The Israel Festival is 55 years old. The nation’s major annual offering of multicultural fare will take place May 24 to June 11. According to the event honchos, it will “continue to build on the festival’s strong brand recognition, uncompromising quality and prestige, while introducing an innovative and compelling crossdisciplinary artistic program, catering to the festival’s traditional audience and to new, younger crowds, students and professionals.”
That’s quite a statement of intent, and director Eyal Sher, artistic director Itzik Giuli and music consultant Emmanuel Witzthum have got their work cut out to deliver on that promise.
It is an intriguing conundrum. How do you go about maintaining your core – generally older – consumers while expanding your customer hinterland? The latter, by definition, generally involves nurturing the younger crowd, hence you are left with a delicate balancing act between tried and trusted box office draws and acts that are on the more adventurous side and entail an element of financial risk. Then again, the Israel Festival is generally supported by the likes of the Jerusalem Foundation, so there should be some slack with regard to the monetary bottom line.
As usual, the Israel Festival roster features several largescale productions. The grandest and possibly most ambitious of the lot, certainly in terms of sheer timespan, is the Mount Olympus spectacle created by Belgian multidisciplinary artist, playwright, stage director, choreographer and designer Jan Fabre. The event kicks off at the Jerusalem Theater at 5 p.m. on June 9 and will spill out to the theater lobby and other areas. All told, the performance lasts 24 hours, during which a cast of 28 actors follows a definitively bohemian Dionysian ethos in conjuring up the spirit of Greek theater as it took place in Athens a couple of millennia ago.
Mount Olympus is an emotional roller coaster for all concerned – the audience included – as well as a visually arresting work. It takes some of the leading figures of Greek mythology out of their cloistered comfort zone and casts them, warts and all, into the cold gray moral light of day.
Naturally, the members of the audience are not expected to stay glued to their seats throughout – anyway, the action moves around – and it is improbable that many will stay the whole course. But people who have seen the show elsewhere in the world have attested to a sense of joyous catharsis at the end. There is nudity in the performance, hence there is an 18+ age limit.
More flesh will be bared at the suitably entitled More Than Naked dance production by Austrian choreographer Doris Uhlich (May 27 at 3 p.m.). It is a courageous and challenging work that celebrates the idea of the body in its imperfections and defies the media-proffered synthetic image of desirable corporeal esthetics.
Then there is Thunderstorm 2.0 (June 4 at 9:15 p.m.) by Chinese director Wang Chong and the Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental company. The 60-minute show is a modern multimedia retelling of the titular classic Chinese play, which tells the story of the painful decline of a wealthy family plagued by dark secrets. At the center of the plot is an impossible love triangle between a married couple and a maid who is pregnant with the husband’s child.
The 19-day festival kicks off at Safra Square at 9 p.m. on May 24 with the reasonably priced outdoor salute to late Yemenite-born diva Shoshana Damari, Mah Omrot Einayich? (What Do Your Eyes Say?). It is a cross-genre parade of stars, including Miri Mesika, Karolina, Shai Zabari, Ravid Kahalani and electronic bass, dub and hip hop duo Echo&Tito.
The performers will proffer contemporary takes on the iconic singer’s hits which, according to the show producers, is testament to Damari’s ability to bridge cultural divides.
The ping pong theme also comes through at the From East to West concert to be performed on May 31 (8:30 p.m.) by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the Mendy Rodan Symphony Orchestra of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Eitan Globerson and Michael Wolpe will conduct well-known compositions such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic poem Scheherazade, the overture to Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, as well as songs best known for the renditions by Damari and Lebanese singer Fairuz, in new arrangements that draw on those musical traditions.
Elsewhere, the Castle in Time Orchestra will dish up a high-energy offering of classical music filtered through indie and electronic sounds, while playwright-actress Nava Frenkel will join forces with actor-musician Yoni Silver, dancer Shani Granot and musician Guy Scharf in an intriguing tribute to legendary left field blind composer, musician and poet Louis Thomas Hardin, better known as Moondog who was a fixture on the streets of New York City in the 1940s-1960s, wearing a cloak and a Viking-style helmet with horns.
There are more shades of the rock era in La Mélancolie des Dragons by Philippe Quesne and the Vivarium Studio from France. The fantasy satirical work depicts six aging rock musicians stranded on the way to fulfilling their dream of creating an amusement park with a heavy-metal theme.
A nice lady, who happens by and tries to help, ends up becoming the appreciative audience of a surprising, original and absurd performance. The performance on June 2 (8 p.m.) is in English with no subtitles. The June 3 (1 p.m.) show is in French with Hebrew translation and will be followed by a discussion with the actors in English.
The Hours of Freedom: The Story of the Terezin Composer multidisciplinary event on June 2 (Jerusalem Theatre at 8:30 p.m.) will be presided over American conductor Murry Sidlin. The program presents a new concert-drama with works by 15 Jewish composers incarcerated at the Terezín concentration camp. The concert includes film and narration, with excerpts of selected works by Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, Zigmund Schul, Pavel Haas, Rudolf Karel and 10 others, who were considered the natural successors of the renowned Czech composers. Most of the works that will be performed were the last ones ever composed by these young artists, who were in their 20s and 30s when they were sent to their deaths.
For the last 40 years, the Israel Festival has incorporated three weekends of classical music concerts at the Eden- Tamir Music Center in Ein Kerem. This year’s extramural program takes in The Symphonic Piano, a selection of symphonic works adapted for piano, and a concert series of works by Bach performed by young pianists. Concerts will take place on May 2 7(noon), May 28 (11 a.m.), June 3 (noon), June 10 (noon) and June 11 (11 a.m.).
As usual, the program contains plenty of entertainment for the whole family. This year’s kid-friendly offerings include a performance of Peter and the Wolf at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and The School for Weathers dance show. And there are all sorts of free events dotted around the city.For tickets and more information:http://http://israel-festival.org/