The 47th Israel Festival (Extract)

Dybbuks, Drama & Dance The 47th Israel Festival Jerusalem highlights complex Israeli-Polish relations and the dawn of Zionist culture Be vigilant when attending the upcoming Israel Festival Jerusalem (May 24-June 22). Dybbuks are lurking everywhere - in plays, puppet theater and dance - just waiting to possess your soul. The restless Jewish spirits that roam the world in search of victims to inhabit can be found in several festival offerings, the most elaborate of which tells the tale of a man tormented by the spirit of his half-brother, who was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The latter effort is an adaptation of the famous play "The Dybbuk," written in Russian in 1914 by Shlomo Ansky, performed in Polish by the Tr Warszawa Theater. Aware of the muted and somber mood of much of Israel's citizenry for its 60th anniversary this year, the Israel Festival has made adjustments for the type and tone of its celebrations. "For the 50th anniversary, we tended to show what Israel had achieved after a half century of growth. This year for the 60th, there is neither dancing in the streets nor an unrestrained exuberance for our future," says festival director Yossi Tal-Gan. "Therefore, we have set ourselves the task of showing the beginnings of Zionist culture, the triggers for the Jewish state's birth." This is where "The Dybbuk" comes in. The Hebrew translation by Hayyim Nahman Bialik was one of the first plays performed in Moscow in 1920 by Habima, Israel's national theater, which itself is celebrating its 90th birthday. In addition to the Polish performance, the festival program includes three Israeli productions: a dance ("In the Dead of Night" by Renana Raz and Ofer Amram), a puppet show ("Between Two Worlds," directed by Shmuel Shohat) and a performance by Habima of a collection of tales from various locales in Eastern Europe, called "The Dybbuks." Also evoking the dawn of Zionist consciousness are two contemporary plays about Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jewish officer whose conviction for treason in Paris in 1894 was the impetus for Theodor Herzl's awakening to the need for a Jewish state. "Dreyfus: The Affair" is a French production that deals with Dreyfus's personality and "I Am Not Dreyfus" is an Israeli examination of the treachery of Ferdinand Esterhazy, the French officer who actually committed the espionage for which Dreyfus was convicted. The Polish "Dybbuk" is one of six productions from Poland at the festival that are also part of "Polish Year 2008-2009," an initiative of the Polish government aimed at counterbalancing Israelis' perception of that country as a land known only for its Holocaust atrocities. Poland's other contributions to the festival include a detective play, "Cosmos," by the National Theater of Warsaw, an a cappella concert by the renowned Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir, operatic selections in collaboration with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, avant-garde music and jazz. The other countries represented are France, also with six offerings; the United States with four; Brazil and Germany with two each and England, Italy, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Romania, Scotland, Spain and Switzerland with one production each. Of the total of 48 festival offerings, 19 are Israeli. Most of the international works have been performed before, while the great majority of Israeli productions have been created especially for the Festival, according to Tal-Gan, who is in his 16th year at the helm. "We don't wish to present local performances that have already been seen here by the public," he stresses. The festival, in its 47th con-secutive year, is to be performed primarily in Jerusalem, with other venues in Herzliya and Holon. The program promises a striking array of theatrical, dance and musical performances that reveals a thoughtful balance between Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Arab cultures, a sensitivity to both local and international groups and an eye for the classical, esoteric, exotic and quirky. For cinephiles, "The Songs of Cinema" in Jerusalem's outdoor Sultan's Pool amphitheater will feature the soundtracks of Israeli films, beginning with the 1955 "Hill 24 Doesn't Answer" up to the present-day "Beaufort," a 2007 Oscar nominee for best foreign film. Parts of the films will be screened with the music performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and sung by stars ranging from the veteran Haim Topol through the popular Mizrahi singer Zehava Ben to rock star Barry Saharoff. For earlier music, "Debka Fantasia" is a concert of works by the first wave of immigrant Eastern European composers, who blended classical traditions with the indigenous Arab music. Moshe Wilensky, Yedidiah Admon and others created a hybrid form in which violins, violas and the double bass coexist effortlessly with oriental instruments such as the oud; the jumbush, composed of six doubled strings very similar to the banjo; and the sumsumiya, a six-string zither. Directing the Jerusalem Theater production is Yisrael Borochov with vocal as well as instrumental music. Also reflecting a fusion of traditions will be "Jerusalem, City of Heavenly and Earthly Peace," a work composed and conducted by Jordie Savall, a Catalan whose ensemble, Hesperion XXI, showcases songs about Jerusalem, drawing upon the musical heritages of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Savall, who returns to the Festival after a 10-year hiatus, conducts 28 musicians from abroad and 12 from Israel, including Israeli Arabs. It has already been performed in Barcelona and Paris. Israelis of North African origin are expected to flock to hear Enrico Macias, a French Jewish Moroccan singer of enormous popularity whose love songs have raised him to the status of a Gallic Frank Sinatra. "Macias has never been in the Festival," explains Tal-Gan "because he sings old-fashioned songs, but we decided to honor him this year." His presence should be seen, Tal-Gan continues, as a "lifetime achievement award for his unwavering commitment to Israel, even during the bad times." Mainstream classical music, including works by Beethoven, Brahms Haydn, Mahler and Verdi, will be performed by the Julliard Quartet and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. A Friday afternoon Franz Schubert marathon is slated for the Targ Music Center in Jerusalem's picturesque Ein Kerem neighborhood. Representing the esoteric is "Les Arts Florissant," a French orchestra and choir of 65 musicians who perform 18th-century music with authentic instruments, such as early versions of the viola, harp and harpsichord. The exotic can be found in the frenzied rhythm of gypsy music from Romania performed by Taraf de Haidouks; and the quirky will be apparent in "Cooking," a South Korean ensemble which uses kitchen utensils to beat out a percussive rhythm in an authentic on-stage kitchen, all the while preparing a banquet that will be shared with the audience. And if you think that Latino and Irish music are as incompatible as a milk-and-meat picnic on Mt. Sinai, you owe yourself a visit to "Salsa Celtica," a Scottish group that blends bongos and bagpipes to a beery, cheery pub-like riotous rhythm. Children won't miss out on the fun with opportunities like the Russian Licedei Clown Theater as well as "A Moonless Night" that tells the tale of a little girl who goes on a journey to find the moon, which has unaccountably gone missing. For jazz fans, there are Brazilian, Israeli, and U.S. groups as well as a collaborative German/New Zealand undertaking. Top billing goes to the Grammy winning Bill Frisell Quartet, which blends blues, country, rock, and reggae served up on guitars, mandolins, ukeleles, banjos and bass. Jazz can be heard every night for free in the foyer of the Jerusalem Theater as well as in the Yellow Submarine pub in the Talpiot industrial zone. Unlike in years past, when many groups from abroad would decline invitations to perform at the Festival for ideological or security-related reasons, nowadays there is hardly an objection to be heard. "Now there is international terror. It is the same all over the world," Tal-Gan remarks. "In fact, many groups are eager to come, having heard of the high standards of Israeli security, even though they still complain about overzealous airport security guards who inspect or even confiscate their instruments. In the post- 9/11 world, that no longer seems unusual," Tal-Gan points out. Extract from an article in issue 3, May 26, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.