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Over 1,000 artists from 14 different countries with 50 different shows will take part in this year's highly anticipated Israel Festival.
"What distinguishes this year's event from recent years is the enthusiasm of both foreign artists and governments to be involved and have their countries represented," said Israel Festival chairman Dan Halperin at the Festival's press conference Tuesday.
Indeed, after a difficult period, internationally acclaimed artists are returning to Israel to partake in this performing arts extravaganza.
This year's festival kicks off Tuesday with an avant garde adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's celebrated feminist play A Doll's House, marking the centenary of the playwright's death. The New York-based Mabou Mines theater company will stage the play using "little people" in the male roles.
Mabou Mines is also scheduled to perform a host of foreign theatrical and musical acts throughout the three week festival.
Other highlights include award winning Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey, who will perform Bach's Six Solo Cello Suites, a Russian production of Chekhov's masterpiece Uncle Vanya directed by Lev Dodin, and a recital by Indian dancer Priyadarsini Govind, who will dance in her country's traditional Bharatanatyam style.
French culture will play a special role in this year's festival, thanks to the French Embassy sponsored "Voila! French Culture Season in Israel 2006" being held in conjunction with the festival. Among the French artists featured are choreographer Carolyn Carlson. Acclaimed director Peter Brook will present his socio-political play Sizwe Banzi is Dead. French Ambassador Gerard Araud said he saw the initiative as a means of "building on the improved political relations between the countries by using culture to create dialogue between the two societies."
And also a means, the ambassador added with irony, "to convince you that the French really are nice people."
The French government will contribute NIS 1 m to the Festival's approximately NIS 11 m. budget - the first time a foreign government has contributed such a substantial sum. Other donors include the Ministry of Culture, Education and Sport, the Jerusalem Municipality and Bank Leumi.
Providing Israelis with an opportunity to enjoy performances by current and future big names in world culture is, according to general director Yossi Tal-Gan, "A major part of what the festival's about," but he admits to facing obstacles in trying to organize the artists entry into the country. In one near diplomatic disaster, two French performers of African origin almost backed out after being asked for documentation to prove they weren't attempting to access the country as illegal workers.
Director Tal Gan and Chairman of the Board Halperin also emphasized that the Festival has an important influence on Israeli culture, creating a platform for Israeli artists to showcase their work to a wide and varied audience.
The Kibbutz- Contemporary Dance Company directed by Rami Beer and a "Rachmaninov Marathon" performed by Israel's finest pianists are just some of the Israeli offerings.
Festival-goers can also take advantage of a significant reduction and change in the policy of ticket pricing this year. For the first time the majority of performances will be sold at only one price. Seats will be allocated on a first-come/first serve basis, so that the best seats will go to those who order early, rather than those who can pay more.
Performances are scheduled to take place in Jerusalem, Holon, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
For more information, please visit: www.israel-festival.org.il