Israel Aloni on Night at the Museum

June 7, 2019

Image of Israel Aloni courtesy of Adam Wheeler.

Where does the candle lighting ritual of Shabbat and the gender roles inherent to it come from? Performer, choreographer, writer and educator Israel Aloni explores this and more through dance, voice, imagery and text at our next Night at the Museum 15 June.

What does Shabbat personally mean to you? Did your family keep the tradition when you were growing up, and have you adapted any part of the ritual to your adult life?

I grew up in a very secular Jewish household in Israel, though when I grew older and had already left my parent’s home, my mother adopted the candle lighting ritual. Despite not having a religious practice around Shabbat, I found the change in atmosphere each Friday afternoon as the whole country went into ‘energy saving mode’ very noticeable and profound. The thing I remember most was that Shabbat clearly distinguished between the weeks – there was a clear ending to one and a beginning of the next. As an adult, I don’t mark or practice any of the rituals around Shabbat.

Can you tell us a bit about the process through which you develop a new work. How much is informed through your education in and experience of dance? Is it possible to conjure for us how you create something so unique and original?

I believe a dancer’s education – or as I like to call it, evolvement – is predominantly about developing the physical sensitivities and skills to portray emotions, ideas and concepts. Dance for me is not what I do, but more the medium or language through which I communicate my ideas. I see myself and the work I make, even more so in recent years, as having a strong and unique attitude towards the physical body. I acknowledge and respect the impressions and memories my body carries within itself, those I acquired through my dance training but also through traveling, falling in and out of love, learning different languages, battling with philosophical queries, adapting to different weather conditions, and going through different physical challenges.

All of these impressions are available and accessible to me in a creation processes. I learn as much as I can about the subject matter I am working on and I respond to it in every possible way. I look for genuine triggers and impulses, and then physicalise my responses to them. When I get confused or frustrated, I reach into my choreographic toolbox and use more methodical and technical tools such as dynamic, dramaturgy, composition and special activation to filter and edit the piece.

Your work for Night at the Museum is a response to Mouvement Perpétuel’s video installation, 1001 Lightswhich is an homage of sorts to the artist Phillip Szporer’s late mother. Can you share a bit about your own research into  the candle-lighting ritual, and how it might challenge widely-held perceptions of it?

Starting this process, I was mainly intrigued by a few elements– the flame and its movement and warmth, the gender specific instructions that are embedded in Jewish rituals, and the attempt to connect to God and its divinity. In Judaism, God’s presence is a female force called Shekhinah; I have always been fascinated by the fact that the masculine God is only present or activated by a female force. The codependency and synergy between female and male entities in the Jewish holy power can be seen in a way that is similar to Taoism and the Yin / Yang relations rather than a singular gender entity which dominates the universe.

I wanted to learn more about the role of the woman who is required to light the Shabbat candles, and found some really intriguing and even provocative interpretations by Jewish scholars. In the performance, I refer to some of these. Gender has been a focal point for both my artistic and personal search for many years – I was glad I could utilise my years of research on this topic for this Jewish Museum of Australia piece.

I have also included a poem by Hayim Nahman Bialik, which presents a really intimate and primary relationship to God’s divinity by asking to be cradled and nurtured by it as if it is the protagonist’s mother or sister.

Finally, what do you hope viewers of this new work come away from it with?

I believe the role of art in this world is to recruit people’s minds and hearts to think and feel in ways which society deprives us of. Pondering and genuinely reflecting upon phenomenas and relationships are becoming rather luxurious attributes of our lives in Western societies. Many of us are caught up in the race towards accomplishing things that we have not stopped to think whether we truly want to achieve or not.

With this piece, I hope to offer that space for reflection and awakening in the minds and hearts of those who come to share the space and time with me at the performance. Religion, rituals, tradition and behaviours are often taken for granted and repeated by intrinsic inertial force. I hope my work will make us stop for a moment to think about the reasons and ways in which we manifest our beliefs.

Don’t miss Israel perform with Elise Hearst, Mikhaela Bourke and Zoe Kanat for 1001 Lights at Night at the Museum 15 June, tickets can be purchased here.