Multimedia show explores Gershwin’s genius

Rather than compose “Porgy and Bess,” what if George Gershwin had instead scored the opera “Dybbuk and Leah”?

Though the latter title is imaginary, Gershwin did start in on a Dybbuk-themed work, only to learn that the opera rights to the Yiddish play by S. Ansky had been tied down earlier by an Italian composer. Only then did Gershwin turn his talents to a “Negro,” rather than Jewish, folk opera.

This bit of musical arcanum comes courtesy of Rodney Greenberg, a prolific British producer, director, writer, pianist and historian with an encyclopedic grasp of the life and music of Gershwin.

Greenberg will bring his multimedia show, “The Glory of Gershwin,” to America for the first time with a one-night performance on Oct. 14 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

“Growing up in Manchester, I heard a Gershwin record as a kid and was hooked immediately,” Greenberg recounted in a trans-Atlantic phone call. His father was a piano teacher, who set his 3-year-old son on a high chair to start practicing his scales.

“Gershwin’s glory was that he was a genius as both a classical and a popular composer, who was equally at home on Broadway and at Carnegie Hall,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg will illustrate the composer’s two sides through his piano interpretations, complemented by his historical collection of Gershwin slides, vintage films, piano roll recordings, music clips, audio tracks, videos of Judy Garland and others performing the master’s songs, anecdotes and even an audience singalong.

“Rodney is hilarious, skilled and passionate,” said Dale Bell, a long-time collaborator, whose Santa Monica-based Media Policy Center is presenting Greenberg’s American appearance.

“The Glory of Gershwin” is based on Greenberg’s book, “George Gershwin” (Phaidon, 2008), and follows the composer’s brilliant career from his 1898 birth in Brooklyn as Jacob Gershovitz to his death at 38 from a brain tumor.

As a youth, his parents took him to the thriving New York Yiddish theater and to synagogue, where he absorbed different Jewish musical styles.

Such youthful influences affected his later compositions, Greenberg said, with musicologists tracing popular songs such as “ ’S Wonderful” to Jewish melodies.

Gershwin’s first big break came in 1919, when Al Jolson, then at the height of his career, made the composer’s “Swanee” part of his repertoire. The song by the 21-year-old sold an incredible 2 million records plus uncounted song sheets.

Despite his fame and immense popularity, Gershwin was not immune to attacks by anti-Semites, foremost Henry Ford in his virulent weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. Joining in were composer and critic Virgil Thomson, who referred to Gershwin’s “gefilte fish orchestration,” and English composer Constant Lambert, who charged that “the Jews have stolen the Negroes’ thunder.”

Greenberg’s show also will pay tribute to Ira Gershwin, George’s older brother, collaborator and lyricist, who for most of his life resided in Beverly Hills.

Greenberg is a veteran of 46 years in show business, on stage, radio and television, who has produced and directed some 300 TV musicals in Europe and America as a regular on BBC in Britain and PBS in America. He won an Emmy for the NBC “Live From Studio 8H” series and produced 40 segments of the BBC’s “Masterclass” series.

During his television career, Greenberg has collaborated with such musical greats as Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, André Previn, George Solti, Michael Tilson Thomas, Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern.

The one-night performance of “The Glory of Gershwin” will start at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 at the Broad Stage of the Santa Monica Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th St.

For information and tickets, phone (310) 434-3005 or visit

X-FRIENDS: Mutant Rabbis

Video courtesy of JTA.

Is the story of the mighty X-Men battle between Prof. X and Magneto really a battle between the Rabbis Irving “Yitz” Greenberg and the late Meir Kahane?
JTA’s Editor-in-Chied Ami Eden draws parallels between the two fascinating stories, and finds interesting results that involve the Jewish world, the Holocaust and the fictional mutants.

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‘Google Exodus’ tells the Passover tale via tweets, Facebook [VIDEO]

What would the Exodus have looked like online?

That’s the premise behind “Google Exodus,” a two-minute video that tells the Passover story using social media.

In the video, which has gone viral with more than 1 million page views since being uploaded March 31 onto YouTube, God Skypes Moses, Moses finds Pharoah’s palace using Google maps, and he and Pharaoh engage in a heated e-mail exchange about letting the Jewish people go. Moses orders live frogs and other plagues on, and he tweets his success to the Israelites via Twitter.

