58th Israel Festival continues to grow more Israeli

Lineup includes Itim, Clipa and Zik Theaters, Gilad Kahana’s ‘Beats Per Second’

Sweden’s Cullberg Dance Company performing 'Figure a Sea' (photo credit: URBAN JOREN)
Sweden’s Cullberg Dance Company performing 'Figure a Sea'
(photo credit: URBAN JOREN)
The way its CEO Eyal Sher sees it, the job of the Israel Festival “is always to be a few years ahead of the mainstream, to anticipate the trends.” Moreover, the arts and artists are unsettling. They’re not fans of the status quo. At their best, they make you (gasp!) think. At their very best, they can be agents for change. And this year’s lot “are asking questions about identity,” said Israel Festival artistic director Itzik Giuli yesterday at the press conference, introducing the 58th Israel Festival and adding that their eclectic offerings “tell us a story about our connection... To the historical narratives that create our social... and personal identities."
The festival, Giuli emphasizes, is all about adding to enriching what’s already available here, not to present more of the same. This year’s runs from May 30 to June 15, and as always, it takes place in and around the Jerusalem Theater and includes other Jerusalem venues such as the Islamic Museum, the Tower of David and the Eden-Tamir Music Center at Beit Hakerem.
The Israel Festival 2019 opens with a big-bang concert on the Jerusalem Theater Plaza called Beats Per Second under the artistic direction of Gilad Kahana (more about that in the music section).
Multidisciplinary characterizes this year’s offerings that put together theater, dance, video, performance, installation – and the audience with the thinking that it is, or should be, as much a part of the show as the material itself. This year’s guests include performers from Switzerland, South Africa and Poland. But increasingly, the Israel Festival grows more Israeli every year, and 2019 focuses on the country’s new and veteran performance groups such as the Itim, Clipa and Zik Theaters, the Revolution Orchestra and the Multipiano and Tremolo percussion groups.
Controversial, gay South-African born artist performer Steve Cohen converted the grief he felt at the death of his dancer life-partner into Put your heart under your feet…and Walk!, part performance, part installation, amid hundreds of pairs of ballet shoes and a video that discourses on the aesthetic in the face of death. Founded in 1989 by iconic director/choreographer Rina Yerushalmi, the Itim Ensemble is today directed by Zvi Sahar. He and Itim present in theater, film and puppetry, King Matt the First, his children’s book by Polish educator Januszk Korczak that is both political allegory and the story of a boy king who wants to make a more perfect world.
The site-specific adaptation in the courtyard of the Natural History Museum by the innovative Elad Theater from Eilot near Eilat, invites the audience to participate in its adaptation of the banquet scene from Shakespeare’s immortal Romeo and Juliet, which depicts the lovers’ first meeting. Another Shakespeare is the Song of the Goat Theater from Poland that uses song, movement, sound and more for its prize-winning Songs of Lear, its hugely powerful, choral take on the monumental tragedy that, among the rest, pits order against chaos.
Israel’s always stunningly original Clipa Theater returns to the Israel Festival for the eighth time, this time taking the audience to a balcony on Safra Square for View Field to ask what do we actually see, a meditation on what is. French director Philippe Quesne brought his extraordinary Melancholy of Dragons to the 2016 Israel Festival. This year he returns with Night of the Moles, a sort of social science fiction in which giant moles, who have perhaps survived apocalypse, and live deep, deep underground, decide to form a rock band. The Afternoon of the Moles is a version for children eight years and up. And while we’re talking about kids, DAVAI, founded in 2015, combines clowning, music, philosophy and more to make comic theater. In Happy Metal, the group pretends to be a heavy metal rock band with very original instruments.
He started life as a window dresser but today, mime, clown, and visual artist Martin Zimmerman is a unique performer who both amuses and touches his audience. He makes his festival debut with Hallo, in which he, objects and the stage coincide. And not least there is the multidisciplinary Israeli Zik Group that returns to the festival with Re-Think2, a show about contrasts, relationships and contexts.
Sweden’s classy contemporary Cullberg Dance Company returns to the festival with two pieces, the seemingly random, seemingly disconnected Figure a Sea by Deborah Hay, with music by Laurie Anderson, and Protagonist (some nudity), by Dutch-born choreographer Jefta van Dinther, that’s a meditation on the struggle to belong.
 South Africa’s Robyn Orlin received the 2003 Olivier Award (UK) for outstanding achievement in dance. She brings a multi-media solo: “And so you see... our honorable blue sky and ever enduring sun... can only be consumed slice by slice... which wonders whether the black peoples of South Africa are truly free.”
