Choreography by Fanchon Shur
Jewess in Renaissance was commissioned by the St. John’s Unitarian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio as the celebratory opening for its Renaissance Fair. It was choreographed to have four sections.
SECTION 1: Grand entrance to the music of Monteverde in which the celebrant with a royal blue cape swirls into the theater, down the main aisle welcoming the Renaissance participants. She comes to the stage and speaks these words “Welcome to this glorious Renaissance, the greatest epoch of creativity the world has ever known as expressed through the arts of music, dance, and sculpting”.
SECTION 2: At this point there’s a shift of mood as the dancer throws her cape over her head revealing the white underside, which now is recognizable as a Jewish prayer shawl. The music changes to a lamentation as five speakers, one after the other, stand up speaking from various places in the theater with authoritarian command. “I, Pope Benedict the Fourth order all Jews to wear a yellow badge on the back!” “The Statutum de Judaismo demands that all Jews must never shave their beards!” “I —– the ruler of —— order all Jews to wear a badge on their forehead!” The final edict commands “all Jews to wear a red badge on their breast”. During these edicts the dancer magically reveals another badge every time she turns her cape and opens it. These symbols sewn on their clothes were called the “badge of shame”. In every country in Europe, the Jews were commanded to wear these badges, to cut their cape shorter than everyone else, to wear a weird cap on on their heads, to make the collars of their costume smaller then those of the nobility, in order to separate and isolate the Jews.
SECTION 3: The choreographer (Fanchon Shur) chooses to interpret this edict (“must wear a red badge on the breast”) to be a red heart and, with a prearranged cue to the audience, dances a swaying dance of the red heart, and invites the audience to sway with her to each side, as a sign of empathy. In this rehearsal video there is no audience…you must imagine this. The music for this section is a passionate Ladino folk song, “La Rosa”, and the dancer expresses the yearning of the Jewish woman in the Renaissance to be understood in her choice to turn the “badge of shame” into a vulnerable dance dialogue with a community of witnesses.
SECTION 4: She is now free to dance a celebratory exit by igniting the audience to give and take from her heart a gift and to throw to her their gift of compassion as she opens herself to receive it in grand Renaissance style to the music of Scarlatti. The audience is not shown, but in performance, the entire audience eventually exchanges gifts of the heart in rhythmic dancing as the Jewess leaves, making magic with her swirling blue cape.
EPILOGUE FROM THE CHOREOGRAPHER
I am Jewish. In researching costumes worn by Jews in the Renaissance, I was amazed to find that all Jews, women and men, no matter in what country in Europe they lived, were forced to wear costumes which set them apart from their neighbors. Either by odd unstylish dress, hair, beard, or badge, they were forced to stand out as odd, ugly, different, despised.
So, I choose to use that little known or purposefully hidden reality as the fundamental narrative of the work, with the radical resolution as described here, namely to turn the “badge of shame” into a bond of empathy.
This dance was performed in more than 20 cities in the US, in congregations, Unitarian, Jewish, Christian, Women’s festivals, and at the Renaissance Fair in Cincinnati at St. Johns Unitarian Church in the 1980s.