Synthesis in Motion

The Dance Theatre Work of Benjamin Zemach in Los Angeles

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This paper discusses the importance of Russian-born choreographer, theatre director, and teacher Benjamin Zemach (1901-1997) to Los Angeles. It contextualizes the sustained influences of his Jewish heritage, his training with Stanislavsky and Vakhtangov in the Habima Theatre, Russian dance and theatre synthesis and early American modern dance. The article focuses on his work in Los Angeles during two different periods of American culture and politics preceding and following World War ii (1931-35 and 1946-71), examining closely his contributions to Los Angeles Jewish and mainstream dance and theatre through an analysis of his choreographies for the stage and film as well as his teaching methodologies.

Experiment

A Journal of Russian Culture

Sections

References

5

Mel Gordon, The Stanislavski Technique (New York, London: Applause Books, 1987), pg. 91. Stanislavsky stressed each actor’s need to discover a personal connection to a character’s inner and outer realities through related physical and emotional memories. Stanislavsky was fascinated with Jewish culture and the causes of anti-Semitism.

7

Mel Gordon, The Stanislavski Technique, pp. 30-32. Leopold Sulerzhitsky (1872-1916), Stanislavski’s assistant and collaborator for nine years. Author’s note: “prana” (Sanskrit: breath, the life-giving force) corresponds to “ruach,” (Hebrew: breath, wind, or spirit), also the life-giving force as in Genesis 1:1-2.

11

Elizaveta Surits, “Studios of the Plastic Dance,” Experiment 2, (2006), pg. 148. Chernetskaia had studied with Émile Jaques-Dalcroze in Hellerau and with Elizabeth Duncan and Alexander Sakharoff, who also inspired her to study painting.

13

From a letter, dated July 15, 1929, sent from Graham vacationing in Santa Barbara to Zemach, then in Palestine: “Tell me of you. May you be strong and find in yourself that which you seek. You will find it there, I think just as I think I will find here. Your letter was here when I came home. I was glad. It was like a greeting—Good-night, Benjamin Martha”

14

In 1931, Graham premiered Primitive Mysteries, her abstraction of ritual, and Doris Humphrey premiered Shakers, about the American Christian sect whose worship included ecstatic singing and dancing. Zemach, from his spiritual and folk dance tradition, presented his own ecstatic ritual, Farewell to Queen Sabbath, at least as early as January, 1931.

19

Eleanor Barnes, “Zemachs Repeat Concert, Brothers Study Here, To Appear in Hollywood,” Illustrated Daily News, October 6, 1931.

22

Eleanor Barnes, “Zemach Offers New Dances, Returns from Palestine, Has Toured World Centers,” Illustrated Daily News, Los Angeles, May 13, 1932.

26

M.E.C., “Benjamin Zemach Dance Recital, (Hollywood Playhouse),” Rob Wagner’s Script, June 4, 1932.

27

Winifred Aydelotte, “ ‘The Golem’ Is Well Done,” Los Angeles Record, October 12, 1932. The production ran for two weeks at the Egan Theatre Figueroa at Pico, premiering Oct. 11. Golem was the second of Habima’s four main Moscow productions. A myth based on the chief Rabbi of Prague in the 16th century, Judah Loew, concerns his making a large clay creature (Golem) to help protect the Jews against pogroms and banishment from the city.

28

Naima Prevots, “Benjamin Zemach (b. 1901),” Dancing in the Sun, (Ann Arbor, London: umi Research Press, 1987), pp. 197-218. Prevots’ book should be read for other information not contained in this article on Zemach’s life and work.

34

Altenberg, accessed June 25, 2013, pg. 150.

41

Now American Jewish University as of 2007, but for this paper will remain as uj. At that time, it was a branch of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, a Conservative denomination rabbinical school and a junior college. Jewish Virtual Library, accessed June 20, 2013. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0020_0_20218.html.

51

Edward S. Sullivan, “ ‘The Witch’ Scores at Las Palmas,” Hollywood Citizen News, October 10, 1955. “An international company of 40 actors, dancers and singers brings energetic life to the comedy of witchcraft and village intrigue as superbly directed and choreographed by Benjamin Zemach . . . in an ingriguing blend of Grimm Brothers and Gilbert and Sullivan with a Yiddish base.”

56

Lynn Roth, e-mail to the author, June 5, 2013.

57

From the first formal interview, April, 2000, followed by twelve years of conversations as friends. The author distributes The Art of Benjamin Zemach. http://www.yiddishdancevideo.com/zemach_video.html.

Figures

  • Benjamin Zemach (standing) as Tsvi in The Dybbuk, Moscow, ca. 1924.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

    View in gallery
  • Benjamin Zemach in his role as Satan/Samael in Jacob’s Dream, as drawn by O.G., Paris, 1926.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • Jacob’s Dream, by Richard Beer-Hoffman, Habima Theater, Moscow, 1925. Benjamin Zemach as Samael/Satan (center left) and Ari Varshaver (center right) as Jacob. Above on columns from left to right: Eva Goland as Gabriel, Miriam Goldina as Uriel, David Itkin as Michael, and Ina Govinska as Rafael.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • From left to right: Benjamin Zemach, Inna Chernetskaia, and Emil May, Moscow, ca. 1920.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • Ruth, 1932. Photo by Lansing Brown.From left to right: Adele Cutler, Frada Ginzburg (Freda Flier Maddow), and Yona (Thelma) Babitz.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • Farewell to Queen Sabbath, Los Angeles, ca. 1932. Benjamin Zemach below with unidentified dancers.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • Zemach in The Worker on the Soil, undated poster, ca. 1932-1935.

    courtesy of freda flier maddow

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  • Ora, Hollywood Bowl, 1933.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • The Victory Ball, Hollywood Bowl, 1935.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • Entrance of the dancers into the Hall of Kings in the film She, 1935. Choreography by Benjamin Zemach.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • From the play Hirsh Leckert, by A. Leivick, directed by Benjamin Zemach, Los Angeles, ca. 1950. Zemach is on the left. Photo by Miles Berné.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • Hodiah - Song of Gratitude, University of Judaism, 1959. From left to right: Freda Flier Maddow, Miriam Rochlin, Shirley Dubin, and Lucille Fine.

    courtesy of naomi roosevelt

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  • Benjamin Zemach, ca. 1950’s.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

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  • On Guard, ca. 1959. From left to right: Miriam Rochlin, Lucille Fine, Marilyn Epstein, Shirley Dubin, and unidentified woman.

    courtesy of naomi roosevelt

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  • Publicity photo for Fragments of Israel in unknown Yiddish-English Los Angeles newspaper, August, 1933. Zemach is at the top center of photo.

    courtesy of amielle zemach

    View in gallery

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