“We view this film as a natural extension of what we do, which is to reach out to Jews of every background using modern tools,” said Nechemia Coopersmith, the Jerusalem-based chief editor of, part of the three-man team that produced the video. “We wanted to take all the social media tools—Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo.answers, Google street view, Skype—and weave them into the story of the Exodus.” is the website of Aish HaTorah, a Jerusalem-based Jewish educational and outreach organization with branches around the world.

The video opens with a CNN news alert: “Pharoah Enslaves Jews.” As Pharaoh and Moses trade messages via gmail and iPhones—Moses’ “Let my people go!” is met with Pharaoh’s “No way!”—the lead-up to the plagues begins.

“My staff just turned into a snake! Cool,” writes Moses, updating his status on Facebook. Later, a YouTube video shows a plague of locusts descending on a field.

Story continues after the jump.

Video Courtesy of AishVideo.

When the Jews leave Egypt and reach the Red Sea, viewers get up close and personal as the waves part when Google maps zooms in for a “street view.” The scene is of Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments.”

“Google Exodus” is proving a huge hit, steering a tremendous amount of web traffic to Aish’s Hebrew and English websites. The video also was released in Spanish on the organization’s Spanish-language website. This week, the video ranked fourth on the UK Guardian’s Viral Video Chart.

“With Passover coming up, this film is a fun way to reach people who might otherwise not be interested,” Shraga Simmons, senior editor of and a member of the production team, told JTA. ” ‘Google Exodus’ enables us to communicate Jewish values in a language that everyone can understand. And the cool thing is that it is spreading via the same web tools featured in the video.”

If Christianity evolved out of Judaism, this Exodus video was inspired by the birth of Jesus—specifically a Christian video released last December called “Digital Story of the Nativity,” which narrates the baby-in-the-manger tale using the same social media tools employed by the team.

The big difference?

“Google Exodus” uses a jazzy orchestral version of the Passover seder song “Dayenu,” while Digital Jesus rocks along to “Jingle Bells.”

Coopersmith says the Nativity video was itself inspired by a popular Google ad that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl telling the story of a Parisian-American love affair conducted via Google tools.

That ad only used Google, Coopersmith said, whereas “we wanted to expand and use every social media tool possible.”

The Aish team is now busy on its next project: a social media-rich video for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. It should be up on a week before the May 9 holiday, Aish officials said.

Save The Music: Dedicated to Hamilton High School & LAUSD

Phil Donney, who graduated in 2006 from Hamilton High School’s Music Academy, home to many Jewish students as well as talented students throughout the city, has created this video in the face of huge looming cuts that threaten the very existence of the LAUSD public school Magnet programs, particularly the music programs like Hamilton’s.

Donney’s music video shows students protesting the cuts and is a very moving song and repsentation of why all students need to be encouraged in their creativity. Donney went on to graduate from UC Santa Barbara and will be entering Cal State Northridge’s school of social work in the fall.

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Jew Are You?

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GRAPHICS: Annette Price

The Cohen-Hodoses
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Roger, Pete, Keith, & John

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Based on “Raise Your Glass” by P!nk

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Buy this song on iTunes! JMG’s “Kosher” remix of Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You!” Jew Man Group on Facebook:  Jew Man Group website:
(Complete lyrics available here!) For those interested, this recording is Kol Isha free.

LIVE BROADCAST: Debbie Friedman Tribute at Valley Beth Shalom [SUNDAY, FEB. 13]

[UPDATE: This is a recording of a live broadcast from Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011] will livecast Valley Beth Shalom’s Debbie Friedman Tribute, “Lechi Lach,” on Sunday, Feb. 13 at 7:30pm.  Tune in to this page to watch performances by Craig Taubman, Sam Glaser, Julie Silver, Canter Mike Stein & the Rolling Steins, Cantor Kenny Ellis, Cantor Mimi Haselkorn, Cantor Linda Kates, Cindy Paley Aboody, Rabbi Ed Feinstein and cantors from congregations throughout the city and valley.  The event is free to the public.  RSVP to (818)530-4094 or email {encode=”” title=””}.

Livecast will begin at 7:30pm.  If you experience any technical difficulties, please refresh your browser.


When they first started dancing together, Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras used to lock themselves in a studio for somewhere between five and seven hours a day. Together, they tried to make their bodies react in “authentic ways,” irrespective of how high they could jump, how fast they could turn or any other techniques their dance training had already taught them.

“Right from the start, there was a lot of play, a large element of risk and pushing of boundaries,” Gagnon recalls. “We’ve always supported that in each other.”

