4: Film excerpt, “Dance of Death” from director Michał Waszyński’s The Dybbuk, 1937, Yiddish with subtitles.
This dance, one of the most famous scenes in the play and the film, was not part of Ansky’s original script and came into the play via its first director, Dovid Herman. In this scene, Leah dances with a mysterious figure dressed as “Death” at her wedding, just prior to becoming possessed by the soul of her dead lover Khonen. After this dance was added to the first production in 1920, it has appeared in virtually every production and film since.
In the film, the famous Yiddish theater choreographer Judith Berg appears as the dancer playing “Death.” Berg choreographed this dance for the film, as well as for several stage productions.
Suggested activity: Watch the excerpt and discuss: what does this scene add to the play? What does it foreshadow? How do the movements of the woman and the skeleton figure differ from each other? Do they change throughout the scene? What is the function of the dancers around the main couple and what might they represent? If a director were to bring this scene to life on a stage, how might it differ from this filmed interpretation?
Der dibuk, directed by Michał Waszyński (1939; National Center for Jewish Film, restoration in 1989), DVD.