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After COVID-19, Israel Festival makes its return

CM 04/05/2021

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 Most of us are gradually becoming re-attuned to the fact that the cultural sphere in this country is shaking off the shackles of the enforced prolonged pandemic-lockdown furlough, and artists of all ilks are gradually getting back up to speed.

That is duly referenced in this year’s Israel Festival, which will take place, for the 60th time, June 3-19.
Festival CEO Eyal Sher, for one, is delighted with the way things are panning out, and says this year’s lineup, devised by artistic director Itzik Giuli, feeds off the accrued zeitgeist of the past year or so, on all sorts of levels. There are, he says, lessons to be taken on board.
That’s a surprise coming from the head of our most important arts event. Then again, it left much food for thought.
“The arts people pondered the implications of that,” Sher notes, observing that the added value factors, including those of a sorely needed palliative nature, eventually rose to the surface and made their presence felt in our collective consciousness. “We believe that it was a mistake to close down cultural institutions in that way. Culture offers excellent tools and practices that can help organizations and individuals in times of crisis – health crises, economic crises, and social and political crises. It helps to provide a different perspective on matters, and helps people to cope.”
The benefits of the arts for the public at large, and how they complement and enrich everyday life, lie at the core of the upcoming edition of the festival. The reciprocal onstage-alfresco bond is a recurrent theme throughout the program.

