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"Rhythm and Roots" show at L.A.'s Ford Theater combines African-American and Hebrew music and dance styles

Israeli, Israeli-American, and African-American performers joined to stage a multi-ethnic music and dance theater at L.A.'s Ford Theater on Sunday, August 28th. The "Rhythm and Roots" event featured individual and joint performances by Macy Gray, Israel's Harel Skaat, L.A.'s Israel-American Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble, Lulu Washington Dance Theater, the Agape Int'l Choir Ensemble, MC Lyte, and vocalist Abraham McDonald.

Celebrating the connection and diversity of the world’s cultures through music and dance, Israeli-American Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble, African American Lula Washington Dance Theatre, and multi-ethnic, interfaith Agape International Choir joined together for a cross-cultural evening under the stars. Also featuring guest artists Israeli superstar Harel Skaat, making his Los Angeles debut; two-time Grammy Award-winner Macy Gray; R&B singer Abraham McDonald, whose victory on the first-ever Oprah Show Karaoke Challenge earned him an exclusive contract with the Island Def Jam Music Group; and legendary female rapper MC Lyte, All proceeds from Rhythm & Roots go to support Children Uniting Nations, an organization that brings attention to the plight of at-risk and foster youth, and Keshet Chaim’s youth education programs, which serve to eradicate ethnic and cultural barriers through the arts. Diverse as the RHYTHM & ROOTS artists might seem on the surface, they all share a communal mission to bring peace and healing to the world through their art.

Keshet Chaim's mixed white and black troupe, reflecting Israel's integrated Ethiopian Jewry, appeared to surprise and impress many of the African-American audience members. The dance ensemble's high-profile patron, Mrs. Daphna Ziman, asked the audience to remember the 25th birthday of Palestinian-kidnapped Israeli, Gilad Shalit, still held under inhumane conditions by Palestinian Hamas for over 5-years.

The talented, Los Angeles-based Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble was founded in 1983 by Eytan Avisar, still its Artistic Director. Their performance was choreographed by Kobi Rozenfeld. Genie Benson serves the dance troupe in the capacity of executive director. Keshet Chaim (Hebrew for Colors of Life) is an American Israeli contemporary dance company dedicated to celebrating the inclusive spirit of Israeli culture and Judaism throughout the world. Influenced by world music, the multi-ethnic roots of the Jewish people, and a constant drive for interpreting and exploring Jewish values through art, Keshet Chaim serves as both a repertory ensemble for traditional dance forms and a laboratory for contemporary work. Keshet Chaim founder and artistic director Eytan Avisar conjures the colors of Jewish life and culture with vibrant storytelling and choreography, creating an emotional connection to the people of Israel and their sacred roots.

“We’re thrilled at this opportunity to share the stage with such varied and talented artists,” enthuses Keshet Chaim executive director Genie Benson. “This collaboration is taking root in a real way that is greater than the sum of its parts. We are not just a group of artists coming together for a single performance. We are actively working to create connections, striving to cross barriers through music and dance not only on stage, but in the rehearsal room and in our personal lives as well.”

In that spirit of collaboration, the Lula Washington Dance Theatre performed a piece from the Keshet Chaim repertoire; Israeli hip hop choreographer Gitit Kohavie created a new dance specifically for MC Lyte’s live performance; and Israeli choreographer Kobi Rozenfeld (best known for his recent choreography for Beyonce’s world tour) developed an original piece to be danced to a song by Harel Skaat.

Keshet Chaim and the Agape International Choir previously collaborated at the Ford last summer, and Def Jam recording artist Abraham McDonald just returned from a concert tour in Israel.

The internationally acclaimed Lula Washington Dance Theatre is a Los Angeles-based repertoire dance ensemble that performs innovative and provocative choreography by Lula Washington, using dance to explore social and humanitarian issues including aspects of African-American history and culture. 

The multi-ethnic Agape International Choir, under the direction of Tim McAffee, is the core music ministry of the Agape International Spiritual Center. Agape Choir music is known for its signature sectional harmonies, counterpoint tempo-patterns, devotional power, and energetic enthusiasm. The "sound" of the Agape Choir, from the power of a cappella prayer to rousing rhythmic celebration, has had a national and international reach.

Making his first Los Angeles appearance, Harel Skaat is an Israeli singer and songwriter first discovered on “A Star is Born,” the Israeli version of “American Idol.” His self-titled debut album, Harel Skaat, went platinum with five chart-leading hits, and his second album, Figures, went gold. In May, 2010 he represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest, winning all three Marcel Bezen Awards for the first sweep in the contest’s history.

Macy Gray first burst onto the music scene with her debut album On How Life Is and the massive hit single “I Try” both of which went number 1 all over the world. The album went on to sell 7 million copies worldwide with Gray winning a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist. Macy Gray has gone on to sell more than 15,000,000 albums worldwide and has been nominated for 5 Grammy Awards and 6 MTV Video Music Awards. She has also appeared in numerous films including Training Day, Spider Man, Idlewild and the award-winning HBO Film Lackawanna Blues.

 R & B artist Abraham McDonald has toured the nation with Anthony Hamilton, Kem and Raheem DeVaughn, among others. Best known for his hit single, “Miracle,” Abraham recently returned from his “Love Music is Back” tour, making fans all over Israel in Nazareth, Tel Aviv-Yafo and throughout Europe. 

Two-time Grammy nominee MC Lyte was one of the first female rappers to address the sexism and misogyny that often runs rampant in hip-hop, tackling the subject head on lyrically in her songs while opening the door for such future artists as Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott.

Founded to protect children who lack a voice, Children Uniting Nations is a proactive non-profit organization created to bring attention to the plight of at-risk and foster youth and put an end to the cycle of abuse.

Through its educational programs, Keshet Chaim teaches students about cultural understanding and tolerance, breaking down ethnic and cultural barriers among youth and building bridges through the arts. A non-profit 501© 3 organization, Keshet Chaim is part of the Los Angeles County Arts Resource Guide and is an Arts Partner with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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