Destination Unknown (2013), choreography for Zeks Yiddishe Lider un Tantz from The Golem by Betty Olivero

Instrumentalists: Laura DeLuca, clarinet; Mikhail Shmidt, violin; Leonid Keylin, violin; Susan Gulkis Assadi, viola; Mara Finkelstein, cello | Dancers: Narissa Herndon, Brent Kehoe, Mariah Martens, Trevor Miles, Sage Miller, Samuel Opsal, Micaela Taylor
Year of Premiere

Destination Unknown is Cornish choreographer Pat Hon’s new dance work set to a musical suite that Israeli composer Betty Olivero adapted in 1997 from her complete score to accompany Paul Wegner’s classic silent film The Golem: How He Came into the World.

In ancient Jewish folklore, a Golem is a living being created entirely from inanimate matter. Probably the most famous Golem narrative involves Rabbi Judah Loew of 16th-century Prague, who was said to have created a Golem to protect Prague’s Jews from the emperor’s threats of expulsion or destruction. The rabbi fashioned the Golem out of clay and brought him to life by reciting special incantations. The Golem protected the Jewish community from harm, but he also grew increasingly violent and spread fear among the Gentiles. In the face of the Golem’s strength, the emperor implored Rabbi Loew to destroy the Golem in exchange for ending the persecution of the Jews. Historically, the legend has served as a complex metaphor for the struggle to survive during times of persecution.

Wegener’s 1920 film is considered a landmark in early expressionist cinema, and the addition of Olivero’s musical score brought it renewed attention. In 1997, Olivero created an abridged version that would allow concert performances of the music without a screening of the film. That adaptation, Der Golem - Zeks Yiddishe Lieder un Tantz, preserves the main musical themes and motifs that accompany the various characters and scenes in the film from the old Golem legend: the creation of the Golem by Rabbi Loew; the love scenes between the rabbi's daughter and a young courtier; the destruction of the emperor's palace; the apocalyptic fire that consumes the town squares, with the crowd praying and shouting for forgiveness and deliverance in synagogue. Ecstatic klezmer musical sections accompany the village scenes. The film’s two most dramatic moments – when the rabbi succeeds in breathing the spirit of life into the Golem, and when the Golem’s stern face melts to warmth and longing when an innocent young girl offers him a flower – are accompanied by the traditional Hebrew melody Place Me Under Thy Wing.

Music of Remembrance first performed the concert suite in 2000, and it became an instant favorite of MOR audiences. In 2008 MOR also performed the complete score to accompany a screening of the film. The suite’s six dances and songs leave listeners wanting to dance in the aisles – but, amazingly, the work had never been presented with actual live dance. For years, MOR had envisioned commissioning a dance work that would bring this new dimension to the stage. Cornish College choreographer Pat Hon took on the challenge of translating the subtly-nuanced music and the mystical story into evocative movement. The result, Destination Unknown, is a work that combines memory with fantasy, history with myth. The endeavor has also given MOR a wonderful opportunity to partner with Cornish, and we hope that this will be the first of many meaningful collaborations.