54th Israel Festival Promises an Eclectic Blend

The theme of this year’s monthlong event will be interdisciplinary performance art – at reasonable prices.

Dorothea Tuch

The artistic program of the 54th Israel Festival, which will open on May 28, was presented in Jerusalem Monday morning. The theme this year will be the combination of various types of performances – theater, dance, performance art and music. Several important theater and dance artists – notably Italian playwright and director Romeo Castellucci and American choreographer Trisha Brown – are slated to attend the festival, which will include many cooperative efforts between artists from Israel and abroad.

For the first time the festival will be directed by artist and film producer Eyal Sher, former head of the Jerusalem Foundation’s Arts and Culture Department, under the artistic direction of Itzik Giuli, who is active in theater and dance and previously served as the artistic director of the “Curtain Up” showcase for new works by independent choreographers in Israel.

In conversations with Haaretz the two emphasized that their interest in interdisciplinary art is not a matter of the combinations themselves, but of the overall stage language that the artists will present through this activity.

“Stage languages that bring down the walls between the disciplines causes the stage to come alive,” says Giuli. “We want to introduce the audience to materials that they won’t find anywhere else, because they’re not commercial. We’re telling the audience that this is what’s happening now in the world of performance art.”

The festival will run for about a month in theaters and venues in Jerusalem only – as opposed to previous festivals, in which some international performances were also held in Tel Aviv and Haifa. “The whole idea is for you to have a festival experience for which you have to come on a pilgrimage,” says Sher. “There’s a sufficiently large audience in Jerusalem to enjoy these things, but we’re also catering to the international audience and to people from all over the country.”

In recent years there has been criticism of the decline in the festival’s status in the local cultural scene, and questions were raised as to its necessity in light of the increase in the number of theater and dance productions brought to Israel by private impresarios.

The festival’s producers are now saying that if in the past economic constraints influenced the content and constituted the starting point for putting together the program, this year they first defined the content-related and artistic objectives and only afterwards discussed their economic feasibility.

Like last year, this year’s festival budget will be about 10 million shekels, including support from the Jerusalem municipality, the Jerusalem Foundation and the Education Ministry.

One of the most interesting theater events of the festival is “Julius Caesar, Spared Parts,” to be staged by Castellucci, one of the most important and innovative playwrights of the past two decades. The play is based on Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” and the site-specific production examines the origin of words and the roots of rhetoric, focusing on characters from the Shakespearean text.

Castellucci’s production will be performed six times between June 2-4, each time before a limited audience of 100 in Jerusalem’s YMCA auditorium, which will be adapted specially for the purpose. Although “Julius Caesar” was first performed in 1997, this will be Castellucci’s first visit to Israel.

Hits you in the gut

Another theater production at the festival is “Atomized,” Julien Gosselin’s stage adaptation of Michel Houellebecq’s best-selling novel, to be performed by a French theater group. The play, a great success at the Avignon Theater Festival, combines acting, opera and cinema and examines the alienation experienced by young people in Western society.

Another interdisciplinary production is “The Rite of Spring” by the German collective She She Pop, on June 8 and 9. It combines the familiar Stravinsky work with a video installation, and includes the actors’ mothers. Part of the scenery will be created in Israel, so that the festival will play a part in the production.

“It’s a really cool show,” says Sher enthusiastically. “They discuss intergenerational relations, personal identify and victims of parenting, and it hits you in the gut.”

Sher and Giuli reject the argument that the festival this year is relatively a niche event, designed mainly for the cultural elite. Giuli believes that it is actually the wider audience that has a certain priority. “I’m talking about an audience that simply wants to be consumers of art. Inquisitive people, who go to the theater or to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and want to see contemporary exhibitions. Everything we’ve brought this year is communicative, arouses interest and is totally accessible to the general audience.”

As an example of such a show Sher mentions “Mystery Magnet” by Belgian plastic artist Miet Warlop and the Campo visual theater. The show is based on a combination of slapstick, ready-made items and stage acrobatics, and will be performed on June 17 and 18.

Another interesting theatrical-musical event is “Black on White,” by German composer Heiner Goebbels with the Ensemble Modern, which will conclude the festival on July 21. Giuli says that it’s Goebbels’ parting tribute to the important German postmodern playwright Heiner Muller, who died 20 years ago. The work includes 18 instrumentalists who are also performers, and the voice of Muller can be heard reading the poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

“Kinneret Kinneret” returns

Israeli theater will also receive a respectable platform at the festival. There will be a performance of “How Is the Beast?” a new work by director Eyal Weiser about three fictitious artists from Israel, Germany and Poland who meet in Berlin during Operation Protective Edge. For the first time the Khan Theater will perform “Kinneret Kinneret,” the play by poet Natan Alterman that was first performed in the Cameri Theater in 1961.

At Beit Mazia Emmanuela Amichai will stage “Lysistrata X,” a wordless digital adaptation of Aristophanes’ comedy, accompanied by works by video artist Ran Slavin. Also at the festival will be Center Stage!, under the artistic direction of Ori Egoz, which comprising nine original monodramas that are adaptations of literary works or plays.

In dance, the festival will first of all be offering works by the company of American choreographer Trisha Brown. Brown, along with Merce Cunningham, is one of the founders of the Pure Dance movement, which favored the autonomy of dance as separate from other arts. Her company will perform the site-specific show “In Plain Site” at the Israel Museum on June 12 and 13. On June 11 in the Jerusalem Theater, she will perform four different works in one evening that also represent her cooperation with American artist Robert Rauschenberg, who designed the stage for some of them: “You Can See Us” from 1995, “Son of Gone Fishin’” from 1981, one of her most renowned works “Set and Reset” from 1983, and the famous “Rogues” from 2011, featuring the original music by Laurie Anderson.

At Beit Mazia the dance performance “Self Unfinished” by French choreographer Xavier le Roy, one of the most influential people today in the dance world, who examines the actions of the human body and its genetic traits. Another interesting choreographer at the festival is Canadian Benoit Lachambre, who will stage “Snakeskins” at the Jerusalem Theater, with scenery composed of a system of ropes and an attempt to examine the shedding of skin and the exposure of individual identity.

Relatively low prices

The festival program is being distributed this year in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Ticket prices are low relative to previous years, with a ticket to international performances costing a maximum of 195 shekels ($50). An exception is the opening performance, in which songwriter-guitarist Shalom Hanoch will host Berry Sakharof, Yehuda Poliker and Danny Sanderson at the Sultan’s Pool. The most expensive ticket will cost 294 shekels.

Emmanuel Witzthum is in charge of the musical events at the festival. Another interesting show will be “Badad” on June 18 at the Tower of David Museum, a journey among the songs of Mizrahi singer Zohar Argov. Participating are Ninet Tayeb, Shai Tsabari, Ravid Kahalani, Avishai Cohen and an ensemble led by musical director Rea Mochiach.

Sher emphasizes that as opposed to previous festivals, in which large-scale tributes to Israeli artists were performed at the Sultan’s Pool and other venues, there is now an attempt to create ensembles of artists that will also make a statement.

Additional musical and literary encounters and performances will take place throughout the festival free of charge, in the First Station Park among other places.