Thirteen years after founding their Vancouver-based company, The Holy Body Tattoo, Gagnon, now 42, and Gingras, 39, have developed what they call their most ambitious work to date. An ode to urban angst and survival, “Monumental” will receive its American premiere at Royce Hall in April and has a good chance of resonating with big-city dwellers, be they from Los Angeles, New York or Tel Aviv.

Hailed as a vibrant force in the Canadian contemporary dance scene, The Holy Body Tattoo has been internationally acclaimed for multimedia performances that draw upon intense physicality. Reviews of the company’s works invariably use words like “explosive,” “relentless” and “raw” and the choreographers agree they tend to create dances “where you’ll be provoked, you’ll either be in or out,” Gagnon says. “You’re not just going to sit there and be entertained.”

Some interesting similarities exist between The Holy Body Tattoo and the Israeli dance company Vertigo. Both companies have been lauded for their use of visual props and other multimedia devices, in addition to physically demanding movement, as a means of excavating the depths of human relationships. Both have been com-

pared to the renowned German boundary-stretching

choreographer Pina Bausch, and both were founded by male-female duos intent on developing their own personal kinetic language.

Gagnon, in fact, has been mistaken for an Israeli on numerous occasions, largely because he chooses to use only the last part of his full name: Joseph Daniel Marcel Noam.

“I also have a lot of friends who are Israeli,” he says. “Maybe there’s some sort of affinity. But I’m definitely French Canadian.”

Created for nine dancers, “Monumental” mines the physical and emotional anxieties inherent in urban culture. Inspired by the 1980 “Men in the Cities” series of lithographs by artist Robert Longo, in which young people in cocktail dress are shown flinging their bodies, as if caught in the midst of writhing motion, Gagnon and Gingras’ dance ultimately reflects the pair’s signature style of extreme, arduous movement.

“There’s a great level of noise and stimulation in our urban environment, which places a great stress on our nervous system,” Gingras says. “We were also interested in the pressure to conform and how certain individuals fall through the cracks.”

Featuring text by artist Jenny Holzer, video montages by L.A.-based cinematographer William Morrison and electronic music by Roger Tellier-Craig, the dance begins as a series of tableaus, where the nine performers stand on individual blocks, each one isolated. Gradually, the dancers start mingling and a variety of interactions ensue, ranging from protective to overtly hostile.

“We have ideas about society that we put on pedestals and we make monuments about these ideals,” Gingras observes. “But to be human is to be flawed, and down we come, our arrogance and our hubris being our doom.”

Gagnon and Gingras involved the dancers in the choreographic process by assigning them “tasks,” Gingras explains. “We sent them out into the city where they had to observe people’s tics and obsessive gestures in addition to just watching people do basic, larger actions like walking down the street. We want to show that moving through a city is monumental, but so is the accumulation of the minutest of gestures.”

In addition to her role as co-choreographer, Gingras also collaborated with Morrison on the visual backdrops, which include scenes from the L.A. freeways.

“When I’m on the 110 freeway, and I pass that maze of interchanges, I always find it beautiful and horrifying,” she says. “All these bodies disconnected from each other, commuting back and forth.

“I’m excited about ‘Monumental’ being performed in L.A.,” she adds, “because to me, the isolation you feel in L.A. is special … the city is so vast and can make you feel like an ant.”

Raised in Argentina and Scotland, Gingras received a scholarship in 1987 to study with a Vancouver-based dance company called Edam. There, she met Gagnon, who grew up in Montreal and received a visual arts degree before pursuing his dance studies.

“Where I grew up, you didn’t dance if you were a guy,” he says. “But I always loved to dance.”

At Edam, Gingras and Gagnon formed “an instant clique. We were known as the terrible twins,” Gingras recalls. “We shared the same sense of humor and mischief. We also share a certain manic drive, which of course is reflected in our work.”

When asked about his attraction to extreme, “hyper-speedy” movement, Gagnon likens himself to a boxer.

“Why does a boxer box? Because he has a desire,” he says. “I don’t want to look at what drives me too closely. That would be a waste of time. All I know is that I wanted to create a physical language for how I felt, and that as hard as it’s been sometimes physically and mentally, the rewards for this work are incredible … it’s like you survived a crash.”

“Monumental” will be performed April 21-22, 8 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA. Tickets range from $15 to $42. For Information, call (310) 825-2101 or visit


Mystic Letters

If God uttered words to create the universe, it’s not surprising that two L.A. artists are using the Hebrew alphabet as inspiration for their own work.

