The country's largest annual cultural event, the Israel Festival, kicks off on May 24. For almost three weeks, ensembles from all corners of the globe will stage performances in myriad genres, including dance, theater, music, circus arts, jazz, rock, and multimedia. Although tickets are no longer as expensive they were in the past, the festival's management have decided, this year, to offer the public a number of shows free of charge. The first of the free events is scheduled for May 28 on the newly renovated Shimon Ben-Shetah pedestrian mall. The evening is a street party, with DJs (including Ron Israel) spinning tunes and movies shown on large screens followed by a Hebrew sing-along. On May 30, the Depeche Mode movie A Night in Paris is scheduled, followed by a street party with DJ Yaniv Danan. Both events run from 9:30 p.m. until the wee hours. Classical music is becoming more popular, according to the Israel Festival organizers, and thus in Sergei's Courtyard, a series of concerts is planned, also free of charge. On May 28, there will be a program of Bach, Vivaldi, Strauss and Piazzola with the Jerusalem Saxophone Ensemble led by Gersh Geller. On the following day, May 29, an ensemble from the Jerusalem Symphony will perform works by Mozart, Vivaldi, Haydn and Piazzola and then Musica Eterna, one of the best choirs in the country, will perform works from the Russian liturgical repertoire, conducted by Ilya Plotkin. For those who want to understand the process of artistic creation and not only to enjoy its results, the festival has scheduled a series of encounters with artists and performers. The famous German director Hans Gables will meet theater aficionados at Hama'abada on May 25 at 4 p.m. to speak about his work. The Uzbeki Jewish director Mark Weil will discuss his theatrical work at the Jerusalem Theater on June 1 at 12 noon. (It is rumored that his play, White White Black Stork, will become one of the hits of the festival.) On June 6 at 7:30 p.m., also at the Jerusalem Theater, Prof. Nurit Ya'ari will talk about Medea, which will be performed by the Joseph Cotona Theater from Hungary. Dutch choregrapher Kristina de Chattel will talk about her spectacle Earth on June 6 at the Jerusalem Theater's Sherover Auditorium at 8 p.m. Last but not least - composer and musician Gil Shohat will talk about the music of Grieg and Sibelius on May 31 at Henry Crown and on Mozart's Requiem on June 6. There is more: In the compound of the festival itself - the plaza of the Jerusalem Theater - a large number of events and shows will take place during the whole period , including a performance by a Chinese circus, an arts and crafts fair, and a large collection of Chinese and Thai art. Shows and concerts by famous international artists will be shown on a large screen, including the "three tenors" (Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo), as well as performances by Liza Minelli and Charles Aznavour. The spectacle also features local street artists, clowns, jugglers, acrobats and interactive theater presentations. Like every year, this year the lobby of the Jerusalem Theater will host a jazz club, with performances taking place right after the regular shows. Featured performers include the Tel Aviv Jazz Orchestra, Leonid Patashka, Boris Gammer, Mayomanga, the Andralamusia ethnic music band, and more. Another free music club will function thoughout the festival in the Daniel Garden at Kikar Safra. Performers there are scheduled to include the popular Hatizmorit Ha'amimit Balkan/Ethnic/ Klezmer ensemble and the Jerusalem Stone Band, in a tribute to the popular blues and rock from the 1960s and 70s. And if you happen to be one of those who cannot sleep at all, this year's festival has something for you: An all-night jazz club at Hama'abada will keep its doors open until the morning, hosting local and international bands to help you end the night softly. This one isn't free, but is only NIS 20.

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