Rina Schenfeld

b. 1938

by Ruth Eshel

In 1983 Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times wrote:

Miss Schenfeld’s transformations … take on a philosophical meaning, raising questions about essences. … She keeps the human figure always visible and she is, as ever, a serenely beautiful dancer of great intensity, the magnetic focus of attention.

Rina Schenfeld has choreographed solo and company performances that have been presented on the world’s most important stages. She uses the objects of daily life for her props, tests the limits of their usefulness and creates a poetic world with them. Her choreographic work may be divided into several periods: the geometric period, which focuses on props with clean geometric lines that meet those of the dancer’s body and create associations and restrained drama; a period of going to nature during which she used natural props such as water, wind and palm trees; a period of light and shadow during which she investigated reflections and plays of light and shadow. Recently, Schenfeld has turned to merging video and animation, and uses her own original songs in the work.

Rina Schenfeld was born in Tel Aviv on December 15, 1938. Her father, Israel Schenfeld, a salesman, and her homemaker mother, Devora (née Zeikel), were both born in Komarno, Poland. They had a son, Abraham, who was born in 1932.

Rina Schenfeld began her studies at the end of the 1950s with the classical ballet teacher, Mia Arbatova. The 1956 appearance in Israel by Martha Graham (1894–1991) and her troupe made a strong impression on her, and between 1956–1959 she studied the Graham style at the studio of Rena Gluck, also appearing in her company. In 1959 she won a scholarship to study at Martha Graham’s studio and at Juilliard.

After Schenfeld’s return to Israel in 1962, she danced with the Lyric Theater of Anna Sokolow. A year later, she appeared with her own company, the Rina Schenfeld Dance Group , prompting an invitation from Bethsabée de Rothschild to travel to New York to learn Martha Graham’s major roles (Errand, Night Journey, Herodiad, Into the Maze, Diversion of Angels and Embattled Garden). Thus she became one of the founders of the Batsheva Company.

Rina Schenfeld was the company’s principal dancer, appearing in works by Martha Graham, John Butler, Glen Tetley (b. 1926), Robert Cohan, Jerome Robbins (1918–1998), John Cranko (1927–1973) and others.

Shenfeld created several works for the Batsheva Company, including Jephthah’s Daughter (1965), Blind Man’s Buff (1967), Curtains (1969) and Corners (1973). She also appeared as the principal dancer in more than forty roles created by choreographers from all over the world and also took part in works by Israeli choreographers such as Mirali Sharon , Moshe Efrati and Rina Yerushalmi.

During the second half of the 1970s Schenfeld left the Batsheva Company and established the Rina Schenfeld Dance Theater. That same year, she staged her first solo performance, Threads (1979). Following this, she created many works, including Tins and Hair Dance (1980), Silk Sticks and Balloons (1983), Waves (1986), In My Room (1987), Summer (1993), Light, Azure and Shadow (1990), Jacob’s Dream (1990), Remember Me (1990), Tales of Eden (1990), Bubbles (1992), Sham Mayim (1995), The Angel Came at Night (1997), Eudaimonia (1998), Pillar 20/40 (celebrating forty years of choreography, 1999), Woman in White (2000), Wings Close Up (2001) and Swans (2002).

In the 1980s she founded a school whose workshop presented a number of works: Days and Other Shores (1982), Sculpting on the Wall (1983) and Ballade, Sharsheret, Shalekhet (1983). Many young dancers and choreographers graduated from her school to form their own companies, which operate in Israel and throughout the world.

In 1998, Rina Schenfeld published her first book of poetry, You’ll Dance, I’ll Tumble. Her work has won many prizes: the Golden Star Medal (1971), the Kinor David (David’s Harp) awards of 1979, 1980 and 1982, the Na’amat prize for her life’s work in the field of dance (1994), the Israel Ministry of Education and Culture’s Creativity Prize (1997), Israel Festival of Jerusalem Prize (2000), the Landau Prize for Stage Arts (2001) and the Israel EMET Prize for Culture and Art: Classical Music and Dance, under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office (2003).

In 1964 Rina Schenfeld married Uri Figenblat, a shoe designer. They have two children: a daughter, Tamar, born January 12, 1968, and a son, Israel, born June 17, 1974.


Anderson, Jack. “Dance, Music and Stage, Triply Complex Mating.” The New York Times, December 15, 1983; Di-Nur, Daniel. Rina Schenfeld Dance Theater: A Retrospective, 1960–2000 (Hebrew and English). Israel: 2000; Eshel, Ruth. Dancing with the Dream: The Beginning of Artistic Dance in Israel, 1920–1964 (Hebrew with English summary). Tel Aviv: 1991; Idem. Movement Theater in Israel 1976–1991 (Hebrew with English summary). Ph.D. dissertation. Arts Faculty, Tel Aviv University: October 2001, 108–122; Kisselgoff, Anna. “Dance: Rina Schenfeld in Three Long Solos.” The New York Times, November 11, 1983; Rina Schenfeld file at the Israeli Dance Library at Beit Ariela, Tel Aviv; Sowden, Dora. “Waves of Talent.” Jerusalem Post, February 21, 1982; Utrecht, Luuk. “Rina Schenfeld and Her Dance.” Next Wave Program: November 1983.


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Rina Schenfeld uses the basic objects of daily life to build a world of poetry and dance, choreographing solo and ensemble performances that have been presented on the world’s most important stages.

How to cite this page

Eshel, Ruth. "Rina Schenfeld." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 27, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/schenfeld-rina>.


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