Monday, April 19, 2010

My Dance with Dvora

I first met Dvora Bertonov at the home of Ruti Dyches, our mutual friend and acting  teacher. Dvora was 79 and I was a mere 29. It wasn't exactly Harold and Maude, the acclaimed (1971) Hal Ashby movie featuring Ruth Gordon as an 80 year Holocaust survivor and Bud Cort as her young lover, but it was a different kind of love as I understood from her frequent reference to me as "mein kind."

Mein kind was not just a term of endearment. In 1972, Dvora lost her only son, Ido Bin Gurion, to suicide after a long battle with depression. Ido, a wunderkind, was an actor, singer, and the first to translate Edgar Allen Poe into Hebrew. No wonder, he was the grandson of the renowned author Micha Josef Berdyczewski (Berdichevsky), the Hebrew, Yiddish and German author described as "the first Hebrew writer living in Berlin to be revered in the world of German letters." Berdichevsky was the father of Dvora's husband, Emanuel Bin Gurion, who spent much of his life archiving his father's legacy. If this is not enough, Ido's maternal grandfather was Yehoshua Bertonov, the doyen of the Hebrew National Theater in Moscow which became The Bima before the troupe came to Mandate Palestine in 1928. One of Dvora's favorite stories was of her dancing before the Hebrew National Poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik as a young child in the shadow of her parent's work at The Bima.

Bridging between Ido's and Dvora's legacies, I had the rare opportunity to interview the members of Ido's singing group in the Nachal branch of the Israeli Defense Force. Ido served with such legends as Arik Einshtein and Uri Zohar, and some of the troupe members gathered for an interview I conducted for a CD ROM Dvroa and I collaborated on. This was just one of the many expressions of love and respect for Dvora I observed in our 15 year friendship.
Unlike the Ruth Gordon character in Harold and Maude who took her life on her eightieth birthday, Dvora was full of life at eighty with no plans to stop. She had just acted in the movie, The Flying Camel and was working on a duet dance performance called "Curfew" (Im Kibui Orot). While she had received the Israel Prize recognizing her contributions to Israeli Arts and Culture in 1991, in 1995, at eighty years old, she was reaching new heights. This is when we had the bright idea to celebrate her work with an 80th birthday party at the Suzanne Dallal Dance Center in Neveh Tzedek. The night was spectacular. The audience was filled with dignitaries including the Mayor of Tel Aviv Roni Milo, Ehud Manor, Naomi Shemer, Chava Albershtein and more. On stage, Dvora was interviewed by Rivka Michaeli, lauded by former President Yitzhak Navon, and entertained by several dance companies including the Kibbutz Dance Troupe. Of course the show was stolen when Dvora and her young dance partner took the stage and performed "Curfew."

Big names and big performances were par for the course with this small woman of great stature, as her friend Dan Almagor used to refer to her. But maybe her biggest contributions were in the field of dance research and ethnography. I remember once sitting in Dvora's living room with Judy Alter, a dance professor at UCLA, listening to the two of them discuss dance in the performance of Jewish ritual in the Tanach. In that same conversation, Dvora explained the difference between Ghanese and Indian dancing as they related to the tiles of her two dance ethnographies, Dancing to the Earth and Dancing to the Horizon. "In Ghana," explained Dvora, "they hunch over and dance to the mother Earth. In India," she explained as she demonstrated, "they dance to the horizon."

Academics and the spotlight aside, my favorite moments with Dvora were when we sat alone in a Tel Aviv cafe and she would explain Schopenhauer to me or talk about the religious philosophies of the Gurdjieff. When my first child, Maya, was born, Dvora explained to me that Maya is a name for the creative energy of the Gods in India.

Once we had Dvora over for Shabbat chamin at my mother in law's house in Beit Shemesh.  I invited a peace activist friend from Ramallah, Hania Bitar. During the meal Dvora said to Hania, "If my father knew what coming here would mean to your family, I am not so sure that he would have come." She then proceeded to ask with complete bewilderment why we can't all just get along? It was really a beautiful scene, especially since we had 4 generations, Dvora from Russia, my mother in law from Morocco, my wife and Hania from here and my daughters from America, and all of them call this place home.

I left Israel in 1996, shortly after the birthday celebration. For 13 years we stayed in touch long distance and during my summer visits. One of the greatest of these was when Dvora took my three children into her basement dance studio in her apartment building in Holon and told them about and demonstrated her performances of The Begger's Dance in The Dybuk. Dvora handed out instruments from her vast collection of musical folk instruments and the kids played along as she danced. This is my most treasured memory of Dvora,  and it is the one that will stay with me as she dances her way back to mother Earth. Good bye Mein Imma.

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