“Letters of Foundation,” now at The Jewish Federation’s Bell Gallery, is a multimedia show that traces the 2,500-year evolution of all 22 Hebrew letters. The letters are considered, in the kabbalistic tradition, to be “the protoplasm of creation,” photographer Dennis Paul says.

The project by Paul and his wife, artist Lynn Small, is a series of 24 pieces, one for each Hebrew letter, plus a cover image and an endplate; the colorful collages incorporate photographs, scribbled letters, painted images and woven fibers. Paul says each “tablet” shows every known form of each letter from approximately 400 BCE forward.

The series is dedicated to the memory of Israeli textile artist Julia Keiner Forchheimer. “We think of the work as being created by the three of us,” Paul said during an interview in the couple’s art-filled Fairfax-area apartment. “Each tablet has Julia’s fibers, my mixed-media drawings and Dennis’ photographs,” Small adds. The goal is to weave ancient symbols into modern metaphors.

Also in the gallery is work from the artists’ “Kabbalah Series,” more Hebrew letters and quotes juxtaposed on layered images of novas and other heavenly bodies. The dramatic “Before One” (1997-98), for example, is a large LightJet print that includes a reconfigured NASA photograph of the Orion Nebula galaxy taken from the Hubble space telescope. “A miracle of our time is that we can view a new universe literally being created,” Paul says. “Understanding that image opens new doors of perception.”

And possibly, glimpses of the divine.

The exhibit is on display at The Jewish Federation’s Bell Gallery, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. For information, call (323) 761-8000. The artists’ Web site is

Multimedia Ode to Jerusalem

Asaf Medina, one of the members of theKeshet Chaim Dance Ensemble

Local dance ensemble Keshet Chaim willtake the stage for Israel’s 50th

By Diane Arieff Zaga,Arts Editor

The mood in the Jewish state may not be one ofcelebration at the moment, but plans to commemorate the country’supcoming 50th birthday continue, both in Israel and right here in LosAngeles. One of the more unique cultural offerings to be presentedlocally will be “Jerusalem — A Mystical Journey,” a newdance-theater piece to be performed by the Keshet Chaim DanceEnsemble on Feb. 21 and 22.

Keshet Chaim is an American-Israeli contemporarydance troupe that regularly incorporates Jewish thematic elementsinto its work. During its 15-year history, the company has graduallybuilt a following among Los Angeles audiences, performing everywherefrom the 1984 Olympics celebration to the Los Angeles Music Center tothe Las Vegas hotel circuit.

Led by artistic director and choreographer EytanAvisar, Keshet Chaim spent two years creating and refining itsmultimedia “Jerusalem” piece. Combining original music and specialeffects with a collage of dance, it’s an ambitious effort to visuallyinterpret Jewish mysticism and history, from the cosmic boom ofCreation to Israeli statehood.

Along with a pageant of hand-painted silk costumesand a prerecorded narration by Frank Sinatra Jr., a central highlightof the performance will be the appearance of acclaimed Israeli singerDavid D’Or, a seasoned international performer whose commanding voicespans 3 1/2 octaves, from contra tenor to baritone.

“This is a collaborative effort…and it’s reallyquite a complex production,” Avisar said in an interview with TheJewish Journal. “We chose to focus on Jerusalem because it isIsrael’s heart…it is the center of our cosmic energy.”

Typically, contemporary dance companies don’tenjoy the broad audiences that flock to pop culture events, butAvisar regards “Jerusalem — A Mystical Journey” as the kind ofinspiring dance-theater effort that will appeal to a wide variety ofaudiences.

“Keshet Chaim has played a role in this communityfor the last 15 years, and it hasn’t always been easy,” he said. “Butbecause we are so unique, we have built an audience…. Wherever weperform, we get a tremendous welcome. Jerusalem, which is so preciousto several religions, will draw a wider audience.”

All performances will take place at the NewPerforming Arts Center at Cal State Northridge. Audiences will alsobe able to view “Theodor Herzl and the Pioneers of Israel,” a photoexhibit in the Performing Arts Center lobby.

Keshet Chaim’s new production was funded in partby the Milken, Stringer and Jewish community foundations, the HillelCouncil at Cal State Northridge, the University of Judaism and otherorganizations.

Tickets may be purchased through the campus officeat (818) 677-2488, Keshet Chaim at (818) 784-0344, Hataklit at (800)428-2554 or through Ticketmaster. For directions, performance times,ticket prices and other information, call (818) 784-0344.