"Neither Rest nor Harbor: The Dybbuk and Modern Dance in the 1960s

Submitted by msa2160 on November 9, 2014 - 4:14pm

"Neither Rest nor Harbor", a modern dance piece on the themes of S An-sky's popular "The Dybbuk", was first staged in 1964 for the New York Hanukkah Festival. Sophie Maslow, one of the foremost dance choreographers of NYC in the mid-20th century, was responsible for its choreography and multiple stagings; it was later performed in 1969 at the 92nd Street Y and in Israel with the Bat Sheva dance company (1) These performances are the most well-known and renowned versions of Maslow's "Neither Rest nor Harbor".  At the time of the show’s first staging, several earlier dance interpretations of “The Dybbuk” had primed the New York City dance scene for a performance like “Neither Rest nor Harbor”. Anna Sokolow, another influential Jewish choreographer and dancer in New York City had created “The Dybbuk” in 1951, a modern dance piece exploring her Jewish heritage, while the NY theater scene and its diverse productions of “The Dybbuk” throughout the early-to-mid twentieth century contributed greatly to the cultural relevance of the themes of the Dybbuk (2). The rebellious undertones found within “The Dybbuk”—Channon’s dangerous experimentation with Kabbalah and the show’s thin line between life and death, to name only two— no doubt contributed to its varied success in the 1960s, a time of great social rebellion. Sophie Maslow herself was a passionate proponent of dance as a form of social consciousness and was a choreographer for The New Dance Group, a troupe that aimed to “spread modern dance as a viable weapon for the struggles of the working class” and was fortified by left-wing politics (3).

Sophie Maslow in her youth,  ca. 1934. Sophie Maslow Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (019.00.00) http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/politics-and-dance/finding-a-political-voice.html

Tselila Goldstein, Laurie Freedman, Dalia Dvir, Yarl Lavy, Moshe Efrati, Rina Schenfeld in the Israeli performance "Neither Rest nor Harbor" in 1969. Photo: Mula Eshet. http://www.batsheva.co.il/en/?iid=1979

Maslow staged “Neither Rest nor Harbor with The New Dance Group at the 92nd Street Y. The piece had several iterations, both in the United States and abroad; Maslow was actively involved with several dance troupes in New York and Israel (see the above image). In New York, Maslow was responsible for many choreographed pieces at the annual Hanukkah Festival at Madison Square Garden (4),  including “Neither Rest nor Harbor” which one occassion was performed before over 50,000 people (5). A well-respected choreographer with a lengthy career, Maslow created several other works based on Jewish topics, such as “The Village I Knew” in 1950, that were met with rave reviews (6). Judith Ingber writes that Maslow, along with several of her dance contemporaries, "grew up during [their early] years as children of Russian Jewish immigrant parents, heirs to an idealized vision of the United States" (7). This idealized vision of the United States contrasted sharply with the social realities of the time, and dance proved to be an outlet for exploring and understanding cultural heritage.

“Neither Rest nor Harbor” appears to have been received in several different ways. The Barnard Bulletin (see below) from March 5th, 1969 reviews the piece as performed at the 92nd Street Y as “a terrifying play” but “if the dance [was] not as powerful as the drama" it was due to the less-than-desirable technical finesse of some of the performers. However, the reviewer goes on to praise the storyline of “The Dybbuk”—“’The Dybbuk deserves further performances”—as well as Maslow’s overall choreography—“What she does may seem outdated to aficionados of the avant-garde. But good choreography and good dancing are never outmoded. Sophie Maslow knows what she is doing and she does it well." (8). An earlier review in the New York Times on February 17th, 1969 commends the choreography, energy, and performances of the two leads, Ethel Winter and Moss Cohen, in the 1969 92nd Street Y performance, but worries that the narrative of “The Dybbuk” might have been lost on anyone unfamiliar with the work before watching Maslow’s dance piece (9). 

