Eye on the 2018 Israel Festival

Jerusalem fetes 70 years of independence – and of Israel-France diplomatic relations – with theater, dance and music.

ITALY’S RIMINI Protokoll theater group uses earphones to guide a large group of festival-goers to lesser-traveled places in the Holy City. (photo credit: ERICH MALTER)
ITALY’S RIMINI Protokoll theater group uses earphones to guide a large group of festival-goers to lesser-traveled places in the Holy City.
(photo credit: ERICH MALTER)
This year’s Israel Festival, which celebrates 70 years of both independence and Israel-France diplomatic relations, is also part of the Israel/France cultural season. It runs from May 23 to June 16 in and around the Jerusalem Theater and at other venues in the capital.
The festival lineup recalls a song from a while back: “Tell me a story, tell me a story/Tell me a story, remember what you said/You promised me you said you would/You got to give in so I’ll be good/Tell me a story, then I’ll go to bed.”
Even if its various shows aren’t exactly narrative, or linear, the Israel Festival, as it has done since its founding in 1952, features performances from around the world that the Israeli public would not ordinarily see – and now we can.
And in a world where some see fascism rearing its filthy head in populist disguise, the artists of the Israel Festival remind us that the creative human spirit is alive, vibrant and unafraid of risks – or stories.
You can’t get more intimate than one audience member at a time to see μSputnik from the Czech Republic’s Mir Theater, the story of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, in miniature puppet theater viewed through a window.
Israeli artist Amit Drori spent five years creating the nine monkey robots that appear on stage together with three humans in Monkeys, a show set in an imaginary reality in which artificial intelligence rivals that of human society with all its complexities of character.
Monster Truck is a German Theater company that has collaborated with Nigerian-born choreographer and performance artist Segun Adefila to produce Sorry, which combines five Nigerian boys, chocolate and a German in a show with post-colonialist echoes that presents questions on cultures.
Der Dybbuk combines film and live action. Directed by Michał Waszynski, the 1937 Yiddish-language movie was based on the play by S. Ansky. The festival version presents the Jerusalem based Sala-Manca Group, Adi Kaplan, Shachar Carmel and the Jerusalem Street Orchestra, who reinterpret the original soundtrack with a live one.
Esther Rada and Tony Award nominee Josh Young star in Soul Doctor, an American musical on the life of the charismatic Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and his friendship with French jazz and soul singer Nina Simone. The festival performance opens the show’s Israel tour.
Also on the program are Songs on the Death of Children, based on the work by Gustav Mahler, by director, choreographer and puppeteer Giselle Vienne, part of the France/Israel Cultural season, and Kingsize by Swiss director/musician Christoph Marthaler, a comico/fantastical riff on human existence showing what happens to four characters in a perfectly bland hotel room.
One of the most eminent and daring choreographers around, Boris Sharmatz bring his anti-choreographic 10,000 Gestures, a frenetic work set to Mozart’s Requiem in which his 23 dancers repeat each gesture only once, and which asks the question “What do we really see if it disappears as we see it?”
Avant-garde Portuguese choreographer Marlene Monteiro Freitas first galvanized local audiences at the 2016 Israel Festival with Of Ivory and Flesh –Statues Also Suffer. This year, at the invitation of Ohad Naharin, she has choreographed Canine Jaunâtre 3 (Yellowish Canine 3) for Batsheva Dance, which the company will perform at the festival. Canine is a seemingly unruly body-challenging explosion of opposites set in a Lego-like construction site.
The Inbal Dance Theater, which Sara Levi-Tanai created to preserve the artistic heritage of Yemenite Jewry, is undergoing a metamorphosis that choreographer Mor Shani demonstrates in his As the Fireflies Disappear, a festival world premiere.
The Third Dance by Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor presents a new look at an iconic dance first realized by Nir Ben-Gal and Liat Dror, and takes note of the differences time has wrought on their bodies and perceptions.
Adults and children alike can share shows such as the beloved The Little Prince, with the collaborative talents of director Yonatan Levy, sand-artist Ilana Yahav, composer Yehuda Zisapel and actor Doron Tavori. (Ages six and up.) There’s also Guide, an audio-visual delight by Vera Ondrasikova of the Czech Republic, which is set in mirror worlds where a young dancer and his older reflection try to manipulate time. (Ages nine and up.)
Special events include Bodies in Urban Spaces by Austrian artist Will Dorner, working with Israeli dancers who’ll lead audiences through the city using their own bodies to highlight Jerusalem’s architecture in a new way, and Ping, an installation in which a number of specially made ping-pong tables will be dispersed on the Jerusalem Theater plaza – and yes, please play ping-pong to your heart’s content.
Everybody will be happy to know that, according to festival personnel, the BDS movement has had no influence whatsoever on the artists – all of whom are eager to add the Israel Festival to their resume and are thrilled to be performing in Israel’s capital. And all of this happens on the minuscule (for a festival) budget of NIS 7.5 million.
“This year’s festival is about connections.” said artistic director Itzik Djuli. “We wanted to explore the links between innovation and the unknown, the uncertain.”
So – tell us a story, and then we’ll go to bed.