In Suddenly Everywhere Is Black with People by Brazilian choreographer Marcelo Evelin, five dancers painted black from head to toe and moving like a single body literally share space with the audience, that must move to accommodate them. So, a choreography for dancers? Or perhaps for humanity, to show us we are all an other?
The musical spread of this year’s Israel Festival dips into a bunch of domains, with something for all ages and various tastes.
Ever since they came on board four years ago, festival CEO Sher and artistic director Giuli have talked about targeting the younger crowd, and trying to achieve a more varied consumer base. The festival opener on May 30 at the Jerusalem Theater should certainly appeal to the younger crowd.
The Beats Per Second show, curated by dynamic multidisciplinary artist Gilad Kahana, will get the festival show on the road with style and with plenty of gusto. The outdoor event will take place in the theater plaza, with DJ Atar Mayner leading the way. Mayner recently put out a new album, called Medina Shel Ganavim (Country of Thieves), and fellow vocalist-disc spinners Dor 3, RASTA HAI, Damsel is Depressed, and Eden Dersso will join in the fun, playing material from the album, as well as some of their own creations.
The al fresco rhythm curtain raiser also features Digital Monx, a new venture with heavyweight artists Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat – best known for their work with Balkan Beat Box – Itamar Ziegler, Ron Bunker and Tom Darom. There’s more, with the stellar roster taking in Tomer Yosef, Gili Yalo, Eden Dersso, ELISEE, A-WA and Kahana himself, for what promises to get the audience jumping and jiving, in a wild and woolly concert-party of rap, hip hop, Africa and tropical bass.
And, if all the above isn’t enough, the beats will just keep on coming as the show segues into an after party, with all the above getting in on the act, laying on experimental tracks, electronic sets, spoken word, live jams, and raps to boot.
Gustav Holst’s The Planets is one of the most stirring works of 20th century classical music, and one of the most popular, with a number of excerpts even being fused into pop songs over the years. “The Planets – A Journey Between Stars” concert, lined up for June 2 at the Jerusalem Theater, will not merely dish up a rendition of the original score, which debuted in London just over 100 years ago. The so-called centennial of the premiere offers an original reading of the work, with seven prominent Israel composers: Avner Hanani, Joseph Bardanashvili, Udi Perlman, Israel Sharon, Tomer Yariv, Ziv Cojocaru and Avner Dorman – revisiting the piece with new orchestrations.
The first airing of The Planets was performed by a gargantuan ensemble, as well as choirs, and the Israel Festival version will offer plenty of sonic firepower with two grand pianos and a dizzying array of percussion instruments. The MultiPiano and Tremolo Percussion ensembles will take us on an interstellar journey through an extraordinary world of sounds that shifts between past and present, presenting Holst’s timeless piece through the eyes of contemporary composers. The concert will also include works by Ravel and Mussorgsky.
Moving on to matters more local, on June 11 the Tower of David will host the Heaven’s Door concert, dedicated to the work of poet Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, who was born 400 years ago in Yemen. The show takes in an eclectic range of artists, from across pop, rock and more ethnic-leaning climes, including Ester Rada, Berry Sakharof, Liron Amram, Miri Mesika, Sagiv Cohen, Idan Amedi, Zion Golan, Shai Tsabari and Shiran.
And, these days, if you’re into anything in the multidisciplinary area of music, you’ll often find the envelope pushing Revolution Orchestra in on the act. The troupe’s latest Re:Play venture, on June 15, takes works by four of its regular composers – Zohar Sharon, Ophir Baron, Tomer Bar, and Amir Lekne – employing music and video art to follow in the footsteps of the musical legends who inspired them. For one night, Jacqueline du Pré and Jimi Hendrix, Astor Piazzolla and Édith Piaf, Marvin Gaye and Yehudi Menuhin, John Lennon and Glenn Gold, Luciano Pavarotti and Freddie Mercury will all come to life in what promises to be a thrilling, and surprising, musical-visual multisensory experience.
As usual, the Eden Tamir Music Center in Ein Kerem will run its Friday noon slots, taking in compositions by Brahms, Debussy, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and Schubert.
New this year – a Friends Giving Circle. Donations will help subsidize and support the ongoing and future activities of the festival. Ticket prices range from NIS 60 – NIS 180, and as usual there are package deals and special prices for soldiers.
And all this for a mere NIS 8.5 million. Enjoy.