Members of the Wuhan Acrobatic Troupe – one of the star attractions of this year’s Israel Festival.Chinese acrobats, Uzbek actors, French and African dance troupes, a Dutch puppet master, and a professional bubble maker from Spain are just a few of the international acts from across the globe making their way to Israel for the 46th annual Israel Festival from May 25-June 6 in what festival director Yossi Talgan deems “an interruption of cultures.”
The two-week event features an amalgamation of diverse Israeli and international productions that include dance performances in Tel Aviv, children’s plays in Holon, and indoor and outdoor showcases in Jerusalem. For the first time in ten years, Haifa will also feature various theatrical productions of the festival.
Talgan, in his director’s role for the 15th year, says this year’s theme, ‘A Small Global Village’ represents the world as a small community working together to educate each other about their various different cultures.
“We are all related in the same small world, whether it is by dance, music, or theatre,” he told ISRAEL21c. Among the 17 countries represented by visiting performers are Spain, Russia, England, Hungary, France, Germany, Holland, China, Switzerland, and Austria. According to Talgan, the governments of many of the countries are directly subsidizing the performance of their various artists
Talgan is particularly proud that even within a particular performance, various cultures are represented and examined. Two featured performances culturally explore the affect of a Muslim majority on a nation.
In the first official performance of a theater company in Israel from a Muslim-lead nation, Uzbekistan’s only independent theater Ilkhom Theater performs White Stork, Black Stork, a romantic story of love and limitations among young teenagers dealing with secularism within a Muslim society of the Soviet regime.
In addition, Hela Fattoumi, a Tunisian-born choreographer now living in France performs Wasla (That Which Connects), a dance solo exploring an Islamic woman’s sexuality and status when she goes to the Western world. Fattoumi also teams up with Eric Lamoureux from France to perform The Dance of Pieze, a duet examining a relationship between men in a culture that ignores women.
Another cultural mix fuels Gertrude Stein’s 1925 book The Making of Americans, traditional Japanese folk music and the Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds in Heiner Goebbels’ Hashirigaki (flowing in Japanese,) an experimental music-theater production starring three actresses of Canadian, Japanese, and Swedish descent.
Another example of the Festival’s attempts at cultural integration is Tendo, a collaboration between Dutch choreographer Christina De Shatel and a dance company from Africa’s Burkina Faso, that integrates Western modern dance and African tribal dance.
Perhaps this fusion of cultures could be best expressed with Israeli director Ofira Henig’s world premiere play Black Rain, which shows the effects of Hiroshima more than three decades after the atomic bomb. The play is based on testimony, American books, film scripts, and a Chinese poem from the 12th century.
“This is an artist in Israel talking about something that happened in Japan and could happen in the Middle East or anywhere,” Talgan says, “She’s trying to say it takes a minute for a politician to decide to push a button and generations to recover from it. These are problems for us as well as them.”
Talgan says the small global village theme of the festival allows the Israeli audience to experience cultures from all over the world, not just the ones that many have grown accustomed to through an influx of new olim, television, or post-army trips to places like England or America.
“We want to expose the Israeli public to other places. You can’t just go to New York or London to see these performers, these are productions from France, Sweden, and Japan,” he said.
Israeli artists will also take advantage of the opportunity of performing with world class colleagues in what Talgan calls “once in a lifetime events.”
Celebrating the 400th anniversary of its premiere as the first opera to be played on stage, the New London Consort will perform Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo featuring Israel’s Revital Raviv as Eurydice. And an Austrian choir teams up with The Jerusalem Symphony to pay tribute classical composer Mozart in a concert featuring Mozart’s the Requiem, Mass in D Minor, and the Coronation Mass.
Talgan said that the international performers had a dual pull to perform at the festival – coming to Israel and performing with Israelis.
“Many international performers are excited about coming to Israel and working with Israeli artists,” Talgan said. Last years, he added, “France decided it would be French year in Israel and contacted us. They see us as their best stage,”
This year, it’s China’s turn to celebrate relations with Israel. They’re marking a 15-years of diplomatic ties by staging “Heroes” by the Wuhan Acrobatic Troupe which officially opens the festival. Talgan announced this week that in light of the shelling of Sderot, Philip Morris and other corporate entities will donate funds to bring residents to the Chinese circus, which includes about seventy acrobats and dancers.
“[Foreign performers] feel something special when they come here,” said Talgan, “They are willing to give up something, to spend more time on planes, because they are coming to Israel, he added citing the example of Dutch puppeteer Neville Tratner.
“During the middle of the [Second Lebanese] War, I traveled to Austria, and in a downpour I went to see Tratner’s one-man show Vampyr with dolls and puppets. At the end of the show, Tratner says to me, ‘I can’t believe you came to see me in the middle of the war in your country.’ I said to him, ‘Since I’m not fighting, I came to see you. You were excellent.’”
Two months later, despite having a booked schedule, Tratner agreed to come to Israel to perform Vampyr, a comedy-horror fairy tale with eight life-sized puppets, and also to hold two workshops. “He respected that the director made the effort so he changed his plans to make time for the Israel Festival,” Talgan said.
Talgan said that the participation of artists from so many nations breaks both geographical and cultural barriers.
“We want to open barriers between countries. Culture is an important means for understanding each other,” he concluded. And even before this year’s festival gets underway, Talgan is already gearing up for next year’s gala which falls on Israel’s 60th anniversary.