At Israel Festival, a journey through Jerusalem as performance art

At Israel Festival, a journey through Jerusalem as performance art

Two visiting teams of artists offer their own take on the city’s urban landscape with theatrical walking tours

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Taking an autovisual journey with Rimini Protokoll as part of the Israel Festival 2018 (Courtesy Mike Vonotkov)
Taking an autovisual journey with Rimini Protokoll as part of the Israel Festival 2018 (Courtesy Mike Vonotkov)

If you’re looking for different ways to view Jerusalem, this year’s Israel Festival is hosting performance artists who specialize in city tours of a different stripe.

There’s Rimini Protokoll, a German team of theater artists who address questions about the effects of technology on our intelligence by offering alternative tours around their host cities.

Participants don a pair of headphones in “Remote X,” an hour-and-a-half audiovisual journey through the streets of Jerusalem, led by a synthetic voice. The streets of the city become the theater set, and the participants are the performers.

“Our lives are being transformed into something of a protected bubble,” said Stefan Kaegi, who writes the scripts and co-created Rimini Protokoll. “That’s particularly interesting in Israel where the high-tech industry is so present, and this piece feels like walking through augmented reality.”

It’s not an historic or tourist stroll that’s taken in “Remote X,” but rather a performance about what could potentially happen in the city, and in the neighborhoods and sites that are part of the journey.

The Rimini Protokoll team maps their route in each city, finding the sites and places that work with the topics being discussed, and working with the local production team to figure out a route that makes sense, said Anton Rose, Rimini Protokoll’s co-founder and director.

“We like to create something that uses the place as it is,” said Kaegi, such as the entrance to a train station, watching how one’s actions are influenced by crowd behaviors, or how humankind organizes itself.

The German theater group worked closely with a local Israel Festival team to create a Hebrew version — not one of their native languages — that works as well as the one in English.

There are still tickets left for several performances of “Remote X”; see the Israel Festival site for more information.

“Bodies in Urban Space” is another urban journey performance, created by Austrian choreographer Willi Diener, with a stroll that takes participants and a group of 15 local dancers on a site-specific walk, including physical groupings against and within Jerusalem’s urban architecture.

This version of “Bodies in Urban Space” will lead the audience from Anna Ticho House through Nahalat Shiva and onto King David Street, where the dancers will twist and bend their bodies into colorful works against the Jerusalem stone, creating another kind of lens for looking at the world around them.

‘Bodies in Urban Space,’ another way of looking at the city around you, will be part of the Israel Festival 2018. (Courtesy Lisa Rasti)

“People can be living in a city for years, and not be aware of where it is changing,” said Diener. “This walk is an invitation to have a look at your own city again. It’s a chance to take time and walk without being in a rush, to see what is happening around you.”

Working from Austria, Diener first uses the Google Earth program as a method of figuring out what areas of a city to explore before going himself or sending a member of his team to the city in question to choose the exact route.

They seek routes with different characteristics, looking for parts of a neighborhood that are less visible to the naked eye, even for the residents of the city themselves.

In Jerusalem, said Diener, he first thought about doing the walk along the border between the Jewish and Moslem quarters in the Old City, but was advised by the festival organizers that it wouldn’t be a doable route for security and political reasons.

“After what’s happening now,” said Diener, referring to the current unrest along the border with Gaza, “it wouldn’t have been a good idea.”

A group of dancers take part in each ‘Bodies in Urban Space’ performance, offering another lens on the city, and taking part in this year’s Israel Festival. (Courtesy Lisa Rasti)

The guided performance is one that Diener has been developing for 14 years as a method for looking at cities, the urban environments that continue to grow, shift, and change through decades of existence.

He first created “Bodies in Urban Space” in Barcelona as part of a pilot project, and was then invited to Paris to participate in a summer festival. From that point on, the invitations kept coming.

“We’ve done it in more than 110 cities and it keeps going,” he said. “There are so many cities in the world, and we haven’t even been to India yet.”

“Bodies in Urban Space” is taking place on May 30 and 31, departing from Anna Ticho House, and is free of charge.

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