Baroness Bethsabée de Rothschild (assumed the name Batsheva after moving to Israel) was born in 1914 in London and educated in Paris. She is the daughter of the Baron and Baroness Edouard and Alice de Rothschild, and the great-granddaughter of James Mayer de Rothschild. Her father managed the family bank in France together with his cousin, Robert de Rothschild. In the 1930s, she studied biology at the Sorbonne and worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Before the German invasion of France in 1940, she immigrated with her family to New York and studied science in Columbia University. She later joined the Free French Army, sent with the troops invading Normandy and took part in the liberation of Paris, where she went on serving as a mediator between the French and American armies. At the end of the war she returned to the US.
In New York, she started studying dance with Martha Graham and became her company’s patron, fund the company’s activity, the film documentation of its dances and the acquisition of a permanent center in New York. She also supported young composers and dancers. In 1951, she visited Israel for the first time. In 1956, she joined the Martha Graham Company in its tour to East Asia, a tour that was supposed to end in Iran but with de Rothschild’s support went on to include a performance in Israel. This was the company’s first performance in Israel and a turning point in the history of Israeli dance. Subsequently, de Rothschild organized two more tours of Graham’s company in Israel.
De Rothschild moved to Israel in 1956. She founded the Batsheva de Rothschild Foundation for Arts and Sciences and established the Batsheva Society for the Arts which mainly supported ethnic artists through the Maskit Fashion House, the Chamber Music Association, and the Chamber Ensemble. She also promoted Israeli culture by sponsoring Israeli music recordings and translations of literary masterpieces into Hebrew. During those years, she maintained close contact with the Martha Graham Company and organized dance courses in Israel under the artistic direction of Graham and the choreographer Antony Tudor. Moreover, she offered scholarships for outstanding dancers in Martha Graham’s school in New York.
In 1963, de Rothschild conceived the creation of a new Israeli dance company and invited Graham to act as its artistic consultant. In 1964, when Batsheva Dance Company was established and throughout its first 11 years, she served as the company’s CEO and patron. In 1968, she established the Bat-Dor Dance School under Jeannette Ordman’s management, and subsequently the Bat-Dor Company. De Rothschild also built a center for this company in Tel Aviv, at an unprecedented standard in local terms. In 1975, after the plan to consolidate the two companies did not fall through, she stopped supporting Batsheva Dance Company.
De Rothschild received a series of awards commending her life’s work, including the Israel Prize for 1989 for her unique contribution to the society and country.
Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild died in 1999.
Right (left to right): Martha Graham, Batsheva de Rothschild and Francois Schapira, 1964. Photo by Arik Dichne