Israel Festival casts its net across a wide genre and stylistic sweep

The Israel Festival honchos have far more wholesome, entertaining and spiritually enriching things in store for us. 

 ‘SUN & SEA,’ the opera that won the coveted Golden Lion award at the 2019 Venice Biennale (photo credit: ANDREJ VASILENKO/THE ARTISTS)
‘SUN & SEA,’ the opera that won the coveted Golden Lion award at the 2019 Venice Biennale

The 2022 edition of the Israel Festival is almost upon us. This week the organizers of the country’s leading cultural event announced the lineup, which runs September 15-22, and, as we have come to expect over the years, especially more recently with Itay Mautner and Michal Vaknin at the helm, the programmatic reach is just about as broad as you can get.

Each new broom, as the saying goes, sweeps some previously unexplored corners, and it looks like Mautner and Vaknin are doing their best to push the entertainment boat out well beyond safe harbor. “Change. In the end, that’s what it’s all about,” they say, strangely echoing the mantras rolled out by politicians on practically every electoral occasion.

But the Israel Festival honchos have far more wholesome, entertaining and spiritually enriching things in store for us. 

“A small change, or a dramatic one. One that is aesthetic, or essential. A tangible change, or a change in thinking. Change – or at the very least, a step towards it – that’s what we are seeking,” they continue. “We want things to seep in, drop by drop, in their own time. We want for things to move slowly through the corridors of our consciousness and through the maze of our perceptions and preconceptions. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. ”

Nicely put and, judging by the lineup for next month’s edition, they are as good as their word.

 ISRAEL FESTIVAL directors Itay Mautner and Michal Vaknin   (credit: YAIR MEYHUHAS) ISRAEL FESTIVAL directors Itay Mautner and Michal Vaknin (credit: YAIR MEYHUHAS)

For quite a few years, much of the Israel Festival was out of reach for most of us. Not too many office workers, or regular Joes putting in their 9 to 5 to make ends meet, could afford to shell out on a ticket to watch, say, the IPO or some other major orchestral body from abroad perform a Beethoven symphony.

These days, things at the festival appear to be far more accessible to the rank and file, as well as appealing to an ever-widening range of tastes.

Sun & Sea is a prime example. The opera, which won the coveted Golden Lion award at the 2019 Venice Biennale – yes, back in those now seemingly halcyon pre-COVID madness times – comes to the Jerusalem Theater after doing the rounds of the world. This is no common-or-garden staged show, with the members of the audience catching the musical and performative action from standing positions looking down from four-meter high balconies.

The basic plot has several vocalists, betwixt numerous extras, singing the libretto from a beach setting. The lyrics start out innocently, lazily spinning a yarn about the good life and lounging around in the sun. Gradually, the mood darkens and we get into more serious climes, and the threat of climate change rears its distasteful head.

Sounds like an intriguing left-field thought-provoking slot that is succinctly and bitingly described as “an opera performance for a sinking world.” And, thanks to a generous donation, entry to all the shows across five days (September 15-19) is gratis.

The here and now, and existential issues, are clearly high up in the Mautner-Vaknin thinking as additionally evidenced by the inclusion of a compelling dance slot courtesy of French duo Théo Mercier and Steven Michel. Affordable Solution for Better Living, described as “a performance that assembles furniture and disassembles conceptions,” looks at consumer behavior and what is really important to us in everyday life. Fusing a visual artist (Mercier) with a choreographer (Michel) can make for an eye-catching performative, and performance, bottom line, especially when there are some weighty concepts and observations of 21st century life sewn into the delivery fabric.

This work takes a swipe, inter alia, at such apparently user-friendly concerns, as IKEA, with their flat packs and interactive shopping experience. In Mercier and Michel’s take, assembly instructions become a wistful song of longing for nature, childhood and maternal warmth.

International collaborations have been a feature of the Israel Festival for many years now and one of the few al fresco offerings, in an almost exclusively Jerusalem Theatre-centric agenda, marries cultural and musical vibes from Turkey and here. 

Turkish-Israeli artistic synergies have become increasingly common, and popular, here over the years, which, considering our geographic proximity, makes perfect sense. This time round Night Train to Izmir, which takes place at Independence Park on September 22, brings us a diverse lineup of Turkish artists, including balladeer Kalben, hip hop-leaning Janset and Murat Ertel, who puts psychedelia into traditional saz playing.

They will be joined on stage by Turkish-born ethnically-inclined Israeli rock megastar Berry Sakharof and colleague Dudu Tassa, Middle Eastern, punk, reggae and much more-styled Balkan Beat Box, electronic and indie duo Red Axes and jazz-Middle Eastern seasoned outfit Harel Shachal & the Ottomans. Promises to provide a pansensorial, multi-energy level time for one and all.

Technology, and how it continues to impact on our lives, is a recurrent theme across the festival program, particularly VHS – Blast from the Past, which investigates the seemingly forgotten but still subconsciously present matter of old video tapes stashed away in our physical, and psychological, storage facilities. The work, created by choreographer and actress Renana Raz and writer Nitzan Cohen, has a multidisciplinary brigade of artists looking for personal value in their old VHS tapes in a visual and visceral performative encounter with our past and the passage of time.

A Thousand Ways also address the virtual-corporeal life interface, as it looks into immediate human encounters through three formats: a phone call, a one-on-one meeting on stag and a small assembly of people. The work incorporates three short sections – “A Phone Call,” “An Encounter” and “An Assembly” – which gets the members of the audience actively on board as they experience a fleeting encounter with a stranger and just may discover someone, or something new.

Theater, of the emotional roller coaster type, makes a striking appearance with NONNA – aka A Living Room Journey – with more cross-border and cross-cultural endeavor on offer in the Let Water Flow – Japanese-Israeli music and dance production, which feeds off the oxymoronic admixture of beauty emerging from destructive fallout. Meanwhile Svoboda – “freedom” in Ukrainian and Russian – showcases artists from both countries who ponder the ability to create art when one’s freedom is in danger.

“These are days of tremendous excitement as all these artistic goods ‘meet’ the public,” notes Israel Festival general director Eyal Sher. That just about sums it up.

For tickets and more information: