Once a year, just before the "big guys" at the Israel Festival grab all the attention, Jerusalemites have the opportunity to draw attention to our home-grown creativity. For the fifth time, from March 22 to March 27, the Jerusalem Arts Festival, sponsored by the municipality's Department of Arts, will take over the city, bringing dance, music, a circus company and even a British opera to our concert halls and streets. The "Jerusalem International Carnival" will open the festival at 8:30 p.m. at Binyenei Ha'uma, with Latino-American music and dance, ending with an all-night party. Although the festival is intended to showcase local non-professional lovers of stage lights, a few out-of-towners have been invited and the standards are highly professional. Performances include different stage disciplines, styles and genres. Thanks to heavy subsidies from the municipality, the tickets are reasonably priced. The Jerusalem Arts Festival, which began as a rather modest initiative, has been tremendously successful. Offerings this year include 12 dance performances, nine theater programs, 11 evenings of music and even three special programs combining music and walks through Ein Kerem and the Old City. The last performances will be dedicated to music from different countries and one will be devoted to the different ethnic traditions in Israel. A quick review of the festival program offers hard choices. Dance and movement performances include Journeys of a Clown, produced by the Jewish-Arab Youth Circus; an evening of Eastern belly dancing, performed by the Arabesque Company; a dance program about the Ten Commandments danced by the Zuz Ensemble; and an evening of flamenco music by the Duende Ensemble. Music performances will include a Ladino program; the Domino Choir and the A-Capella singers; jazz; Balkan and other regional music; and a program of Brahms performed by an amateur symphony orchestra. The theater programs offer performances from other cultures and languages: the PluriElles in French; the Jerusalem English Theater; a performance of H.M.S Pinafore by the Jerusalem Gilbert and Sullivan Society; and a special performances of Jean Genet's The Maids, performed by the Hebrew University Theater Department. Guest performers include the Theater Company of Nazareth, which brings its play on life in a local Arab village, and the Methadon Theater Company from Ashdod performing a play about dependency on drug-alternatives. PluriElles, performed by ACTE (The Society for the Promotion of French Theater in Israel) is a particularly interesting performance. Creator and writer Rachel Lascar-Feldman was born in Algeria and lived in France France before coming to Israel some 20 years ago. She holds a graduate degree in theater and teaches in the Hebrew University's French Department. She has also created what she views as a unique form of therapy, in which she applies her knowledge of theater. Lascar-Feldman says that immigrating from France made her feel, like all new immigrants, that she had been cut off from her culture and art, and especially from the theater. "Creation is not a lonely act - it is a way of giving oneself, in openness and sincerity. But once you give, you need the feedback of establishing a dialogue, the encounter with the other. "Those of us who came from France," she continues, "feel as though they have been mutilated, their culture and language cut off. They cannot meet that other, that encounter on the Israeli stages, on the Hebrew stage. "For them and for ourselves, my friends and I have created ACTE, an association devoted to the development of a French theater in Israel. We invite all Israelis who feel connected to the French language and culture - and they are many of them here." ACTE includes some 15 artists. In last year's festival, the group performed Le Trou ("The Hole"), which was successful with both audience and critics. This year, they are back with Lascar-Feldman's PluriElles. In PluriElles, Lascar-Feldman and seven female actresses tell the story of Poupie, a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman, surrounded by her mother and her aunts as she seeks her own feminine identity and grows more independent. And in the background are the "present absentees" - the men in their lives. PluriElles, by the Society for the Promotion of French Theater in Israel, will be performed at the Khan Theater, Thursday, March 23, at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. For tickets and further details about the Jerusalem Arts Festival: www.arts-festival.jerusalem.muni.il

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