Like last year’s rollout that was, somehow, cobbled together and performed – albeit exclusively as a virtual event – this time round is also a true blue-and-white affair with just one contribution by an offshore artist.
But, Sher says, there the similarity ends. “Last year, of course, we couldn’t bring in artists from abroad.” Not that it’s any easier this year. “It’s so complicated, with isolation, vaccination, etc. That’s really prohibitive. But, as this is the 60th edition, we felt it was appropriate to have an Israeli-based festival.”
One of the main agenda sections is the definitively named “Inspirational Connections.” The category comprises 40 homegrown artists presenting short, original, cross-disciplinary works inspired by the same number of iconic Israeli creations strung across seven decades of Israeli art. To say the roster covers generous stylistic and thematic ground is to stray deep into the field of understatement.
The synergies marry all kinds of seemingly disparate genres and mindsets, and fuse artists and output from different – if not contrasting – disciplinary, ethnic and sensorial climes, as well as stages of the country’s evolution.
The performances are stretched across four slots (June 3, 9, 10 and 15).
Giuli let his seasoned imagination run riot here, conjoining the likes of global ethnic music icon, oud player-violinist Yair Dalal with cult 1986 Israeli movie Avanti Popolo, directed by Rafi Bukai. The June 9 encounter is called No One Needs to Die, resonating the humanist and pacifist ethos behind the film.
Dalal is a natural choice for the project. He comes from Iraqi stock and, over the past four decades or so, has mixed with numerous Arab artists and many more from other cultural and ethnic backdrops. The work’s moniker, and musical anchor, feed off the plaintive cry of one of the Egyptian soldiers in the movie, sublimely portrayed by Salim Dau, from the Galilean village of El-Bina.
There is more in the way of the regional demographic conundrum, also based on a musical reading of a silver screen offering, on June 3 with Jerusalemite hip-hop artist Shaanan Streett performing a beat-anchored score referencing the script for one of the scenes from Haim Buzaglo’s 1988 comic-drama Nisuim Fiktiveem (Fictional Marriage), starring Shlomo Baraba.
There are intriguing composites wherever you look across the four dates. One particularly noteworthy synthesis features a highly poignant creation in which singer-songwriter Keren Peles works off video and audio documentation of a coronavirus hospital department in action, and of members of the virus sufferers’ support groups.
Other interdisciplinary slots to look out for include Hachi Yafa Bagan (The Prettiest in the Kindergarten), in which director-actor Gilad Kimchi uses the Yehudit Ravitz hit song from 1978 to look into the gray areas between binary sexuality delineations; and Mishteh Le’et Davar by multidisciplinary artist Yehezkel Lazarov, which cites from the controversial Last Supper photographic image by Adi Ness, and the A Feast in Time of Plague play by Alexander Pushkin and its take on mortality.
“Inspirational Connections” also covers dance, poetry and documentary film, with an eclectic cast of artists putting in their ten shekels’ worth, as audiences wend their way between the various works.
“Each evening comprises a mosaic of different areas – two works, each, from the dance field, from music, theater, video and music. The members of the public will pass from one to another, and that will give a sense of freedom from recognized frameworks,” Sher explains.
The CEO also notes that, in addition to flexing neat genre definitions, he and Giuli were keen to offer freelancers, from across the disciplinary board, a helping hand, after the breadwinning trials of the past year or so. “We didn’t ask the Cameri Theater or Israel Philharmonic Orchestra or Habima Theater or Khan Theater or Batsheva (Dance Company). We went for artists who come from the independent frameworks. They often work with large bodies, but they are active independently. Gilad Kimchi will come to us as a freelancer, and [choreographer] Tamir Gintz will bring his own individual statement.”
The latter refers to “Little Requiem” which Gintz created for the Kamea Dance Company, where he serves as artistic director, and was inspired by Amir Gutfreund’s award-winning debut novel Our Holocaust. “Little Requiem” will, no doubt, provide the audience with an emotive viewing experience. Gutfreund, who died in 2015 at the age of 52, was the son of Holocaust survivors, and Gintz’s own Holocaust survivor father died last summer.
SHER SAYS that both he and Giuli set out to reflect some of the personal, emotional and social lessons of the pandemic social alienation period, and opted to channel some of those sensibilities through some site specific collaborations that bridge the public-institutional divide.
Last year’s “Routine” program offered us a glimpse of life behind the counters and walls of a range of organizations and other bodies around Jerusalem.
“The idea behind this is to bring artists into some institution,” Sher explains. “Last year we went to the National Insurance Institute and senior citizens homes, Hadassah Hospital and that sort of thing.”
This harks back to the primary line of thought behind this year’s festival, checking out the interfaces between art and everyday life.
This time round the Jerusalem institutional lineup includes the Jewish Institute for the Blind, the Dance Department of the Jerusalem High School for the Arts, the Culture Ministry and even a spot designed to engage security employees at the Malha Mall in some artistic endeavor. Sounds like fun.
If you are looking to bring art to street-level life, it helps to get out of cloistered auditoria and meet people on their own terms.
That sentiment comes through powerfully in the “Home – Spirit – Hospitality” section of the festival program, whereby seven artists and seven Jerusalem-based families invite audiences to visit the artistic-family spaces they have created together.
There are plenty of fun and heartwarming surprises in store for us, as the chosen artists join forces with Jerusalemites from Mea She’arim, Ein Kerem, the German Colony, Givat Shaul and elsewhere around town. Naturally, there is some culinary input in there, too.
The specter of the lockdowns is revived in a dance spot, with performers and instrumentalists from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, which will take place at the Yes Planet parking lot. The audience will watch the show from the comfort and confines of their own cars.
Sadly, the past year’s enforced, long home-based stretches served to highlight and exacerbate the ongoing pressing problem of domestic violence, predominantly inflicted by men on their female partners.
That horrendous element of life, around the globe, is the subject of Spanish theater director Alex Rigola’s Macho Man. The moving and startling documentary theatrical installation not only focuses on violence against women, it also takes an unblinkered look at how this dismal state of affairs has been allowed to continue for so long.
On the musical entertainment front, rockers should enjoy the premiere of musician, songwriter and producer Rea Mochiach’s take on “The Golden Calf,” off the 1987 release Ehud Banai and the Refugees, which is considered a classic in Israeli rock history.
Mochiach has put together a stellar cast for the occasion, including Berry Sakharof, Corinne Alal, Eran Tzur and Efrat Ben Zur.
Over on the cross-cultural side of the musical tracks, conductor Tom Cohen will preside over a concert with the Jerusalem East and West Orchestra based on children’s book Waiting for Nissim, by Etgar Keret and Shira Gefen, and featuring the authors.
As always the Eden-Tamir Music Center, in Ein Kerem, will also host some top-class musical fare.
The pandemic may have caused havoc and much grief on so many fronts, but at the very least it has left its productive mark on our artists, too, some of the fruits of which will be on display at next month’s Israel Festival.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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