The International Theater Festival running in Tel Aviv is going strong with impressive shows from around the world.
By HELEN KAYE
The Tel Aviv-Jaffa International Theater Festival currently running at the Cameri Theater is "definitely not just another festival," roundly asserts Cameri Director-General Noam Semel.
Not only does it celebrate Tel Aviv's centennial, it's the first of its kind in Israel: a yearlong parade of excellence that Cameri Artistic Director Omri Nitzan likens to a theatrical Olympics, a "benefit both for audiences and our own professional theater making."
Audiences have already seen Robert Wilson's mesmerizing Threepenny Opera, and Hanoch Levin's Krum in Polish from one of Poland's top directors, Krzysztof Warlikowski - not to mention the ever-magical Philippe Genty with his Boliloc and The Promised Land, a poignant post-Holocaust drama sent from France.
Still to come are shows such as Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n Roll in Czech from the Czech National Theater; and the seven-country, seven languages production of Noah's Ark - The New End of Europe (May); along with a wild Macbeth on motorcycles in English from Poland; a blend of Peking opera and Western theater disciplines in Scholar and Executioner from Shanghai (June); and the Bernstein/Sondheim West Side Story from the US (September); which will take us all the way through November of this year.
Where did the idea come from?
"We really do see ourselves as Tel Aviv's municipal theater," says Semel, adding that he and Nitzan brought the idea to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai when the city was discussing its centennial plans - and he was enthusiastic.
Israelis are avid theatergoers and these days, as "the world shrinks, rotating faster and faster," says Nitzan, "people are becoming more theatrically curious."
Moreover, the Cameri launched pilot projects over the last three to four years, such as Ibsen's Hedda Gabler last year from Germany's prestigious SchaubÃ¼hne Theater in Berlin, and the people came.
Spreading the festival over the entire year meant that the theaters could come when they were available, or when the time was right, like for Macbeth. It's outside on the plaza, so June is perfect.
To select the various productions, Semel and Nitzan saw some in person, consulted with colleagues all over the world and looked at what other important theater festivals were bringing. They also considered dialogue with Cameri productions, such as the Hamlet from Lithuania (May) and Nitzan's Hamlet now in its fourth year, or Poland's Krum and the Cameri's current Levin play, Make My Heart Quiver. As an added bonus, there are the workshops, exhibitions and even concerts.
SEMEL AND Nitzan are old hands at the game. Educated as a lawyer, Semel's theatrical career started in the 1970s when he worked with impresario Avraham (Pashanel) Deshe as a producer. From 1988 to 1992 he was cultural consul in New York; he became head of the Cameri on his return, not to mention his close involvement in cultural initiatives of all kinds.
Nitzan, trained in London, is a visionary theater and opera director with an international reputation. Among the rest, he has been artistic director of the Haifa and Habimah theaters and of the Israel Festival. Right now, he's busy directing Saint Saens' Samson and Delilah in Belgium and will do Yehoshua Sobol's new play, Director of Personnel, next season at the Cameri, as well as a revival of his Ghetto.
Semel and Nitzan's professional partnership has straddled close to three decades, first at the Haifa Theater in the 1980s and for the past 15 years at the Cameri.
The partnership works, says Nitzan, because of the contradictions in their personalities and "because there's genuine dialogue. We're separate, but together. We're each of us aware of the other's needs and priorities and so can shoulder responsibility together."
Of course they fight, says Semel, but in the end, "this ship called the Cameri needs to reach a safe harbor every evening, so it's not just that we want to cooperate - we need to."
And the Cameri is a powerhouse. Last year, more than a million people bought tickets to Cameri plays. In Semel's office in the Cameri annex of the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, there are some 15 Israel Theater Prize statuettes on the window ledge, and in 2005, the theater won the Israel Prize for its contribution to Hebrew theater.
Currently, there are five theaters in the Cameri complex, including the versatile Cameri 3 with its adaptable spaces. Soon there will be a sixth.
"Tell them!" says Nitzan. "The embassies read The Jerusalem Post. The idea of the Cameri as an international theater center will not end with the festival. Our aim is to continue hosting international productions from all countries and cultures. They just have to be excellent and unique."
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