Firing dragons - and the imagination

This year’s City of Lions Festival in Jerusalem will offer some memorable knights.

Festival of Lions (photo credit: Omri Barel)
Festival of Lions
(photo credit: Omri Barel)
Forget watching Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movies. As of next week, you can get into the thick of the real thing right here in the capital.
This year’s free City of Lions Festival kicks off on October 18 and will run every Thursday for four weeks in Jerusalem’s Old City. The program features a feast of items, all primed to conjure up images of yore, when knights were bold, sat around a circular table and spent their days jousting, fighting fire-breathing dragons and saving damsels in distress.
The festival is a joint project of the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Tourism Ministry, and is overseen by the Ariel Municipal Company.
Like last year, the Jerusalem event is the result of an international synergy between our own legend-oriented artists and some of the most experienced professionals in the field from the Carnival of Venice in Italy. Chief among the latter is Massimo Andreoli, who partly earns his crust as the artistic director of the Carnival of Venice, the Medieval Festival in Monteriggioni and the Mask Festival in Taiwan.
Andreoli was also on board here last year.
While the aforementioned blockbuster movie series, not to mention numerous similarly spirited Internetbased enterprises, all pertain to the see-but-cannot-touch variety of entertainment, the City of Lions bash is very much about the tangible and the corporeal.
“I think there is something to the aspect that what we are offering is a non-virtual, real thing,” notes Barak Avni. The 44-year-old Avni, along with his wife Michal, has created a two-dimensional four-meter-high castle, as well as an oversized dragon for the festival, and all from environmentally friendly recycled cardboard. Avni’s longtime professional collaborator Noam Inbar will also be involved in the medieval action.
Avni says he is delighted to be involved in the Jerusalem event, not least because it offers him an opportunity to live out some of his childhood fantasies.
“The theme of the festival is knights and dragons, and I get my inspiration from the things I read as a kid and the films I saw – all the images that were etched into my imagination from a very early age.”
In fact, Avni draws on quite a few worlds for his City of Lions project.
“I started welding when I was three years old,” he says, adding that it was an exciting but also painful experience.
“Yes, I burned myself, but I wasn’t traumatized at all. I am thankful it happened. My father was a metalworker, so doing that kind of thing was always around at home. I used to sew clothes from sheets, anything to do with working with my hands and my eyes, and the connection between them. I also made furniture and all kinds of structures.”
The Avnis’ contribution to the City of Lions extravaganza will do more than just fire the imagination. “We will enact a ceremony with a fire inscription in the shape of a dragon, and there will be a knight with a flaming sword,” says Avni.
He will play the role of the armored hero. “The knight will wage a virtual battle with the dragon, and in the end he burns it,” he says.
Avni brings a wealth of artistic and performance experience to his role in the City of Lions, including from a surprising field. “I have worked as a medical clown for the last 10 years, and I was a clown for quite some time before that, too,” he explains. “I really like doing medical clowning because it allows you a lot of freedom of expression, to create and to improvise.”
We’re not talking about clowning per se here. “We don’t try to entertain the children in the hospitals that we medical clowns work in,” Avni explains. “We are there as an auxiliary hospital team. One day a week I work with children who are undergoing an operation. I am with the child when he or she is taken into the operating theater, and I stay with them while they are being anesthetized, and I am with them when they wake up.
It is hard work but very rewarding.”
Although there doesn’t appear to be too much in common between Avni’s regular daytime hospital job and his forthcoming Jerusalem project, he says there are some similar skills involved.
“When I work with children, I look for contact, how to connect with them. It’s the same when I perform for an audience. You have to make that connection.
Otherwise, nothing works,” he says.
There is another artistic interface. “There is definitely an element of improvisation in what we will be doing in Jerusalem,” he observes. “There are generally outlines of how the whole thing should work, but other than that, everything is open. Noam and I have a lot of shared experience, and that will certainly help us to improvise.
We feel comfortable with each other professionally. It’s a bit like jazz music, where the various musicians feel free to improvise.”
Part of the show will also involve the audience. “I am not quite sure yet, but I think there may be dice involved, whereby people in the audience can throw them, and that will decide the way the action pans out,” says Avni.
Elsewhere in the City of Lions lineup, the public can get an eyeful, if not a mouthful, of knights in armor knocking back wine aplenty near Jaffa Gate as part of a feast to celebrate the victory over an evil dragon. The victors, as well as the local king and queen – and the public – will be entertained by the palace dancers and court jesters.
There will be more colorful spectacles to enjoy at David’s Tower, Latin Patriarchate Street. St. Peter’s Street and Muristan Square in the Christian Quarter. After all the dragons have been safely dispatched, there will be music and dancing in the streets until the wee hours.
The festival activities will take place on Thursdays between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. For more information about the City of Lions Festival, (02) 531-4600 or 106 and