A Dance for the Dead

Apparently we weren’t the only people who hadn’t heard of the museum, because although it was the height of tourist season, several dance students and their accompanying family members were the only other people there mid-morning.

The woman taking our admission fee advised us to go immediately to the dance studio in the building behind the museum. A modern dance company was in rehearsal and as visitors we were welcome to observe. Entering the studio we stood in the back, close to the door, not wanting to interrupt or draw attention to ourselves.  But the teacher, a pencil thin woman dressed in a totally black costume appropriate for the witch in any fairytale, greeted us warmly and asked that we come sit down front beside her. An elder dancer, she put me in mind of Martha Graham. She mentioned she would soon be running the entire piece and having an audience would be helpful to the dancers.

Later I learned her name was Deborah Zull and that she had in fact, danced with Graham.  Her charges were a group of collage age women, all wearing long flowing skirts. One girl’s sweatshirt bore the letters, SWATHMORE causing her to stand out a  bit from the others. The piece Ms. Zull was teaching the girls was titled, “Kaddish,” originally choreographed by Anna Sokolow as a solo that Zull has performed many times. She explained the

Kaddish is a Jewish prayer for the dead, usually said by a prayer quorum of ten men (known as a minyan.) But to my delight, Deborah had taken the steps of the solo and arranged them for 10 women.

She reviewed sections of the piece with individual girls and small groups, focusing not on the meaning but on the dynamics of the movements themselves. She demonstrated the powerful thrusting motions of beating her chest, the subtle change of gaze, up and off into the distance. Each detail, done fully and properly, communicated the angst, the sorrow, the misery of grief and loss, to us the audience, and back into the psyches of the young girls. I imagine that repetitively dancing this dance, these young women’s body/spirits will come to know something profound about grief, something my husband and I could assure them, will most certainly come in handy in their futures. 

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