Not the same old song and dance

The Karmiel folk festival adds some new spins this year, with a Tel Aviv celebration and a special needs performance.

Karmiel dance 88 248 (photo credit: Mati Elmaliach)
Karmiel dance 88 248
(photo credit: Mati Elmaliach)
"I want to break the image that Israeli dance is outdated. We aren't just doing hora," said Shlomo Mamon, director of the Karmiel Festival in a recent interview. "We are doing that and a lot else," he went on. Mamon is revving up for this year's festival, the 21st of its kind, which will run from August 4 to August 6. The festival, which began as a forum for traditional and folk dance artists to show the fruits of their labor, has become one of the most anticipated dance events of the summer. Since 1988, The Karmiel Festival has been a summit for Israel's dancing bodies, regardless of style or age. Events take place over a three-day period all around the northern city; they draw a uniquely mixed audience. Unlike any other festival in Israel, Karmiel extends its invitations to lovers of modern dance, traditional folk dance and jazz. Thousands of performers from the far reaches of the country make their way yearly to Karmiel, bringing with them the newest creations in Israeli dance. This year, the program includes 80 performances hand-picked by Mamon. Mamon has been the acting artistic director of the festival for 10 years. He inherited the job from Yonatan Karmon. "I was by his side for the entire journey doing production, helping and choreographing," said Mamon. Since taking over, he has made it his goal to showcase a broad spectrum of Israeli dance to the general public. What this means, practically, is sifting through hundreds of shows and picking out the most fitting representatives of Israel's limit-pushers. Karmiel is a one-of-a-kind magnet for folk dance companies. "Our companies - Israeli companies - they don't have budgets," he said. "They do the best they can. Here they can come to light. This is their instigator. It gives them the motivation to do their best." On Wednesday night, folk troupes will compete in a choreography competition and only one will walk away with the grand prize. Each year, the festival hosts a number of modern dance companies from both within and outside Israel. Previous years brought such companies as Itzik Gallili Dance Company, The Bolshoi Ballet of Russia and The National Ballet of China. This year, the playlist includes the Zagreb Dance Company and dancers of The Paris Opera Ballet. Representing Israeli choreography are The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and Vertigo Dance Company. The presence of modern companies is essential in the program, explained Mamon. "The combination complements everyone. Technically, both sides improve as a result of working together. The professional companies are very influenced by folk. Renana Raz recently made a work about Debka. Barak Marshall also uses national dance as a source. We don't care what kind of dance it is, everyone is welcome. It is, at its core, a folk festival, but we are open to all genres. This is a mutually beneficial meeting for all involved," said Mamon. OPENING THE festivities on Tuesday night will be a special celebration of Tel Aviv's centennial anniversary. Mamon and his staff presented several artists with songs and photos of old Tel Aviv and asked them to create based on their reactions. Choreographer Michal Natan, who has been working in Tel Aviv for years, will be joined by her company on the stage as cultural ambassadors of the city. Ido Tadmor was set to participate as well, but due to an injury sustained during rehearsal, he had to back out. On Wednesday night, a new event, 100% Art, will be introduced. Over the past few months, a team of dance instructors has been working with special needs students. Their joint efforts will be showcased for the first time during this event. "These are people who we are not used to seeing perform. It's a very emotional show," said Mamon. Off the stage, the festival is offering a course for teachers and choreographers of Israeli dance from abroad. The workshop is run by Dani Benshalom and includes meetings with several of Israel's well-known folk choreographers. The participants will update each other on the developments in folk dance they have witnessed in their home towns, thus opening a more current dialogue for this traditional art form. In response to the financial difficulties this year has brought with it, tickets for many of the events are either free or deeply subsidized. And if you would rather dance yourself, there are a number of open dances sprinkled throughout the happenings of the festival. "These dances bring in a lot of people who wouldn't normally participate. It's very important for us to expand this element," said Mamon. The Karmiel Festival runs August 4-6. For more information, go to