Israel Festival: The long and the short of it

"Dollhouse": Women constrict themselves to the stature of their men in this comic take on the classic melodrama.

dollhouse 88 (photo credit: )
dollhouse 88
(photo credit: )
It's being billed as "the affordable festival." This year tickets to the major events at the Israel Festival will cost from NIS 90 to N1S 150, and in terms of the more expensive events, like Mabou Mines DollHouse that opens the festival this Tuesday in Holon, that is a real reduction. Lee Breuer and his avant-garde Mabou Mines theater company have been standing theatrical conventions on their head since their Red Horse Animation debuted at the Guggenheim Museum in 1972. They have done the same with Ibsen's A Doll's House, which as DollHouse will open the Israel Festival in Holon this Tuesday, May 23 (and will be staged in Jerusalem next Friday and Saturday). DollHouse is literally that, as Breuer and his gifted colleagues have set the action in a Victorian doll's house. What's more, to illustrate and emphasize the absurdity of male domination over women, the tallest man in the cast is around 1.4 meters and must literally look up to the ladies towering over him at 1.8 meters and more. The addition of puppets, masks, opera and dance further heighten Breuer's comic slant on the play. Breuer belongs to that small galaxy of theatrical innovators who burst into the theatrical cosmos in the Sixties and Seventies and whose work has been described as a fusion of theater and the "real." "All artistic interactions involve a dramatic presentation of self," he said, lecturing at Harvard last year. He illustrated his part of his talk with a clip from Mabou Mines recent The Red Beads, a tale about a girl's transition to womanhood. In it he used actors in billowy robes suspended in the air like puppets, and of whom he said "That's space and imagery talking... It's different from dialogue. This is an enormous communicative metaphor. We don't just simply verbalize." Breuer started his career in San Francisco in the mid-Sixties, but soon moved to New York where together with Joanne Akalaitis (herself a noted director and playmaker), actress/director Ruth Maleczech, and composer Phillip Glass, he founded Mabou Mines, named for a fishing and mining community in Nova Scotia. Over the years, he has created original programming, adapted three works by Samuel Beckett and dived with his particular brand of untrammeled vision into the classics. His Gospel at Colonus was a foot-stomping, soul-shaking version of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus built around a black gospel choir. In 1990 he did a gender-reversed version of King Lear, and for the legendary Joseph Papp's Shakespeare in the Park, he's done The Tempest. Most of the Mabou Mines productions opened at Papp's Public Theater, itself an incubator of the experimental and the avant-garde. There is hardly a Mabou Mines production that hasn't won awards, especially the off-Broadway accolade, the Obie. Breuer has dozens of them. He is also a sought after teacher, having taught at both Yale (co-chairman of the directing department 1986-89) and Stanford, where he taught until 1999. Breuer isn't the only theatrical luminary at the Israel Festival. We have Sizwe Bansi Is Dead from Peter Brook and his International Theater Center Bouffe du Nord in Paris, and Uncle Vanya, directed by Lev Dodin from the Mali Theater in Moscow. Brook, last year's Dan David Prize laureate, began his dazzling career in his native UK with a ground-breaking production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Based on the play by Athol Fugard, Sizwe Bansi is a picture of the difficulties of life under apartheid. Dodin, artistic director of the Mali since 1983, has been to Israel twice before. Sizwe Bansi is one of six events sponsored by the French government as part of "Voila!" the French Artistic Season in Israel. Others include Gotthold Lessing's before-his-time plea for religious tolerance, Nathan the Wise from the theater company Passeurs de Memoires, the Marseilles National Ballet with Radiant City, a harsh look at a mechanized world, and the Carolyn Carlson Company with Inana, a tribute to the mysterious feminine. There are also all kinds of goodies and quite a few of which are home grown. In dance we have a premiere from the Kibbutz Dance Company and a performance by the Israel Ballet of Giselle with stars from the Bolshoi as the doomed Giselle and her faithless royal lover, a hora convention, and two unusual multi-disciplinary ventures - Terminal, on the amazing life of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, and Arena, a new festival event that will showcase 12 exciting local talents. Musically, there's Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey performing his signature Bach Cello Suites, and a Brahms concerto for cello and piano with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. There are the celebrated Tallis Scholars, who will play works ranging from Elizabethan England to our own day, and clarinetist Giora Feidman with organist Matthias Eisenberg. There's also the first performance ever of a merry 17th-century mass melding Mexican, Spanish Baroque and African music brought over by slaves written by a Mexican Indian, the Zapotec Mass, performed by Israel's Phoenix Ensemble. And don't forget the World Saxophone Quartet and the Bojan Z Trio if jazz is your thing. In keeping with its pledge to provide a platform for contemporary young local talent, the festival offers five evenings that combine theater and dance performances for only NIS 30 per night. Shir Goldberg's Be Beautiful (cover) on June 3, for example, is a cabaret piece based on women's magazines of the 1950s. Included in the bill that night is Abigail Rubin's dance interpretation of Jean Genet's The Maids, set to original music for solo cello. Once a year the world comes to us, and we too trot out our finest. Enjoy! English-language brochures of the festival are available in ticket agencies around the country. Call 1-700-70-20-55 or click on for Israel Festival tickets. Beginning next Sunday, May 28, the festival will feature free events. Consult next week's issue of Billboard for details.