‘Landmark of Dreams’: A Place Teeming With Love, Loss, Memory and Folklore

By Kim Bendheim

Published April 25, 2003, issue of April 25, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The mind of choreographer Jody Oberfelder is preoccupied. It swirls with love, folklore and dreams, fixations she shares with another artist of a different medium, Marc Chagall. Oberfelder pulls her ideas and images for dances from diverse sources, including Chinese puzzles and the Brothers Grimm. But Chagall holds a special place in her mind.

“Chagall brings forth the unconscious into conscious imagery, linking logic with illogic,” Oberfelder told the Forward.

On May 4, audiences in New York will witness Oberfelder’s own version of linking, when she presents “Landmarks of Dreams,” as part of the Jewish voices series at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center.

“I’ve been tracking my dreams for a long time,” she said. “In my dreams, I often think in dance images, a swirl going one way or another.” In this dance, she translates those swirls into bodies, as the dancers on stage make interlocking forms. In some of the Chagall-inspired pieces, her dancers seem to fly effortlessly, revealing their choreographer’s background in contact improvisation, springboard dancing and gymnastics.

Oberfelder plays with the themes of dreams, love and folklore and gives them each a three-dimensional human shape. The pieces segue from comical and folkloric to lingering duets between couples that part, dance separately and come together again.

For the music, Oberfelder used longtime collaborators Frank London of the Klezmatics and Rob Schwimmer, a musician who plays a theramin, a little-known magical kind of instrument that responds to vibrations. “If you move your hand in front of it, it sounds like Hitchcock, both spooky and playful,” she explained. In the love duets, the theramin provides a richly haunting backdrop for the female vocalist. In the folklore section, the giddy, orchestrated craziness of the klezmer music pairs with mock Jewish moves that at points prove humorous enough to inspire laughter.

Although “Landmark of Dreams” has rollicking playful elements, the more serious sections have to do with memory and love, just like the art that inspired it. “Chagall lost his homeland and his first wife, left his culture, moved to Paris but retained memories and dreams” of places and people he’d lost, Oberfelder said.

The paintings were just the jumping-off point for the acrobatic choreographer to create something new, fused with Chagallian themes. “There’s a lot of partnering going on,” said Oberfelder. “We learn about life through relationships.”

Oberfelder herself is a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish German man, and she has learned from that partnering. “Your Jewish identity never leaves you, ” said Oberfelder. She consciously tried to put into this dance “the Yiddish quality of a body, someone leaning on someone with that weary oy vey quality,” begging the question “how do we celebrate that we are all human beings trying to get through life?”

Oberfelder is well known in the New York dance world, and her work has appeared at the Clark Studio Theater at Lincoln Center, Dixon Place, the Flea Theater, Joyce SoHo, P.S. 122, Judson Church and other venues. But her desire to be a dancer and choreographer germinated in Israel in the early 1970s, where she lived on a kibbutz and participated in folk dances. “Folk dance brings people together. There’s a sense of community and humanity,” she said. “Dance, after all, is an art made of people.”

Kim Bendheim has written for The New York Times, Fortune and The Nation.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.