18th A-Genre Festival comes with message of return to normalcy

The A-Genre Festival shines a sharp entertaining light on the lessons of the pandemic and the way forward

 ITAI DORON (left) and Erez Maayan Shalev. (photo credit: Rotem Elroy)
ITAI DORON (left) and Erez Maayan Shalev.
(photo credit: Rotem Elroy)

How many times have you heard, or used yourself, the expression “let’s get back to normal”? Among other frequently employed slogans, pressed into service by our political leaders, that was a regular feature of the way the authorities went about addressing the challenges of the pandemic.

The introduction of the Green Pass, for example, to attend various cultural events, was touted as a means of resuming “normal service” and, naturally, many were happy to fall in line and hang onto the hope that, perhaps, things hadn’t changed after all.

Be the wisdom of that as it may, it is gradually becoming clear to one and all that the “normal” to which our leaders referred is, to say the least, a misnomer. There is no returning to the way things once were, as a hard and fast temporal, sociological and cultural rule. We may all have a tendency to bathe in the comforting waters of nostalgia, and dupe ourselves into believing the “old days” were better than the present. But, as late Oscar-winning French actress Simone Signoret once sagely noted, “nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”

That is one of the messages put out there by the 18th edition of the A-Genre Festival, due to take place at Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv June 15-18. This year’s event goes by the title of “Netiv Milut” (Escape Route), and is subtitled “Ahead of the Crises To Be, To Imagine, Prepare, Act.”

16 new works

All told the festivalgoers can look forward to 16 spanking new works that, naturally, span a broad sweep of genres. Then again, the latter epithet is a little out of sync with the festival’s declared intent.

 ‘HELP DESK’: Rachel Erdos (left) and Ori Lenkinski. (credit: DAN BEN ARI ) ‘HELP DESK’: Rachel Erdos (left) and Ori Lenkinski. (credit: DAN BEN ARI )

“I think an arts festival is able to propose sparks of possibilities,” says Erez Maayan Shalev, who, along with Itai Doron, serves as artistic director, suggesting an enduring food for thought approach. “We felt that something had taken place,” Doron adds, with more than a touch of understatement, referencing the lockdown, social distancing, mask-wearing era. He says that is not something he and his fellow artists could just let slip by untouched without mining the rich emotive and evocative seams there to be had.

And it wasn’t just a matter of examining the emotional and physical dynamics and depicting them in some neat theatrical production. “Something happened which demanded to be addressed, but not something specific,” Doron continues. “We didn’t want to have a work which just related to the pandemic or the moment we went through. The moment we went through is only the preamble to a series of events that we, as a society, humankind, down to the families and the individual, are going to experience.”

That does not necessarily mean Doron expects the world to face another pandemic per se, although that is a distinct possibility. Instead, he and Maayan Shalev believe there are more taxing junctures ahead to be negotiated. “We need to practice the ways in which we deal with crises.”

That, he notes, is not exactly alien territory for him, Maayan Shalev and their fellow professionals. “Crises have always gone hand in hand with art. And art has always tried to provide various formats for coping with crises. I think the coronavirus made that very tangible, certainly in the Western world.”

Doron suggests the pandemic shuffled the Western world’s pack, and there is no way we can put all the cards back in the same order. “The Western world was largely comfortable with the way things were going. Yes, there is the climate crisis, and there were various protests. But I think there is something of an actual sensorial experience now, when we suddenly don’t know where all this is leading. We are not talking about 50 years’ time. It is happening in the here and now.”

Such a manifold plot necessitated a multi-stratified artistic take, and that is evident right across the A-Genre program. It is difficult to describe any of the shows with clear-cut terminology. Take, for example, the Help Desk festival-opener by British-born choreographer and dancer Rachel Erdos and Canadian-born counterpart Ori Lenkinski. It is one of several works that reference the social distancing blight of the pandemic era, and how it is high time we all got back together again, as a community of mutually supportive members.

Fittingly, the members of the audience will find themselves well and truly on board this one. 

Everyone who comes to the festival completes a sort of intake form where they write down things they need help with in their life,” Maayan Shalev explains. “They also note the things they can provide help for. They [Erdos and Lenkinski] exploit the festival encounter in order to help one another.”

The artistic director says the idea is for the choreographed creation to send off positive ripples that traverse the physical confines of the theater building and leave their wholesome mark on everyday life. “There will be all these people coming to the festival and some of them will surely realize that they can help each other in real life too, and not just as part of an artistic work.”

Consumerism, and the constant bombardment of the senses by companies and retail outlets advertising their wares, and convincing us that the world will be a veritable nirvana if only we shelled out some of our hard-earned cash on their incredible product. An interactive sound installation, by Nir Jacob Younessi and Noy Levin, digs deep into that in no uncertain terms. The work feeds off dozens of dysfunctional electrical appliances, including a kettle, an old TV set and an out of tune radio.

The resulting cacophonous confusion forms the soundtrack of the installation, which comprises gadgets provided by people the artists contacted via the Internet, and subsequently met. As the left field-titled Fine As Raw Material and Up slot pans out the appliances are divested of their intended practical mode of operation and, using digital processing, they morph into musical instruments that convey the narratives of the former owners. As the festival organizers put it: Fine As Raw Material and Up is an artistic act that resonates overconsumption, and the human element that gets lost in the commercial.” Well put.

There are plenty more intriguing, captivating works in the festival program that also entertain and should elicit more than a chuckle or two.

Naturally, Doron and Maayan Shalev don’t expect to set the entire world to rights in four days – even the good Lord took six days to get the Creation done and dusted – but they hope to provide us with a few positive pointers. 

“We realize we aren’t going to solve the climate crisis with an arts festival,” says Maayan Shalev, “but I think it can illuminate the way forward.”

For tickets and more information: (03) 561-1211 and www.tmu-na.org.il