Festival Hatzafon brings Israeli Dance to Edmonton

An evening of Israeli dance and culture - Festival Hatzafon - was held in Edmonton on March 1.

By Jenna Soroka

(AJNews) – The Aviv Israeli Folk Dance Association’s (AIFDA) annual Festival Hatzafon was held on March 1 in Campus Saint-Jean’s auditorium. The event welcomed the community to an evening of Israeli dance, music, and connection with family and friends. Aviv, Shemesh, and Rikud – AIFDA’s dance groups – showcased a total of 10 numbers. Additionally, Edmonton’s talented four-person cover band, Israelita, shared several musical performances that featured singing from Keren Scheinman, Osnat Wine, Ben Ragosin on guitar and Asaf Sagi on drums/percussion. MCs Jayden and Kingsley Leung kept the evening flowing smoothly as they entertained the audience between performances with comedic expertise. The community also stepped up to support Festival Hatzafon 2023 with sponsorships from Barry Slawsky, Cushman & Wakefield Edmonton, the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, and the National Council of Jewish Women Edmonton (NCJWC).

Reel Mensch Studios professionally filmed the show, and a few of the dance numbers will be available for the community to view on AIFDA’s website. Keep an eye out on social media.

AIFDA is a non-profit organization that is powered by the hard work and dedication of Artistic Director Sari Uretsky Leung, the executive board, parents, and of course, the dancers. AIFDA was born in 2006 out of Sari’s desire to build “a cultural experience for youth and adults where people could get together and enjoy Israeli dance.” Seventeen years later, the organization continues to enrich Edmonton’s Jewish community through Israeli dance instruction, local and abroad performances, and opportunities to build meaningful friendships.

The theme for this year’s Festival was Seasons of Israel, and the performances took the audience through חֹרֶף (Winter), אָבִיב (Spring), קַיִץ (Summer), and סְתָיו (Fall). If you are a long-time fan of AIFDA’s Aviv group, then you would have recognized classic performances such as Adama V’Shamayim (choreographed by Sari Uretsky Leung) and Kehila (choreographed by Memo Treisman). The show also featured new choreographies from both Shemesh and Aviv dancers, which did not disappoint.

Rachel Kondor, a seasoned Aviv dancer, reminisced on her past years with the group and its evolution over time. AIFDA has taken on the creative challenge to honour the history of Israeli dance while still engaging each generation by mixing traditional with contemporary. Davina Eisenstat, another AIFDA dancer and co-teacher of Aviv with Abby Wright, described the show as a blend of newer dance styles infused with elements of Jewish heritage to keep the traditions and culture alive.

One of the new numbers Aviv learned was called Israel Sheli, the final dance number of the show. Davina shared how this is one of her favourite dances. “It’s so upbeat, and it makes me feel connected to my roots when I’m dancing it.”

Shemesh’s new dance number was choreographed by Aviv’s very own Hannah Pertman. This energetic performance had the audience grooving in their seats.

Hannah Pertman has been a long-standing AIFDA dancer. She began attending Israeli dance classes with Rikud Academy in kindergarten up until grade 6. She then went on to perform with AIFDA’s performance groups Shemesh, Mayim, and, currently, Aviv. “I have loved my whole experience. I look forward to teaching every week. I look forward to dancing every week, and I love that it has given me the ability to be a teacher, because I want to go on and become a dance teacher.”

Classes are typically held once per week, allowing students to experience the culture of Israeli dance while exploring other passions and commitments if they desire. Sari has curated her dance programs to ensure kids, teens, and adults can experience this fun community regardless of dance experience.

Other Aviv dancers who have grown up with AIFDA include Ella Pertman, Ellie Vogel, and Ronny Stocklin-Sagi who taught this year’s Rikud Academy students. “I love Israeli dance because, when I start dancing, I just flow with the music and rhythm. The excitement of the show and nerve-racking dress changes were fun and worth it!” Ronny expressed after the show. It is this type of passion and energy from the instructors that the younger generation of AIFDA dancers get to witness and grow up with as they connect with their culture and community through Israeli dance.

Over the years, AIFDA dancers have performed in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Miami, Disney World, and Universal Studios. This year Shemesh and Aviv will return to Winnipeg to dance in the 25th anniversary show of Beyachad: Robyn Braha School of Dance. In Sari’s closing remarks at the show, she also hinted at a return to perform in Miami and Disney next year.

This year’s Festival Hatzafon was extra special, coming off of several years without performing in a theatre. The venue was buzzing with excitement, laughter, and an abundance of schmoozing as family and friends gathered in support of AIFDA’s wonderful dancers.

If you or your child is interested in becoming a part of AIFDA’s incredible dance experience, head to www.aifda.ca to learn more.

 Jenna Soroka is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.

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