chapter  9
36 Pages

A Creative Process in Ethiopian-Israeli Dance: Eskesta Dance Theater and Beta Dance Troupe

Withand Beta Dance Troupe Ruth Eshel

Ethiopia. University of Addis Ababa Theater (December 10, 2011). Eight of the Beta Dance Troupe dancers are standing in a line, facing the audience. The dance Opus for Shoulders commences with a motif of shoulder dancing (eskesta) in unison so that the audience’s attention can be drawn to the changes that this movement phrase undergoes in direction, length, and pauses that freeze the movement. At one point the dancers stand in a tight circle descending into a deep plie´ as they perform eskesta, the movement becoming soft and melting. While bouncing in deep plie´ they encourage one another, shouting vowels in their native tongue, Amharic,

∗ while one or another dancer

jumps and “melts” again. As they gather energy the dancers spread in space like fireworks competing with one another in the energy of their jumps and vibratory shoulders. The dance ends with the formality of a canon in which half the dancers advance in a low walk adorned with eskesta, crossing the stage from right to left, while the other group, after eight counts, repeats variations of the same phrase, advancing in a quadrangle that crosses the

approaching dancers on the same side-to-side axis.1 The dance is accompanied by the dancers’ recorded voices, speaking Amharic syllables. Henok Yared reviewed Beta’s program of contemporary eskesta dance as a “Dance Performance that Opens a New Era of Eskesta,” while another headline noted that “Israel’s Beta Dance Troupe Brings Unique Falasha Insight.”2 Falasha is Amharic for “stranger”—the name given by Ethiopians to their Jewish population-yet Beta Dance Troupe is composed of Israelis of Ethiopian descent who immigrated to Israel as children. They returned to Addis Ababa to dance their version of eskesta, incorporating the changes they had experienced.