It is the 60th year of the famous Israel Festival in Jerusalem, and in keeping with this significant event, this year’s celebration will look different from all previous iterations.
For starters, it will take place in September rather than its permanent June date, and over a 10-day period, from September 15-22, rather than the three weeks that once marked the event.
Instead of hopping between spaces across the city, nearly all performances will take place on the outskirts of the Jerusalem Theater, the historic site of Israel’s early festivals – befitting an event that once set the standards for all Israeli cultural events, said Itai Mautner, the festival’s new co-artistic director.
“My biggest influence in Jerusalem has been the Jerusalem theater and the Israel Festival,” said Mautner, who previously ran the Mekudeshet Festival. Its co-director, Michal Vaknin, also worked on the event in Jerusalem. “It is a wonderful heritage site that has not changed much. But the field of culture has changed, and the festival has to ask and answer a lot of questions.”
This year, the festival is focused on presenting performances that create, rather than show, an idea echoed by general manager Eyal Sher, Mautner and Vaknin said.
“We look to tear down the walls between the audience and the performers, and we want to sow the seeds of change,” Mautner said.
The makeover begins with one of the main performances, “Sun & Sea,” a seaside opera highlighting climate change, and the 2019 Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion winner created by Lithuanian artists Rogeli Barzdyukaito, Viva Grenetti, and Lina Labilito.
The written script has been made all over the world; In Jerusalem, it will be recreated on the Sherover Theatre, the largest auditorium in the Jerusalem Theatre, with real sand mosaics, towels, bathtubs, sand toys, and beach paraphernalia spread across the stage with the audience standing and looking down from four. Meter-tall platforms are built above the stage.
“It’s a crazy effort to recreate this on a Sherover stage, we first looked across town for a place to contain it,” said Mautner.
“Sun & Sea” will premiere for five days, with entries every 30 minutes throughout the three-hour event each evening – free sponsored by Wendy Fisher & the Kirsh Foundation – with pre-registration.
In “VHS – Blast from the Past,” actors Renana Raz and Nitzan Cohen asked other artists to dive into their families’ video archives and create theatrical interpretations of what they found.
“It’s a simple but profound idea,” Mautner said.
There is also the “Temple of the Eye,” which is inspired by a long-established shrine of the lost eye of Israeli general Moshe Dayan. This performance and exhibition by Gon Ben Ari and Oren Fisher reveals artwork from the secret worship site established by Shmuel Fisher in southern Israel in the 1970s. The identical family names are no coincidence: Oren, grandson of Shmuel, reveals large-scale paintings made by his grandfather while Ben Ari, a descendant of the Dayan family, performs songs also inspired by the shrine and his personal journey.
In Affordable Solutions for a Better Life, visual artist Theo Mercier and dancer Stephen Michel challenge the concept of happiness as a producer. Michele’s choreography puts him on stage with a familiar IKEA bookcase, as he tries to assemble the iconic shelving unit and promises it a good life.
The audience becomes the performer in “A Thousand Ways,” an encounter created by 600 Highwaymen, in which members of the audience open themselves up to fleeting encounters with strangers through a phone call, a one-on-one meeting on stage, and finally a meeting of 16 people.
There are more common concepts featured in “Hilula,” a celebration of Jerusalem, Morocco’s Marrakech and the southern city of Netivot – the three-point hub by performers Neta Elkayam and Amit Hai Cohen. The two invited more than a dozen artists to a single nightly event of singing, dancing, film, art, spoken word, Moroccan drag performance, and see you shots.
Admission is free to “Let Water Flow,” a music and dance event with rock band Boom Bam and Japanese dance company Mitobi Shishi Odori with Japanese musician Yuki Hoku Yotsakura and singer Emi Shirsaki.
Boom Bam has created a mini album in collaboration with traditional Japanese artists during the pandemic, inspired by a connection made over a decade ago in the aftermath of the earthquake in eastern Japan that brought Israeli rescue units to the area.
One of the recent events in the festival is the “Night Train to Izmir”, a Turkish-Israeli music celebration that takes place outside in Independence Park, with a musical collaboration built on the links between Ankara, Jerusalem, Izmir, Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Sderot.
Musicians Perry Sakharov, Dudu Tasa, Balkan Beat Box and Red Axes will perform alongside Turkish musicians Calpin, Janset and Murat Ertel.
For more information and tickets for various Israel Festival events, go to Israel Festival website.