October 18, 2018

A celebration of dance from India and Israel

What connects Jaipur and Jerusalem? Delhi and Tel Aviv? Hyderabad and Haifa? 

India and Israel share strong military and strategic ties and are important trade partners, but another connection is culture. Both countries have rich literary and artistic communities that look both to their past and to the future.

Two Los Angeles-based contemporary dance ensembles — one inspired by Indian dance traditions and the other by Israeli folk dance — will perform choreography in a bill that celebrates each country’s unique history and customs. Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble and Karmagraphy will share the stage for “Lands of Light” at Plaza del Sol Performance Hall at Cal State Northridge on Sept. 17 and 18.

“There’s a lot going on between the governments of Israel and India. They’re really trying to collaborate with each other on many different levels — learning from each other about defense, diplomacy, agriculture, water management, trade and culture,” said Genie Benson, executive director of Keshet Chaim (Hebrew for “Rainbow of Life,” though the troupe prefers “Colors of Life”). 

The collaboration came out of a friendship between Kavita Rao, the founder and artistic director of Karmagraphy, and Kobi Rozenfeld, the choreographer of Keshet Chaim. They met doing commercial dance work in Los Angeles, and both enjoy fusing their ethnic dance backgrounds with their Western styles of training. Rao danced in a Keshet Chaim performance a few years ago, and now offers help with choreographing pieces for the troupe.

“There’s a lot of similarities between the music, the movement, as well as the way Kobi and I both choreograph,” Rao said.

This is not Keshet Chaim’s first collaboration. In 2002, the troupe worked with Adam Basma Dance Company, a Middle Eastern folk dance ensemble. Benson fondly recalls the members tasting each other’s food, teaching each other phrases in Hebrew and Arabic, and sharing dance techniques from their respective cultures. It was a lesson, she said, that international conflict doesn’t preclude people from those countries from becoming friends.

“I’ve always believed that if more people would get along, it would filter up,” she said.

Keshet Chaim was founded in 1983 by Eytan Avisar, who serves as the group’s artistic director.

“They say in a Chasidic tale that dance is the most elevated way we can express ourselves,” Avisar said, “because you’re really dancing with your soul.”

Keshet Chaim’s style is contemporary, but rooted in traditional Israeli folk dance. One song the troupe will dance to is “Tishmor al HaOlam Yeled” (Watch Over the World, Child), an iconic Israeli tune by David D’Or that is a memorial and lullaby to soldiers. Another song, “Shedemati” (My Field), is about working the land. 

They’ll also dance to Israeli pop star Rami Kleinstein’s “Notzah Baruach” (Feather in the Wind), and to music composed and arranged by Israeli songwriter Avi Avliav, including an arrangement of Ofra Haza’s rendition of the classic “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold), Israel’s unofficial national anthem.

Keshet Chaim has performed with many Israeli musicians, including Kleinstein and D’Or, as well as Yehudit Ravitz, and has shared the stage with the likes of Rita, Idan Raichel, Miri Mesika and Harel Skaat. 

Keshet Chaim and Karmagraphy — a Bollywood fusion company founded in 2009 — will take turns performing at the upcoming performance, but also will perform two pieces together. One, called “Sababa Ba Midbar” (Party in the Desert), is an upbeat expression of joy.

The show is organized thematically, with both groups performing pieces about war and sadness, lost love, and manual labor, “with lots of costume changes,” Benson said.

Rao has become well-acquainted with the world of Israeli dance. When Keshet Chaim hosted a high school dance troupe from Israel in 2011, Rao was invited to join the dancers. She has since traveled to Israel once a year to teach Bollywood dance to the troupe. 

While in Israel, Rao met a singer named Liora Isaac, who had recently recorded a song with an Indian melody and Hebrew lyrics called “Mala Mala” (Upwards). Rao choreographed the song for her, and Keshet Chaim and Karmagraphy will perform it together as the grand finale of the concert with a version choreographed by Rozenfeld and Rao.

The two groups also share a dancer who juggles both ensembles. Angela Bergamo, a recent honors graduate in dance and communications from Loyola Marymount University, was a dancer with Keshet Chaim, and after Rao began choreographing with the group, she hired Bergamo to dance with Karmagraphy as well.

Benson says that while Keshet Chaim is inspired by Israeli dance, currently only two of the dancers are Israeli. Most are American, and some are not Jewish.

“They come to love Judaism, they come to love Israel, through dance. We’re very clear on explaining to them what each dance means, so they understand what they’re dancing,” Benson said. “They love celebrating holidays with us. It’s really quite a family.”

Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble and Karmagraphy will perform “Lands of Light” at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 17 and at 2 p.m. Sept. 18 at Plaza del Sol Performance Hall at Cal State Northridge. For more information, please visit