A truly golden Israel Festival this year

Patrons can have a field day selecting which top-notch local and international performances they want to see.

Works by contemporary Israeli artists to be auctioned off at ART and TWIST Gallery (photo credit: Courtesy)
Works by contemporary Israeli artists to be auctioned off at ART and TWIST Gallery
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Remember that old Cole Porter song “Anything Goes”? It could be the logo for Israel Festival 2016, except that the “anything” has been meticulously chosen.
The form and focus of the festival has changed since the 1980s, admits artistic director Itzik Giuli.
“We’re here to offer the audience the kind of contemporary performing arts that will tweak its perceptions, that we might not otherwise get to see,” he says.
The festival runs May 25 to June 11, and takes place at the Jerusalem Theater and venues all over the city.
It starts with a gala tribute at Safra Square to that most beloved of local artists, Shoshana Damari (1923- 2006) – tickets a mere NIS 20-30 – and ends with Mt Olympus: To Glorify the Cult of Tragedy, the multidisciplinary, 24-hour-long masterpiece by Belgian director Jan Fabre, and we’ll start with that because it’s left audiences everywhere bellowing not only with enthusiasm but with the feeling they’re part of what’s happened.
Jan Fabre (b. 1958) is this year’s Master Artist. Mt Olympus offers an icon-shattering take on the myths and legends underpinning Western civilization. Its 14 chapters intertwine us with the destinies and fates of the heroes and heroines of Greek tragedy using a cornucopia of different art forms.
What’s more, we can come and go, snack, nap, and it’s all a part of the experience.
In Philipe Quesnes’ and the Vivarium Studio’s The Melancholy of Dragons a bunch of aging rockers in their ancient Citroen gets lost in the middle of a snowy forest where they meet a sweet little old lady. Their dream is to create a rocker theme park and they show her how in an audiovisual blitz that includes a pup, giant bags and medieval music.
Quesnes (b. 1970, France) trained as a set designer. He established Vivarium in 2003.
It’s back to multimedia for Thunderbird 2.0, an up-to-the-minute version of a 20th century theatrical classic about the decline and fall of a wealthy family with dark secrets by internationally acclaimed avant-garde Chinese director Wong Chang. The audience watches both the live stage action and its necessarily selective on-screen version that’s being simultaneously filmed and edited by another group of players that are the film crew.
Wong (b. 1982) was named by the Beijing News as Best Experimental Artist of 2012.
One of our own theatrical innovators is poet/playwright/director Yonatan Levi, who’s continuing his research into the unconscious side of Israeli reality with Nephilim (“Giants”), spanning three decades of our tormented history – the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s – trying, as he puts it, “to give vacuum a form.”
Making a rare foray on stage, Cameri general director Noam Semel plays Menahem Begin (the ‘80s) visiting the Beaufort Castle.
The ‘90s has a judoka competing for gold as a nuke obliterates Israel – so where does he belong? – and in the ‘00s it’s all about Bar Refaeli.
And let’s not forget pioneering performance artist Aviva Bar-On whose iconic Q&A Rest (1999) the festival re-presents in the foyer of the Jerusalem theater.
There’s also Center Stage at Gerard Bechar with six monodramas including Go Straight, written and performed by Uri Paniri, in which a formerly observant gay actor discovers that coming out of the closet isn’t as liberating as he thought.
Liberation is precisely what this year’s dance is about, in which four choreographers insist that we newly regard the human body.
FOLK-S will you still love me tomorrow by Italian choreographer Alessandro Sciarroni literally pushes his dancers to their physical limits.
What starts benignly revs up to ferocious intensity and a struggle to survive via music from folk to hip hop.
Austrian choreographer Doris Ulich strips her 12 dancers in More than Naked. Look at the human body and accept it, she demands.
No – celebrate it. Warts and all! In Of Ivory and Flesh – Statues Also Suffer Portuguese choreographer Marlene Monteiro Freitas invites us to a raucous ball for statues-in-theflesh as it were – sort of based on the Pygmalion myth – that addresses our curiosity for the bizarre.
Cecilia Bengolea and Francois Chaignaud have translated club to stage as Altered Natives Say Yes to Another Excess TWERK, showcasing the weird and wonderful dance moves found in dance clubs throughout the world. The “twerk” is “a sexually provocative dance, usually by women” and on stage the choreographers join three other dancers and two DJs to give us the experience in all its sweaty glory.
There’s stuff for kids, free shows on the JT plaza and (new) at Zion Square in the center of the city, encounters between poets and musicians, a carillon from the YMCA and more. Tickets are from NIS 20-150 and of course there are deals. This year’s budget was NIS 1.5 million, “and of course it’s not enough,” grumbles board chairman Dani Halperin, “but we’ve put it to good use.”
Of course they have. Happy Festival!