Jonathan Karmon: A Life Dedicated to Dance and Choreography
Jonathan Karmon (July 28, 1931 – February 6, 2020) was an Israeli dancer and choreographer, and a Holocaust survivor. He was the founder and director of the dance troupe that bore his name - "Karmon."
Born as Yonel Kleiman in Bucharest, Romania, to a family of four children, Karmon's life took a tumultuous turn in 1944 when, at the age of 13, his parents were sent to labor camps. He and one of his brothers were placed on a train with dozens of other children, and they embarked on a journey through Bulgaria and Turkey to reach the land of Israel.
Upon arrival, he joined the Youth Aliyah institution and studied at the agricultural school "Eynot." He later became part of the founding group of Kibbutz Ramat HaNegev (which was later disbanded, and its members moved to Kibbutz Mishmarot).
Simultaneously with his agricultural work, Karmon began to explore dance under the tutelage of Gertrude Kraus and later Myia Arbuckle. Eventually, his parents also made their way to Israel.
During the War of Independence, he enlisted in the IDF and served in the Negev Brigade in Be'er Sheva, Be'er Asaluj, and Nirim. After his military service, he returned to the world of dance. He continued to engage with folk dancing and later as a choreographer, collaborating with more experienced dancers.
He was appointed as the choreographer for the Dance Festival held at Kibbutz Dalia and organized numerous dance and cultural events across the country, becoming a prominent figure in Israeli artistry.
In 1953, after returning from studies in Europe, Karmon founded the dance group "Alumim" in Petah Tikva and, later, the student dance group at the Hebrew University.
In the early 1956, he was asked to be the guide for the central dance troupe of the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor). Out of 130 candidates, 26 dancers and choreographers were selected for the troupe. Subsequently, the troupe evolved into a national ensemble, representing Israel across Europe, and Karmon was appointed its artistic director. Under his artistic direction, the troupe known as "Karmon Ensemble" flourished and performed for several decades.
Among the dancers who were part of the ensemble were prominent Israeli artists such as Shlomo Tzach (later part of the duo "Ilan and Ilanit") and Ofra Haza. The ensemble gained international recognition and earned the first place at the International Festival of Folk Dances in Brittany, France. They also performed extensively across the Americas and even appeared on the prestigious Ed Sullivan Show in the United States.
Karmon's choreographies for his ensemble blended elements of folklore, classical ballet, modern dance, and themes from prominent Israeli art. He incorporated songs and folkloric elements from both contemporary and traditional Israeli culture. Gil Aldema, the musical director of the ensemble, arranged the songs and played the accordion. The ensemble's recordings were released internationally by the Vanguard record label and domestically by Hed Arzi.
Numerous Israeli singers started their careers with Karmon's ensemble, and many foreign artists performed with the troupe abroad, including Shoshana Damari, Yaffa Yarkoni, "Ilan and Ilanit," Mike Burstyn, Michal Tal, Boaz Sharabi (who played the flute in the ensemble), Yizhar Cohen, and HaHaluzonot HaGavohot (The High Windows).
The ensemble's performances dwindled during Karmon's tenure at the Olympia in Paris. In 1980, Karmon was appointed as the artistic advisor to the Olympia, one of the most prestigious performance venues globally, where he served for three decades. Concurrently, he continued to work on various projects in Israel and abroad.
In 1988, Karmon founded the annual dance festival in Carmiel, and he served as its artistic director continuously from its first edition until 2000. Under his leadership, the festival became a unique meeting point between folk, ethnic, and artistic dance and Israeli and international dance.
Some of Karmon's notable works include choreography for the opera "Otello" by Verdi, conducted by Asher Fisch, during the 2001 Israel Festival. He also took on the role of artistic director for the Jerusalem Student Ensemble.
Jonathan Karmon passed away in Tel Aviv on February 6, 2020, and he was laid to rest in the Civil Cemetery in Kfar Saba.
Legacy and Honors
In 2004, at the ceremony for the Ministry of Culture's awards for creators and achievements in dance, Jonathan Karmon received a lifetime achievement award. The judges noted, "Jonathan Karmon is one of the most significant creators in the field of dance who contributed to the State of Israel... He created a narrative and theatrical style of dance inspired by Jewish and Israeli folklore... In his artistic vision and personal qualities, he educated generations of dancers."
Karmon was declared a laureate in the field of dance for the Landau Prize for the Performing Arts in 2008 and was also honored with the title of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by France.
In 2016, he was awarded the Erik Einstein Prize for veteran creators.
In 2018, Jonathan Karmon received the Mifal Hapais Award for his contribution to Israeli dance as part of the "Ashdodance" festival.
Jonathan Karmon's life was a testament to resilience and creativity. His unique blend of traditional and contemporary dance forms enriched Israeli culture and left a lasting impact on the world of dance.
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