Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) announced that one of the two winners of the 2017 prize for dance would be the religious young women's Noga Dance Troupe founded at Orot Israel Academic College for Education's iin Elkana, Samaria. The establishment of a Department of Dance at the women's campus of Orot College was a pioneering and totally new phenomenon in Israel's religious Zionist world and the subsequent founding of the acclaimed troupe served as another first.
Bennett congratulated the winners on their ongoing contributions to Jewish culture: "The awardees," he said, "proved that a life of artistic expression can be a kind of outreach, a mission, a bridge that connects different worlds and makes the beauty of Jewish creativity accessible to the Israeli public. Those awarded the prize for dance provide a unique panorama of Jewish values in their performances, and well deserve this special recognition."
The Education Minister's annual prize for Jewish Culture is awarded to artists whose creativity is expressed within the parameters of Jewish or Israeli themes in various mediums, including dance, theatre, cinema, literature, poetry and music, as well as an award for lifetime achievement.
The Prize Committee had high praise for the Noga Dance Troupe, writing as grounds for the award that "the Noga Dance Troupe is the first, pioneering religious dance troupe to be formed in Israel. The very fact of its establishment signaled a breakthrough into the field of creative dance for the religious sector and an innovative approach in the world of dance as a whole."
"The troupe acts as an artistic and social bridge for vastly different audiences – secular, haredi and religious women attend its performances sitting side by side and all of them reap the fragrant harvest of this inspired activity, together."
The head of the Department of Dance at Orot Yisrael College, Dr.Talia Perlstein, sees the award as a milestone for the group, which was established on the women's campus of Orot in 2009, and most of whose members are graduates of the department she heads: "The Noga Dance Troupe – its very existence, performances and the warm embrace it receives everywhere - are an expression of change and renewal taking place in religious society, one which is inseparable from the forging of modern Jewish feminine identity."
Professor Yuval Sinai, president of Orot Israel College, said that the college "is proud of the impressive accomplishment achieved by the troupe created on our campus. This unusual troupe has achieved a breakthrough proving without a doubt to young women in every sector that dance can be relevant to every phase in life and to every person's world view."
In the video, in addition to the remarks written above, the members of the troupe tell of how when they came to a rehearsal and their director told them that she has special news for them, they were sure someone had become engaged - a typical reaction for these unassuming, talented young women!
On a more serious note, asked about what dance means to them, they talk of how dance connects them with faith and the sacred, is a way to express women's spirituality. "It is a new language that shows what we are and who we are," said a member of the group, obviously pleased to be able to add that following in Orot College and the Noga troupe's footsteps, "there are observant high school students in dance groups today, younger girls and women's groups, schools for dance, all suitable for halakhically observant women."
The Education Minister also announced that he has decided to award the 2017 Minister's Prize for life achievement in the field of creative Jewish Culture to Shlomo Gronich, composer, singer, songwriter, arranger, and choir conductor and the second dance prize to prolific choreographer Shlomo Maman, whose career spans decades and who is creative director of Israel's Karmiel Dance Festival since its inception in 1988.