The Barnard Bulletin feature on "Neither Rest nor Harbor" from March, 1969. 

The 92nd Street Y, at the time of the 1969 staging of "Neither Rest nor Harbor", had a long history of hosting Jewish cultural events, including theater and dance. Since its founding in 1874, the Young Man's Hebrew Association (now the 92nd Street Y) encouraged the arts; modern dance found a foothold within the Harkness Dance Center within the School of the Arts which offered both cutting edge classes and performances for reduced prices. Thus, pieces like Sophie Maslow's "Neither Rest nor Harbor" would have been available to a large group of people, across classes, an ideological value with which Maslow herself identified (10). The availability of cultural resources in New York City, like the 92nd Street Y, allowed Maslow and her contemporaries to reinvent "The Dybbuk" in new and challenging ways. An analysis of Maslow's 1969 performance of "Neither Rest Nor Harbor" shows us the new ways in which American contemporary dance told old stories in new ways, and how dance brought "The Dybbuk" to life in a rich period of American history.  

Footnotes: 

1) Ingber, Judith B. Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2011. “Extending the Traditional Wedding Dance”, Giora Manor. Pg 221. Print

2) Ingber, Judith Brin. "Dance Performance in the United States." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 9, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/dance-performance-in-united-states>.

3) Ingber, Judith Brin. "Dance Performance in the United States." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 9, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/dance-performance-in-united-states>.

4) "Chanukah Festival for Israel Bonds Ends Season with Total Attendance of 54,000 Persons." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. JTA, 2 Jan. 1968. Web. 08 Nov. 2014. http://bit.ly/1ErM3y6

5) Anderson, Jack. "Choreographer, Sophie Maslow, Dies at 95." Dance. New York Times, 26 June 2006. Web. 8 Nov. 2014. 

6) Anderson, Jack. "Choreographer, Sophie Maslow, Dies at 95." Dance. New York Times, 26 June 2006. Web. 8 Nov. 2014. 

7) Ingber, Judith Brin. "Dance Performance in the United States." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/dance-performance-in-united-states>.

8) Richmond, Phyllis. "Revolution in Dance." Barnard Bulletin [New York City] 5 Mar. 1969: 6. Print.

9) Barnes, Clive. "Dance: Miss Maslow's Group Appearsl: She Brings Troupe to 92nd Street Y.M.H.A.". New York Times. 17 Feb. 1969. 31. Print. 

10). "Modern Dance at 92Y." Our History. 92Y, n.d. Web. <http://www.92y.org/Uptown/School-of-the-Arts/Harkness-Dance-Center/About....

Bibliography: 

Anderson, Jack. "Choreographer, Sophie Maslow, Dies at 95." Dance. New York Times, 26 June 2006. Web. 8 Nov. 2014. 

Barnes, Clive. "Dance: Miss Maslow's Group Appearsl: She Brings Troupe to 92nd Street Y.M.H.A.". New York Times. 17 Feb. 1969. 31. Print. 

"Chanukah Festival for Israel Bonds Ends Season with Total Attendance of 54,000 Persons." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. JTA, 2 Jan. 1968. Web. 08 Nov. 2014. http://bit.ly/1ErM3y6

Harris, Joanna G. "Sophie Maslow: 1911-2006." Jewish Women's Archive: Encyclopedia. JWA, n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2014. http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/maslow-sophie

Ingber, Judith Brin. "Dance Performance in the United States." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 9, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/dance-performance-in-united-states>.

Ingber, Judith B. Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2011. “Extending the Traditional Wedding Dance”, Giora Manor. Pg 221. Print

"Modern Dance at 92Y." Our History. 92Y, n.d. Web. <http://www.92y.org/Uptown/School-of-the-Arts/Harkness-Dance-Center/About....

Richmond, Phyllis. "Revolution in Dance." Barnard Bulletin [New York City] 5 Mar. 1969: 6. Print.