This year's Israel Festival turns the spotlight on France, just as the French government has declared 2006 the "Year of Israel" in French culture. We'll get a good idea of what the French are up to in theater, dance and music by means of "Voila!" the French Season in Israel. Additionally, the Festival, which takes place in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Holon, will also highlight the centenary of Ibsen's death, Indian culture and our own.
Director Peter Brook's Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (French/Hebrew s.t) will have its world premiere at his Bouffe du Nord in Paris a few days before it arrives in Jerusalem. Based on a series of improvisations by South African playwright Athol Fugard (b.1925) and his collaborators, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, Sizwe Bansi is a picture of life under apartheid. A factory hand turned photographer is approached by a man who needs a picture for the all important Passbook and has adopted a dead man's identity - that of Sizwe - for the purpose.
The second French offering is Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's beautiful 18th century plea for religious tolerance, Nathan the Wise (French/Hebrew s.t), in a production from Passeurs de M moires, a Paris-based company that describes itself as a political theater dealing with contemporary social issues.
Moscow's Mali Theater was here in 1995 with Gaudeamus, again in 1998 with Brothers and Sisters, and is back this year with Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (Russian/Hebrew s.t). It's directed by Lev Dodin, Mali's artistic director since 1983.
Ibsen's (1828-1906) plays rattled Victorian morality when they were first staged, but their trenchant realism has kept them in the canon. Lee Breuer, the iconoclastic founder of San Fancisco's Mabou Mines, turns patriarchal society on its head in his witty production of The Doll's House (English) in which the men are all small and the women all tall and the action takes place literally in a doll's house.
Acrobat and clown Jamie Adkins, formerly of Cirque Eloise, whose solo Typo has him in a battle royal with a show he's trying to write, is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
The Shlomi Theater Center's interactive, multidisciplinary piece on memory and forgetting written by Dudu Ma'ayan (Acre Theater Center) moves us right into the Multidisciplinary section, where Amit Drori's Terminal from Jerusalem's Ma'abada takes us on a three-part journey through time and space, via the amazing life of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.
Also Festival Arena 2006 is the inauguration of a new festival tradition - showcasing young and exciting local artist/performers. This year there are 12 of them, whose talents range from clowning to shadow-puppetry.
The French dance connections are the Marseilles Ballet with Frederic Flamand's La Cit Radieuse and Inana, a dance for seven women from Carolyn Carlson.
On a set that's all moveable latticed metal screens and curtains, Flamand's dance asks where the individual fits into the soul-less, hi-tech, globalized world. It's built around the never-realized 1930-35 plans for a Radiant City, an urban space that would improve the quality of life for the working man, designed by the world-famous architect,Le Corbusier.
Carlson's piece takes its title from an important Sumerian female deity of that name and represents, she says, woman's power and vulnerability.
The 2000-year-old Bharatanatyam from South India is thought to be the most ancient of Indian dance forms. Priadarsini Govind is one of its best known practitioners whose "expressive eyes and impeccable footwork" quite captured a Washington Post critic.
From us at home, there'll be the premiere of new dance by Rami Beer and the Kibbutz Dance Company, Giselle from the Israel Ballet with young soloists from the Bolshoi, and a colorful two day Hora Convention that will be a feast of hora from troupes all over the country.
The influential composer Maurice Ravel is French, right? So the Israel Philharmonic under Yoel Levi will play an all Ravel program that includes Daphnis and Chloe choreographed by Immanuel Gat, and French Mezzo-soprano Beatrice Uria Monzon singing Scheherazade.
This year tickets to the major events will cost from NIS 90 to NS 150. There'll be no package deals, but purchasers will get a 10% discount after the third ticket. They go on sale on April 21 online and from April 23 at ticket offices.The Festival runs from May 23 to June 15.