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The global village and a journey to the outer limits of the imagination - these are the themes of this year's Israel Festival, taking place from May 25 to June 6. There's theater from Uzbekistan, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Spain and Hungary, dance from Spain and Austria (with two companies combining the cultures of Africa and the West), music from Cuba as well as the Western classical canon, jazz and rock, and the growing contributions in all the genres from our own artists, including the debut of a 12-year-old jazz pianist whiz-kid.
Here are some of the highlights and a cautionary word. Many of the events, some as long as one and three quarter hours, are performed without intermission.
Set to texts by Gertrude Stein, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and traditional Japanese music, Heiner Goebbels' "Hashirigaki" - which means "flowing" in Japanese - is a radical interpretation of what it means to be family. It is performed by three actresses who are also singers, dancers and musicians.
Goebbels is considered one of the most exciting experimental theater art practitioners today. He started in the 1970s as a composer, quickly branched out to theater and dance, and began creating his musical theater pieces in the '90s.
From Uzbekistan comes the Ilkhom Theater's "White Stork Black Stork," directed by Mark Weill. It's a sort of "Romeo and Juliet" tale of love, sacrifice, prejudice and the tyranny of custom in Islamic society. The Ilkhom is Uzbekistan's only independent theater.
Germany's wonderful Familie Fl z, who brought us "Theater of Illusion" in 2005, is back with its mix of masks, clowning, dance and acrobatics in "Infinita," the story of life from birth to death with significant stops along the way.
"Vampyr," an English-language production from the Stuffed Puppet Theater, is a funny gothic horror tale for adults about a man and his sick daughter who become stranded in a rather queer campsite. Neville Tranter, the Stuffed Puppets' founder and artistic director, manipulates all eight puppet characters.
Spain's Pep Bou brings us "Bufaplanetes," a show without words for the whole family that mixes bubbles, light and enchantment. "Grim Medea" by Euripides is a much acclaimed production by Hungary's Katona Jozsef Theater. From our own Haifa and Herzliya Theaters comes the world premiere of "Black Rain," a show that looks at the lessons of Hiroshima in the light of today's threatening realities. Ofira Henig created the concept and is the director. The text of the play is based on actual testimony, books, film-scripts and a Chinese poem from the 12th century.
IN THE FIELD of dance, there's also a world premiere. It's "Prince Charming" from Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal. The dance, which will be performed at the festival's opening, tells us that there ain't no Prince Charming to carry us off on his white horse. The good news is that we all have one in ourselves. We just have to look. Dror and Ben Gal first leapt to prominence with "Two Room Flat" in 1987.
You're in a sushi bar. The choices run by you on a belt. You pick by fancy. That's the idea behind Chris Haring's "Running Sushi." There are 12 scenes and members of the audience get to pick the order in which they're danced, just like choosing sushi; the piece is a dig at what Haring sees as the dumbing-down of culture. The Austrian choreographer first came here in 2005 with "Foreign Bodies."
Hela Fattoumi was born in Tunisia and grew up in France. Eric Lamoureux is French. The two have worked together since 1990 and their Normandy-based company is coming with two works that look at the Muslim world through the Western idiom. "The Dance of Pieze" is a duet that explores relationship between men in a culture that basically ignores women, and Fattoumi dances her own solo "Wasla" (That Which Connects), which examines the Muslim woman's status in society.
Meet the seven Vivancos brothers from Spain. All are virtuoso flamenco dancers - ole' - and their show is called (wince!) "flaMENco."
In the classical music category, there's a stage-full of local talent headed by the amazing Ella Milch-Sheriff. Her musical fantasy for voice and instrumental ensemble, "Dark Am I...," based on texts edited by her and soprano Keren Hadar from the Song of Songs, is having its world premiere.
Additionally there's the Borodin Quartet playing Russian music; what promises to be a moving evening of 16th century and contemporary songs all composed on Psalm 122 - "O pray for the peace of Jerusalem/May they prosper that love thee" - compiled by Myrna Herzog and played by the Phoenix Ensemble of Period Instruments; Susie Napper and Margaret Little, who've been playing the viola da gamba together for 20 years, present "Les Voix Humaines," an evening of pieces by Sainte Colombe and his more successful pupil Marin Marais - a relationship immortalized in the movie Tous Les Matins du Jour; and to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its premiere, there's Monteverdi's "Orfeo," directed by Jonathan Miller, played by the New London Consort conducted by Philip Pickett and starring our own Revital Raviv as Eurydice.
Many will be interested in the highly anticipated performance of Tomer Bar, a 12-year-old wunder-kind who will perform songs from his debut album Memories along with the members of the Tomer Bar Trio. Bar hails from a highly creative family. His father, Atcha Bar, owns Jerusalem's Yellow Submarine club, his mother is actress Sharon Hacohen, and his great grandmother is none other than Thelma Yellin.
At 80 years old, the Septeto Nacional is still going strong. They put Cuban music on the map at the 1928 world Expo in Seville, and will make a local debut.
The huge Sherover stage will be transformed into an electro-lounge to accommodate the world premiere of "Mosaic Project" by Shmuel Noifeld and Eyal Leon Katzav. It's a multimedia extravaganza of music, dance, video that blends the sounds of Arab and Western music to create something "which is not world music but the sound of now" its creators say.
Like last year, tickets range from NIS 10-165 with the best places going to those who book first. Those buying three shows or more get a 10% discount and at Sherover and Henry Crown in the Jerusalem Theater. The last three rows will cost NIS 65.
As well as its usual Jerusalem venues, the festival will also play at Holon, Suzanne Dellal and the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center and in Haifa.