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Life-sized marionettes and delicate miniature paper figures are among an array of dolls appearing at the 10th annual International Puppet Theater Festival, running Wednesday through Monday at the recently opened Israeli Puppet Center in Holon.
Whether fashioned from a variety of traditional materials or the products of improvisation with items ranging from gloves to stuffed animals, the striking creations share a capacity to enthrall - the result, according to the festival's artistic director Ilan Sabir, of their creators' meticulous attention to detail.
"Puppet designers are aware of the need to generate impact with their creations," explains Sabir. "They aim to move the audience in some way, to leave them with an altered perspective."
Sabir, whose extensive career in puppetry has included theater as well as television work and satirical political sketches to children's shows, runs the new center. He is directing the festival for the fourth consecutive year.
"The tenth anniversary festival is particularly exciting for me," he says. "We've marked the occasion with the establishment of the new center, which will facilitate greater research into puppetry art."
The center, which offers free entrance for the duration of the festival, houses a new version of the city's celebrated puppet museum.
"We plan to expand our resources now that we have more spacious premises," Sabir enthuses. "The museum will feature permanent collections and archives and will initiate studies into various aspects of the art."
The director also expresses enthusiasm at the prospect of hosting some of the country's most talented puppeteers as well as an impressive lineup of international artists.
"It's always an honor to showcase gifted creators from both Israel and abroad, and in doing so, to promote the enchanting but sometimes little-known world of puppetry," he says.
Headlining this year's foreign contributions is renowned US-based puppeteer Jim Gamble, whose Wonderful World of Puppets consists of lively, tongue-in-cheek fun suitable for the entire family.
France's Marionetas en Libertad perform Crazy Hat, a surrealist offering featuring a machine which requires hats as fuel to create different puppets.
For the second year in a row the event includes film screenings of puppet performances - a reflection, according to Sabir, of the growing use of cinema as a medium for puppetry.
"This trend hasn't yet caught on among puppeteers in Israel, and is something we are trying to promote," he explains. "The use of film stretches the borders of puppetry art, as the camera allows for experimentation in ways that would not be possible on stage."
Among the movie options is a politicized version of Dante's Inferno by American puppeteer Shawn Meredith. The film, which depicts George Bush and fellow world leaders as sinners and modern-day city slums as Hell, features puppets made out of paper. Handmade Puppet Dreams, a collection of films by independent artists, edited by Heather Henson, daughter of master puppeteer Jim Henson, also plays.
Performances on the Israeli front are as varied as those of their foreign counterparts. Woman, Puppet, Girl by up-and-coming talent Maayan Reznick, a recent graduate of the Jerusalem School of Visual Arts, uses puppetry to portray the feminist struggle. Reznick manipulates her dolls to create powerful, harrowing images. She appears to be sharing a body with a marionette in a disconcerting depiction of women's relationships with their bodies, and also uses puppets to portray sexual abuse.
Haifa-based, Arab-run puppet theater group Jebengi presents The Red Flower, a production based on Beauty and the Beast. The show is produced in collaboration with members of Haifa's Russian immigrant community, with which the company is closely connected.
Husband-and-wife team Mifraz, also originally from Russia, perform The Magic Mirror, an enchanting family-orientated tale. For Sabir, the inclusion of Russian artists serves as a means of providing a platform for talented but often lesser-known artists while enabling puppeteers and audiences alike to benefit from the immigrants' unique perspective. "Puppetry art has traditionally been popular in Russia and other Eastern European countries," he explains. "The Russians have a very disciplined approach to the art which is often lacking in Israeli productions."
As in previous years, the last day of the 2007 festival is devoted to a convention on puppetry art - this time focusing on puppetry as a form of therapy.
"This concept is something I strongly believe in," Sabir stresses. "When people communicate through puppets, they are expressing themselves without becoming completely vulnerable; it's the puppets talking instead of them. This is something that has proven very beneficial to puppeteers, as well as being successful in the therapeutic fields."
For more information visit www.puppetcenter.co.il. Prices range from NIS 25-75. Prior registration is required for the convention. Although the majority of events take place at the Israeli Puppet Center, some take place at other venues in Holon.