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Israelis who've spent time in Europe are likely to have encountered excited crowds reacting to street theater performances in town squares. These quintessentially European scenes used to transpire on public plazas, which in times gone by housed the towns' cathedrals and were the focal points of communal life. The absence of such public gathering points in many Israeli towns is one of the reasons for street theater's low profile here, says Dr. Etti Citron, artistic director of the 10th annual Bat Yam Street Theater Festival. The Bat Yam event kicks off Tuesday and concludes Thursday at the city's Promenade.
Street theater remains a foreign art form to most Israelis, Citron goes on, because of factors like "the countless malls that have sprung up throughout the country in recent years, the precarious security situation of the last two decades and the sometimes unpleasantly hot summer temperatures." Each of these elements of daily life has contributed to Israelis frequently choosing to avoid the streets when possible.
"The festival aims to challenge this trend," Citron says. "Street theater is a unique and exhilarating form of theater which everyone should have the chance to experience. Unlike traditional theater, it has to be visually striking and dramatic right from the start in order to attract and maintain an audience. [The] outdoor forum also provides greater opportunity for the merging of different artistic disciplines."
It is the potential for interdisciplinary performance pieces that Citron finds most appealing about street theater. A seasoned performer and producer, Citron directed the Acre Festival from 2000 to 2004 and says he's long been a devotee of this type of art. "Combining visual and performance arts makes for edgier and more exciting creations," he says. "It pushes the boundaries of theater, and the results are far more interesting."
The 10 chosen acts for this year's Bat Yam Festival all feature interdisciplinary elements. Three are foreign and the rest are home-grown. The seven Israeli shows will face off in a competition that will be assessed by foreign judges, with festival organizers hoping that the international exposure will lead to closer ties with theater and street theater groups overseas.
A highlight of the Israeli performances is the Argentinean
immigrants of the Sala Manica Duo, who examine the contradictions between their two national identities in Batya's Stories. The performance features a recorded episode of an Argentinean soap accompanied by simultaneous Hebrew translation by the actors, who rely heavily on improvisation and creativitiy to translate the full meaning of the original Spanish.
"We aim to portray the overlapping [meanings], and at the same time [the] stark contrasts between different cultures," says Leah Maus, the female half of the duo. Her show also explores the relationship between performance and popular culture in her two countries, and between outdoor and indoor performance spaces.
Elsewhere on the festival program, the Y Circus offers a vibrant portrayal of all types of Israelis, ranging from the haredi to spiritually hungry travelers in the Far East. The piece is infused with exhilarating acrobatics and colorful dance routines.
Nimrod Fried's Peep Dance, meanwhile, is a kosher, dance-based version of the traditional peep show, providing audiences with an opportunity for personal viewings of a variety of enchanting dance sketches.
In an effort to involve more Bat Yam locals, this year's festival features a number of community-based acts, including The Golden Hour, a dance sketch showcasing the talents of a number of the town's elderly citizens, as well as a marching band with musicians from Bat Yam, Acre and Bethlehem.
French dance company Ex-Nilho headlines the small list of international performers. The group's innovative performance style changes with the streets on which it performs. Sidewalks, walls and fences act as props in the company's heavily improvisational pieces, which are based on a loosely choreographic structure.
The Brussels-based Hopla Circus' "Rodriguez Family" combines comedy and acrobatics, while Switzerland's Erectus company depicts figures from silent movies.
Further information is available at www.bat-yam.muni.il.