Brittany Adams, dancing here as part of New York City’s famous Alvin Ailey
Dance Company, has recently made Aliyah and hopes to join Tel Aviv’s
Batsheva Dance Company
December 2011 / Kislev 5772
As a performer for two years with the world-renowned Alvin Ailey Dance Company, Brittany Adams has danced at some of the world’s most famous venues. But she never truly felt at home on the stage until she performed in Israel.
Adams enrolled in a workshop with Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company following her final touring season with Ailey. She was so moved by the experience that she realized dancing would never be the same unless she made Aliyah and immersed herself in the study of Israel’s new contemporary gaga form, developed by Batsheva’s Ohad Naharim—one of the world’s leading modern choreographers.
But Brittany’s story is not merely about finding a new dance form as much as it is discovering her Jewish soul through gaga, an Israeli form of improvisational art that emphasizes undivided attentiveness to all five senses and incorporating the heightened sensory awareness into physical and artistic expression.
“Gaga is a style that constantly moves and builds as the dancer explores how the senses influence movement,” Brittany says. “It is more elevated and doesn’t feel like work.”
In recent months, there have been several examples of well-known Jewish athletes making Aliyah as well as the growing trend of high-tech entrepreneurs finding a path to their dreams in Israel. In these athletes’ cases, there is the opportunity to play at an elite professional level; in the entrepreneurs’ case, Israel is Start-Up Nation. And in Brittany’s case, there is the opportunity to explore a new form of art that she says feels like it was ‘created for her.’ But in each example, it seems, there is a deeper pull.
Why didn’t Jon Scheyer choose to play basketball in Spain?
Why aren’t Jewish tech whizzes flocking to India or Singapore?
Could an improvisational and deeply soulful form of modern dance have developed elsewhere with such a visceral appeal to a world-class dancer in the beginning stages of connecting with her Jewish heritage?
“When young Jews travel to Israel, whether it’s for a Masa trip or internship, a professional dance workshop, or to play basketball, a spark is almost always lit,” says Barry Spielman, the Jewish Agency’s director of communications for North America. “These sparks not only establish the foundation of Aliyah by choice, but they create connections that reach the many Jewish friends, family members, business associates and even fans of these young Jews—we’re talking about a ripple effect that is critical in sustaining a vibrant and global Jewish future.”
Brittany, who made Aliyah on a group flight from Newark earlier this month, has family in Israel. An uncle was chancellor of Bar Ilan University and she has numerous cousins on Kibbutz Ketura. But she did not grow up immersed in Jewish life. She is bi-racial and says she always felt self conscious in Jewish settings. Nevertheless she remained curious and read many of the Jewish books her mother kept in the house.
“I was always interested in this side of me,” Brittany says.
Brittany began to participate in the Jewish community of South Florida after her grandmother passed away and her mother took she and her sister to a Purim celebration at the Chabad House of West Palm Beach. Following that experience, Brittany began to celebrate Shabbat with Chabad and babysit the Rabbi’s children. Two summers ago, she visited Israel for the first time to see family and the idea of attending Naharim’s gaga workshop the following year became real.
In Israel, Brittany plans to participate in another gaga workshop with Naharim and formally audition for Batsheva in March. She describes her style as a “harmonious paradox of power and ease” and will audition for spots in other Israeli companies if things do not work out with Batasheva.
“I decided (after the workshop) that Israel was a place where I needed to live and dance,” Brittany says. “I’ve danced around the world, but Tel Aviv was a whole different experience of being connected—it was dancing on a different level.”