According to Gil Alon, our fringe is looking good. "I speak to people abroad, including in Europe, about the fringe arts scene in Israel and they are amazed." Alon should know.
Until recently Alon spent eight globetrotting years soaking up, and sometimes contributing to, performing arts endeavor in no less than 23 countries on four continents. Now he's back in Israel, among other things, to oversee the creative efforts of dozens of artists from a wide range of disciplines in next week's seventh annual Experiment Festival (Festival Nisui).
The festival, which takes place at the Bikurei Ha'Ittim Center in Tel Aviv from December 17 to 19, offers the public about as wide a taste of the arts - from dance to video art and animation and liturgical song to alternative clowning - as you could reasonably expect to find, anywhere.
The eclectic list of acts will also utilize a varied species of spaces at the center, including auditoria, the main lobby, stairwells and balconies, basements and even the washrooms. The Experiment Festival is clearly tailored for art lovers with an open mind.
As the festival's artistic director, Alon admits he is not exactly going for the MTV crowd. "Entry to the shows is limited to people aged 16 and over. The way I see it, you can go for two kinds of artistic work. You can go, as we have, for the fringe with highly enthused professionals producing great work. In this country, fringe artists perform in every venue possible, no matter how shabby the location may be. Then there's the mainstream which, to my mind, is becoming ever more one-dimensional and boring."
All of the acts at the festival are first showings, and none lasts more than half an hour. But the latter proviso is not because, in this high-tech day and age, the average person's concentration span is so severely curtailed. "A lot of the things people will see at the festival are works in progress," Alon explains. "But that doesn't mean they'll get raw, unrefined products. All the shows are still suitable for public consumption but I expect many of the artists to take the acts further and develop them at some later date."
The range of entertainment at the festival is almost bewilderingly expansive. Take, for example, the Pregnancy slot, which is choreographed by Zohar Kahanov, combines acting with Indian dance, and is described as "a mystical-poetic-feminine play." Then there's veteran radio personality Yuval Meskin with his Smoking and Talking show which, says the festival blurb, "examines the boundaries of theater in real time." And if that isn't non-mainstream enough for you, try the Loss of Control video art offering which caters to one patron at a time, who has to get into a bed and cover himself or herself with bedclothes before the entertainment starts.
"We also want to engage the audience as much as possible," Alon continues. "It's not exactly a matter of audience participation, and there's no real improvisation as such, but we want to grab the public's attention and give them the feeling that they have really experienced something that they will take away with them."
As all the acts will, in fact, get their first airing at the Bikurei Ha'Ittim Center one wonders whether there may be a degree of apprehension - after all, who knows whether the public will like what it gets at the festival. "Risk is a good thing in the arts," declares Alon. "That's what our profession is all about. Anyway, a true artist should not consider how an audience may respond. There may be dialogue between the artists and the audience, but not to elicit a response. You do what you love, and you have fun."
Tickets are priced at NIS 20 and NIS 10. For ticket information call 03-6919510, or visit www.tlvitim.co.il