel and the PLO. The main concern was on the Israeli withdrawal from the territories of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, in order to allow the establishment of a Palestinian Authority for self-government for an interim period until permanent arrangements would be established. On September 13, 1993, the problems regarding the mutual recognition were resolved, allowing Rabin and Arafat to sign the Declaration of Principles at the White House in Washington. 

B. Margalit Oved
Margalit Oved—dancer, choreographer, singer, actress, musician—an émigré from Yemen (in the early 1950s), began her career in her teens as one of the original members of Sarah Levi-Tanai’s ethnic Inbal Dance Company in Tel Aviv, Israel. Her creative roots go further back, however, to her native Aden, where as a child she danced barefoot and carefree. Her story, told through her dances, is that of a Jewish Yemenite turned Israeli and then American. Despite her several transformations, she did not abandon her earliest influences. At the same time, she has internalized her experiences in the United States, including the raising of an American-born family, and used them to inform her more recent work.

C. Barak Marshall
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Barak is the son of acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and musician Margalit Oved. Since his accidental entrance into dance in 1995, Barak established himself as one of Israel’s most innovative voices. 

Tell the group that they will now have the opportunity to learn more about a cultural exchange that overcame a situation of political strife. 

2. Studying the Text:

Partner Study/Chavruta:
Divide participants into pairs and have them read the text “Barak Marshall: Dance Bridging Cultures.” Each pair receives three different colored highlighters and uses different markers to highlight characters, actions, and emotions respectively.

Group Discussion: Participants analyze and reflect upon the story as a group.

Guiding Questions:
*In addition to fear, what do you think the Israeli dancers were feeling in the moments before they performed? 
*Do you think Marshall and his dancers anticipated receiving the reaction that they did from the crowd?
*Why do you think the crowd reacted as they did to the performance? 
*What do you think about the dancer’s decision to perform despite the animosity they were receiving from the crowd? Do you think such cultural exchanges are worth placing one’s life in danger?

3. Dancing the Text

Role Assignment: Facilitator leads the group in creating a list of the characters in the story, along with their actions and emotions (a sample list is provided in the supporting documents). Characters can be human as well as inanimate objects. Participants choose characters from the story such that each participant has at least one role. They are asked to begin creating movements that express their character’s actions and emotions. 

Costuming: Participants create costumes for themselves from white bed sheets or other material scraps. Facilitator provides markers, scissors, and safety pins along with the material.

Dance Creation: After creating movements for their particular role and getting into costume, participants dance their movements as a group while the facilitator reads the text. This is repeated two or three times in order to help the movements coalesce into a cohesive dance. Then the narration ceases and the dance is put to music with the story being told without words. 

Dance Performance: Have the participants dance their piece one final time, but this time instead of setting it to music, play the attached youtube video as they are dancing ( This video is one of Barak Marshall’s choreographic works. 
They may need to repeat the dance a few times in order to fill the time of the entire video (their movements do not need to match up with what is happening in the video, but they may do so if they like).  


Younger Participants: It may be easier for participants to study the text and highlight the characters, actions, and emotions as a group rather than in partner study.

Older Participants: If the group is a bit older, the facilitator might want to include in the processing portion of the session, a discussion about culture as a means for bridging gaps. 

Some possible questions to encourage discussion:

• Do you think there are any instances in which a particular cultural piece should not be included in a given performance or exhibition venue? Why or why not?

• There are an increasing number of places that will not allow Israeli performers or artists to participate in festivals and other such cultural exchanges. What do you think are the effects of such decisions?

• What do you think might have happened if before the performance the dancers had responded to the insults they received in Arabic by speaking openly in Arabic? Do you think the story would have ended differently? Why or why not?

• Do you think culture is the best mechanism by which political gaps can be bridged? Why or why not?

Additional Time/Sessions: This session can be a part of a lesson or a curriculum on the Jews of Middle Eastern descent, or the plight of Yemenite Jews.  Part of the impact of the story is that Marshall’s mother is a Yemenite Jew, and many of his dancers were of Middle-Eastern descent, yet the audience was unaware that there was such a thing as a Jew of Arabic descent. The facilitator may choose to show the film “The Forgotten Refugees” or to address the history of this population in another way.

Larger groups: In order to accommodate larger groups, multiple people can dance each role and choreograph their movements together.  

Background Cards: 

Supporting Materials: 


Dalia Davis