A rich repertoire

Holon’s Sounds of Childhood Festival offers an exhilarating carousel of music, theater and dance

fresco311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Many cities have nicknames: The City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia), The Windy City (Chicago) and The Paris of the East (Shanghai). This coming week, Holon will honor its nickname, “The City of Children,” with the annual Sounds of Childhood Festival during Succot.
Under maestro Gil Shohat’s artistic direction, the festival will present an array of performances conceived with the little ones in mind. This year’s program includes opera, dance, music and theater, presented by some of Israel’s top creative talents.
One of the masters of this trade is Yoram Karmi, artistic director of Holon’s Fresco Dance Group. Five years ago, Karmi was installed in the Reim Center by the Holon municipality. He was put in charge of a three-story building equipped with all the studio space a choreographer could need. The conditions of his stay were stated up front: He had to create a new children’s piece each year, which would be premiered at the Sounds of Childhood Festival.
Karmi happily accepted the space, along with this challenge. For the past five years, he has managed to design a line of dance pieces for children, each one more intricate and beautiful than its predecessor. At present, the Fresco Dance Group has a rich repertoire of children’s pieces, including Alice In Wonderland, The Emperor’s New Clothes and Around the World in 80 Days. “It’s a delicate mixture of the right story and good music. Humor is important, and so is accessibility,” explained Karmi in a recent interview.
For this year’s creation, Karmi took on the story of One Thousand and One Nights. Most of us are already familiar with “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp.”
In this piece, Karmi’s narrators, the Sultan and his wife Scheherazade, take audiences through the tales of “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor,” “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “The Nightingale and the Emperor of China.” Karmi’s sets and costumes create three worlds, each of which has its own musical score. “We take the kids from story to story, world to world,” he said.
In the story of “The Nightingale,” the prima ballerina does a solo in toe shoes, in which she portrays the magical bird that saved the Emperor of China’s life. For this section, Karmi opted to go with completely classical with music by Stravinsky.
“I never shy away from classical music,” said Karmi. “Some of the educators are not used to hearing 50 minutes of classical music and wanted something popular mixed in. But I believe very strongly that a child can handle anything you put on his plate.”
Although Karmi’s piece is narrative, the main focus is dance. “In terms of technical difficulty of the dance, the level is as high in a kid’s show as in an evening piece.”
The world of children’s theater and dance in Israel is a harshly competitive one, in which Karmi has been very successful. Every year, choreographers and directors present new shows to The Ministry of Education. Upon being approved, these shows are then taken to marathons – days of showcases during which educators pick the performances they will invite to their schools in the coming year.
“There are about 67 new shows a year,” said Karmi, now a veteran of these showcases.
“Sometimes you have a great show that runs well, sometimes you have a great show that doesn’t take. It’s not the kids that are buying the show. We never know what will work.”
The difference between having a good show that sells and a good show that doesn’t sell is a financial one. “At present, about 50 percent of our income comes from these shows,” said Karmi. “We spend a lot of money on the sets and costumes for these productions. Usually, the first 50 to 60 shows cover the investment we have already made.” A successful children’s piece will receive around 120 invitations.
So far, the response to One Thousand and One Nights has been enthusiastic. “We distribute feedback sheets at the end of every performance, and the remarks have been fantastic. Everyone is really excited,” said Karmi.