Once a year Israel’s classical ballet comany puts on a performance of a traditional ballet. This is intended mainly for the entertainment of children during the Chanukah/Christmas holiday season. For me, however, this is a golden opportunity to enjoy a very special aesthetic and artistic treat.
When I was growing up my parents showed no interest in the ballet, and I don’t regard myself as a great connoisseur of that particular art form, but ever since I saw my first performance in Jerusalem some twenty years ago I have loved it and waited eagerly for the next opportunity to attend a performance. In addition, ever since the massive immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1980s the intake of dancers in the field of classical ballet in Israel has risen in both quantity and quality. The number of Russian-sounding names participating in the show each year is a clear indication of this. Until 2012 the Israel Ballet was headed by Bertha Yampolsky and Hillel Markman, who founded the company in 1967, directed and choreographed the performances and kept up a very high standard. Upon their retirement in 2012 they were replaced by Leah Lavi and Matte Morai, who have succeeded in maintaining the company’s excellence.
Over the years, accompanied by one or two of my granddaughters (the boys declined to join us), as well as the occasional daughter-in-law, I have been able to see some wonderful performances here in Jerusalem (though the company’s home is in Tel Aviv). It goes without saying that putting on a ballet is a highly complicated and complex undertaking, involving scenery-painters and movers, set designers, choreographers, costume designers and makers and lighting experts, not to mention male and female dancers (predominantly the latter), all of whom must demonstrate consummate skill and artistry as well as being lithe, athletic and beautiful. Amazingly, all the dancers in the one I saw last week fulfilled all those requirements, making for a breathtakingly beautiful performance.
This year the ballet chosen for the stage was ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ with the music of Tchaikovsky, and what a delight it was! So although my granddaughters and daughter-in-law and I are all fairly grown-up and no longer entranced by fairy-tales, we were all enchanted by the beauty of the dancing, the superior technical level, the beautiful costumes and the excellence of every aspect of the show.
It is customary in Israel to use recorded music rather than a full orchestra for a ballet performance (the cost would be prohibitive), but the professional sound system used dispelled all reservations about the quality of the sound. And Tchaikovsky’s music resonated throughout the Jerusalem Theatre, bringing joy and emotion to our hearts.
The costumes and dancing of the corps de ballet, as well as the soloists (the Good Fairy, the Wicked Fairy, the Prince, Sleeping Beauty herself) were outstanding, and each dancer managed to convey a gamut of emotions through movement and expression alone. I have never forgotten the question my granddaughter asked on her first visit to the ballet. Accustomed to seeing children’s plays, after half an hour of music and dance she turned to me and whispered “Why aren’t they talking?” Many dancers and wonderful music have entranced her since then, and now grown up she is quite the connoisseur, but I hope that my answer to her question then made it clear that in ballet there is no need for words.
Now that the season’s performances have ended all that remains is to wait eagerly for next year’s offering. We are truly blessed in Israel to be able to enjoy artistic performances of such a high standard and such variety. And for me to be able to share that pleasure with my grandchildren is an added bonus.