ZOOM TALK: The Jewish Inn in the Polish National Ballet (Professor Halina Goldberg, Indiana University)

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Free to attend. Please note that this week's talk is a virtual event, and will not be operating in a hybrid format, to register please complete this sign-up form.

Celebrated as Poland’s first national ballet, Wesele krakowskie w Ojcowie (A Cracovian Wedding in Ojców; often shortened as A Wedding in Ojców) premiered in 1823. During the nineteenth century, it was the most popular Polish ballet, and it continues to maintain its historic place in the Poland’s ballet repertory. The inn, which was a central element of the scenography for the operas that inspired A Wedding in Ojców, was also found in the early stagings of this ballet and in the many spin-off productions that followed. By the late nineteenth century these stagings also included dancing Jews among its cast of characters. In 1921, the representation of dancing Jews in the ballet Karczma (The Inn), an offshoot of A Wedding in Ojców, so offended Jewish audiences at the Warsaw Grand Theater that they staged a protest, with the police intervening in the ensuing brawl between Jewish and gentile spectators. This examination of previously untapped archival sources aims to historicize the presence of the Jewish inn and innkeepers in Polish ballet and to nuance and contextualize our understanding of the clashing reactions of Jewish and gentile audiences to the phenomenon.  I discuss the deeply problematic representations of dancing Jews (often called majufes/mayufes) that were already found in the traditional nativity plays (szopka) and throughout the second half of the nineteenth century in lowbrow theater. Likewise, the anger of Jewish audiences about the prevalence of Jewish caricatures on stage simmered quietly for half a century, erupting occasionally during theatrical performances, before it exploded at the Grand Theater in response to Karczma.

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