Sunday, December 7, 2008

Celebrating the Avodah Dance Ensemble

In August 2004 I retired as founding artistic director of The Avodah Dance Ensemble.  It was a wonderful thirty years and I had pretty much reached a point where the dance muse was no longer a burning passion.  I knew it was time to move on.  Luckily at the same time a delightful and enthusiastic young woman expressed interest in Avodah and I was thrilled with the possibility that Avodah might have a future.  

This past Friday we had an Avodah board meeting where I participated via phone.  It was quite special for me to see that Avodah is  alive and growing in wonderful new directions under the guidance of Julie Gayer Kris.  For the first few years I was actively mentoring Julie.  I am still there for her when she wants it, but it is less often now.  It is exciting to see how Julie is developing her own voice and operation.  The Board composition is beginning to change to reflect the new perspective.  This year three new Board members became involved, bringing new ideas to the company.

 Avodah began as a modern dance company rooted in the Jewish tradition.  During the first fifteen years the program emphasis was in interpreting Biblical text and liturgy.  In 1989, Avodah created a piece called "Let My People Go" with Louis Johnson, outstanding Africian American choreographer, to explore the Exodus text from both a Jewish and African American point of view.  This piece successfully toured for over 10 years creating an new emphasis in Avodah and building bridges between communities.  Collaborations with Linda Kent introduced pieces presented at both Hebrew Union College and Union Theological Seminary.

In 2002 Avodah did a residency at York Correctional Institution, Connecticut's only  facility for women.  It was an amazing experience for those of us involved. The program has grown to where Avodah is active in three different prisons.  

At the Board meeting on Friday Julie discussed the different programs that are on-going or being developed.  It is clear Avodah is growing.  The prison program is taking on new dimensions having added a performance with inmates for their families.  A collaboration with a new Board member/rabbinic student is being developed looking at Jewish text and body image especially for bat mitzvah age girls. A collaboration with the Mark Lamb Dance Company is in the works.  In a discussion of our mission statement there was a clear consensus on keeping the idea of Avodah working with diverse communities and building community energy, an important part of Avodah programming.   

After I got off the phone, I felt a wonderful sense of fulfillment and gratitude to see something that I began in 1972 continuing to have an exciting future.  I am grateful to the many dancers and collaborators who over the years gave so much of themselves.  And I am especially thankful to Julie Gayer Kris, the current dancers, collaborators and Board members who continue to give Avodah new vitality!!

Check out Avodah's website at:  Avodah welcomes bookings and volunteers.  If you are interested in being involved please email me and I will pass the information along to Julie.    

1 comment:

Jewelzk said...

Wow! What a great post. I am deeply touched by your words, and I really do feel a part of something so much bigger than myself. Avodah is a great organization and it feels amazing to watch it blossom in new directions!

Thank you JoAnne for the opportunity!!! And for the vision to create and nurture such a valuable organization.