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Berta Yampolsky

b. 1934

by Ruth Eshel

Berta Yampolsky founded the Israel Ballet and serves as its artistic director. Indeed, her story is that of the Israel Ballet, which began from nothing in a country where modern dance ruled. Yampolsky, the troupe’s choreographer, works in contemporary neoclassical style. She excels in aesthetics and clarity, demanding a high level of technical skill from dancers. Her repertoire includes dramatic, abstract and contemporary ballet.

Berta Yampolsky was born in Paris to Zionist parents. Her father, Naftali Yampolsky (c. 1893–c. 1980), was born in southern Russia. Drafted into the Russian army, he deserted and managed to reach France where he studied engineering. Her mother Yokheved (Vera), née Shenker, was born in Odessa (c. 1900–c. 1980), the daughter of a fruit and nut merchant. She began studying medicine in Geneva and completed her studies at the University of Paris, where she met Yampolsky.

When Berta was three years old her parents and her older sister Sarah emigrated to Palestine and resided in Haifa. Yampolsky studied at a religious girls’ school in Haifa, then at the Hugim School and at the Reali School.

At the age of fourteen she began to study dance with Valentina Arkhipova Grossman. In 1956 she met Hillel Markman, who enrolled as a dance pupil. They married in 1957 and went to England to continue their dance studies. While Hillel studied with Marie Rambert, Yampolsky attended the Royal Academy of Dance and later, Sadler’s Wells. Both Hillel and Berta appeared as soloists with many companies worldwide, including Belgium, Switzerland, France and with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the United States. In 1964 they returned to Israel, where they were appointed the main dancers and managers of the Israeli Opera’s ballet company. A year later they decided to leave the opera company, realizing that they would not be able to make their dream of starting a high-level ballet company come true in that setting.

They first founded a modest ensemble called The Classical Ballet of Holon (1967), which was based mostly on duos from well-known ballets. In 1970 they opened a ballet school in the center of Tel Aviv. The company grew to seven dancers. Since at the time there were no high-level locally-born ballet dancers in Israel, they engaged dancers who had immigrated from the United States, the best-known of whom were soloists Pamela Osserman and Marcia Zussman.

A significant development occurred in 1975, when the company was invited to perform at the Israel Festival and George Balanchine granted it performance rights to his Serenade and the pas de deux from Agon free of charge. Another important work in the same program was Electrobach by Felix Balska. The Israel Ballet took the audience by surprise and the critics praised them enthusiastically. Some even contended that a miracle had taken place in that a classical ballet company had come into existence in Israel.

In 1977 the Israel Ballet Company, which now numbered twenty-five dancers, was invited to tour the United States. In 1981 it was invited for a nine-week tour of the United States and South America. In Santiago, Chile, Yampolsky won the prize for best foreign choreographer for her Dvorak Variations.

She choreographed the greater part of the troupe’s repertoire. This includes Untitled (1981), Carmen (1980), The House of Bernarda Alba (1978), Opus 1 (1983), Mendelssohn Concerto (1982), Dvorak Variations (1981) and The Nutcracker (1985).

In 1985 the Israel Ballet performed The Nutcracker with full staging according to Berta Yampolsky’s choreography, following it with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. She has choreographed many original works, including Dancin’, to songs by Israeli composers Sasha Argov and Mati Caspi (1986), Two By Two (1989), Harmonium (1989), a full-stage production of Romeo and Juliet (1989), Valse Mephisto (1992), Gurre Lieder (1996), Ecstasy (1998) and Medea (1999).

Yampolsky has fostered generations of excellent dancers, including soloists such as Marcia Zussman, who eventually became the Miami Ballet’s prima ballerina; Jane Sanig, who became prima ballerina of the London City Ballet; Graziela Kaplan, who went on to become the prima ballerina of the Northern Ballet in England; and Wendy Lucking, Naama Yadlin and Orna Kugel, main soloists with the Israel Ballet who have garnered much praise.

Under Yampolsky’s artistic direction the company has performed works by George Balanchine, Rudy van Danzig, Krzysztof Pastor, Viencenta Nebreda and others. The troupe has also performed John Cranko’s Onegin, with music by Tchaikovsky and sets designed by Samaritan.

In 1998 Berta Yampolsky won national recognition as the recipient of the Ministry of Education and Culture’s Lifetime Achievement in Dance Award. Today, her troupe numbers thirty-five dancers, most of them Israeli-born and some of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union and western countries. The company performs in Israel and at prestigious festivals abroad.

Bibliography

Anawalt, Sasha. “Israel Ballet Performs Exquisitely.” Los Angeles Herald, April 16, 1984; Eshel, Ruth. Dancing with the Dream: The Beginning of Artistic Dance in Israel, 1920–1964. Tel Aviv: 1991, 60–61; Ibid. “Fact and Fiction: The Israeli Ballet.” In Israel Dance Quarterly 7 (December 1995): 12–20; Ibid. “Classical Ballet: Israeli Dance’s Stepchild” (Hebrew and English). In Dance Today 2 (July 2000): 85–93; Gerber, Yossi. “An Excellent Troupe” (Hebrew). Ma’ariv, March 16, 1982; Griebler, Annelies. “Israel Ballet Demonstrates Virtuosity On Point” (German). Bergische Landeszeitung, March 16, 1994; Koegler, Horst. “In the Czarist Tradition” (German). Stuttgarter Zeitung, March 11, 1994; Krimilovski, Miri. “The Israel Ballet” (Hebrew). Dancing: A Bimonthly Magazine of Folk Dance and Artistic Dance (June 3, 1991); Light, Betsy. “Israel Ballet Performs Beautifully.” Indianapolis Star, May 7, 1984; “We Waited Years for This Change” (Hebrew). Ma’ariv, March 16, 1982; Mishori, Natan. “An Ever Higher Level” (Hebrew). Ha’aretz, December 8, 1988; Orth, Kraus. “Grand Pas with Charm and Magic” (German). Fuldaer Zeitung, March 3, 1994; Smith, Sid. “Israeli Ballet Versatile.” Atlanta Constitution, March 19, 1984; Wimble, C. “We’d Like More.” New York Daily News, May 6, 1981.

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Berta Yampolsky's story is the story of the Israel Ballet, which began from nothing in a country where modern dance ruled. She was the Ballet's founder and now serves as its artistic director.

Institution: Berta Yampolsky

How to cite this page

Eshel, Ruth. "Berta Yampolsky." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 17, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/yampolsky-berta>.

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