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August 18: “The Village I Knew”

August 18, 2014
pd0019_enlargeSophie Maslow’s dance, “The Village I Knew,” premiered at the American Dance Festival in Connecticut on this date in 1950. Maslow was a Camp Kinderland camper, a soloist with Martha Graham’s dance company, a member of the radical Workers Dance League, and a founding member of New Dance Group. “The Village I Knew” was based upon Sholem Aleichem’s stories. “Long before Jerome Robbins amplified those stories into Fiddler on the Roof,” writes Joanna G. Harris at the Jewish Women’s Archive, Maslow built seven episodes, each depicting village life, the celebration of Shabbat, and the exodus following a pogrom.” When Maslow restaged it for the Batsheva in Israel. “the young Israelis were reluctant to dance these memories of the ‘old country.... Later,’ she says, ‘it became easier for them to accept and enjoy them.’” With her own company, Maslow choreographed several works on Jewish themes, including the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a version of An-ski’s The Dybbuk, The Book of Ruth and Ladino Suite. Maslow worked into her eighties and died at 95 in 2006. To see an excerpt from “The Village I Knew” in its 1949 incarnation, look below. “If ‘popular’ means ‘of the common people,’ Maslow wanted her dances to be popular. She wished dance to have as direct an impact upon as wide an audience as the theater and film do.” —Joanna G. Harris