Israeli soul singers in a sing-down of Shoshana Damari tunes, French dancers mimicking the movements of a crowded club dance floor, Dudu Tassa singing his grandfather’s Iraqi tunes with Yehudit Ravitz and a sing-down accompanied by the bells of the YMCA tower.
That’s a small taste of the performances taking place during the three weeks of the 55th Israel Festival, Jerusalem’s salute to local and international culture.
The festival is currently in its second year of new leadership and its charge is to be more challenging and cutting-edge, as well as inexpensive, noted director Eyal Sher.
“It’s an issue of taste,” he said. “We have a very mixed audience of ages and backgrounds, and we think about that all year long.”
Sher, formerly a filmmaker and with broad experience in the cultural non-profit world, was hired by the Israel Festival board in August 2014, following his predecessor who retired after more than 22 years on the job.
The festival has always been seen as an opportunity to import performers from abroad, but ticket prices had gotten high in recent years. Last year, in their first festival, Sher and his team said they wanted to make the event more popular and cutting-edge.
“We want full auditoriums to offer culture to as many people as possible,” he said. “We’re in a process of renewal to find our identity.”
They’re getting there.
This year’s lineup is an amalgam of concept, rhythm and style, bringing a far-ranging collection of artists from abroad, and joining them with Israel’s own mix of popular, classical and alternative.
The festival opens on May 24 with “What Do Your Eyes Say,” a tribute to Shoshana Damari, the first lady of Israeli song, held at City Hall’s Safra Square, one of the public spaces being used for the first time in this year’s festival. The performers include soulful singers Miri Mesika, Karolina, Yemen Blues’ Ravid Kahalani, Shai Tsabari and Echo and Tito.Tickets are available at NIS 30 apiece. Wednesday, May 24, 9 p.m., Safra Square.
The festival will host its first 24-hour event with “Mount Olympus: To Glorify the Cult of Tragedy,” the creation of Belgian artist Jan Fabre. The all-night (and all-day) event, set at the Jerusalem Theater, has Fabre’s 27 actors reimagining the figures of Greek mythology throughout an entire 24-hour period. The audience will be able to take breaks in rest corners, at food and drink stalls and in yoga and movement areas. Thursday, June 9, 5 p.m., Sherover Auditorium, Jerusalem Theater.
Other theater works include French director Philippe Cannes “The Melancholy of the Dragons,” which will be performed once in French and once in English; Wang Chong’s “Thunderstorm 2.0,” a multimedia experience in which viewers can watch the play unfolding onstage or onscreen, as the play is filmed live. Saturday night, June 4, 9:15 p.m. and Sunday, June 5, 8:30 p.m., Rebecca Crown Theater, Jerusalem Theater.
Half an hour before each performance at the Jerusalem Theater, Israeli performance artist Adina Bar-On will enact her one-woman show, “Rest,” in which she lies upright in a bed attached high on the wall of the theater lobby, reciting the songs of Nathan Alterman, heard through earphones available to listeners. From May 28 through June 5, half an hour before scheduled performances, free and open to the public.
The Festival’s dance performances include Austria’s “More than Naked” work of choreographer Doris Uhlich (Friday, May 27, 3 p.m., Rebecca Crown Theater, Jerusalem Theater) as well as Alessandro Sciarroni’s “FOLK-S, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” the Italian choreographer’s look at Bavarian dance, synthesized with British pop and hip-hop music (Monday, May 30, 9:30 p.m. and Tuesday, May 31, 8:30 p.m., Beit Mazia).
There’s also that glimpse of the clubbing world from “Altered Natives’ Say Yes to Another Excess — TWERK” by François Chaignaud and Cecilia Bengolea, as five dancers and two disc jockeys offer a unique look at the twerk, dancehall and house styles of the clubbing world. Saturday night, May 28, 9 p.m., Beit Shmuel.
The musical front is promising as well, starting off with favorite locals Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitim hosting Yehudit Ravitz and Mira Awad, as they take a look at Tassa’s album, “Allah Shawaiti,” which draws on Tassa’s grandfather and great-uncle, Saleh and Aud Al-Kuwaity, stars of the Iraqi music world. Tassa and his percussion partner, Nir Maimon, offered a taste of “Allah Shawaiti” prior to the festival, recorded below. Saturday night, June 4, 9:30 p.m., Sherover Auditorium, Jerusalem Theater.
Sit under the YMCA Bell Tower to sing the songs of Naomi Shemer, Rachel the poetess, and songs of the land of Israel accompanied by the peals of the bells set in the tower. Wednesday, June 8, 8 p.m., YMCA.
“Breaking The Lines” is a series of three events joining song and poetry, with pairs Tziporela Ensemble and Ronny Someck, Dikla and Haviva Pedaya and Shlomi Shaban and Dori Manor meeting up at the Zappa Club. See the Israel Festival site for days and times.
“Odessa” is the work of cellist Sonia Wider-Atherton and writer Aharon Appelfeld, with Wider-Atherton’s composed music interwoven with spoken words by Appelfeld from his famous work, “The Story of A Life,” Saturday night, May 28, 9:30 p.m. Rebecca Crown, Jerusalem Theater.
Looking for free stuff? There’s plenty. A week-long festival of artistic creations and lectures, musical performances, dance and film will take place in a space designed by a crew of Bezalel students at City Hall’s Safra Square every night from May 29 through June 3, at 8:15 p.m., free.
The plaza in front of the Jerusalem Theater will become a space for music and dance, beer and wine most nights of the Festival.
Keep an eye out for the Submobile, which, in honor of music club Yellow Submarine’s 25 years, will head out to different Jerusalem neighborhoods with bands on board to perform live for local residents.
For more information on performances, times and tickets, go to the Israel Festival site.