This year’s Israel Festival dares audiences to challenge artistic boundaries

Two-week event begins May 30, with a jam-packed schedule of local premieres and visiting troupes aimed at stretching the imagination

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

The Israel Festival opens May 30 and with it arrives an opportunity to experience music, theater and other kinds of performances not generally available on the Israeli stage.

“It’s about identity and multiculturalism and community and the relations between them,” said Eyal Sher, the director of the two-week festival. “We didn’t set out to do that, but it emerges as we work on it.”

The best way to experience the festival, said Sher, is to come to a series of performances with a willingness to experiment and challenge one’s artistic boundaries.

“It’s an opportunity to create an area of encounter, of meeting the other, of participating in the dialogue,” added Sher.

What Sher promises is the opportunity to experience something new, to be overwhelmed and inspired — possibly bored or annoyed by one performance, and then inspired by another two or three.

‘Afternoon of the Moles” will be performed at the 2019 Israel Festival, a family-appropriate theater piece about a mole rock band (Courtesy Israel Festival)

The festival, May 30 through June 15, presents a chance to spend the early summer viewing works by European and Israeli artists, on stages and theaters throughout Jerusalem.

It begins with an opening event that’s dear to the hearts of Sher and the festival’s artistic director, Itzik Giuli — a gathering of high-profile, cutting-edge artists in hip hop, electronic and African music led by musician Gilad Kahana with Atar Mayner, Dor 3, RASTA HAI, Damsel is Depressed, Eden Dersso, Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat (also of Balkan Beat Box), Itamar Ziegler, Ron Bunker, and Tom Darom featuring Tomer Yosef, Gili Yalo, Eden Dersso, ELISEE and A-WA, performing at the outdoor piazza of the Jerusalem Theater.

Later on, they’ll move inside to the main theater, creating a kind of club atmosphere where the musicians will perform and improvise for the audience, a symbolic taking over of the venerated Jerusalem Theatre.

Having this kind of event as the opening of the 58-year-old festival is part of Sher’s overall vision of expanding on arts that were once on the margins of the festivals and including them in the very heart of the annual event.

The festival is very eclectic, said Sher. It doesn’t have a theme, either, added Giuli.

“There are things that are built together and echo each other, and that’s meant to be a place where discussion is being held — we can see it being explored — we look at it as a package,” added Sher.

“These artists come to do their work and express the complexity of their art,” said Giuli. “They’re not here to entertain or make people feel comfortable, they come to challenge.”

Giuli pointed out several visiting troupes that are worth noting, including the Cullberg Ballet, which has two vastly different pieces showing the diverse face of a veteran ballet troupe that has veered in a far more contemporary direction in recent years.

Their first performance is choreographer’s Deborah Hay’s “Figure A Sea” with music by Laurie Anderson, revealing the company’s skills and abilities with an abstract, nuanced work looking at the fleeting moments.

Cullberg’s other piece is choreographed by Swedish dancer Jefta Van Dinther, who brings a dense, darker piece influenced by Berlin clubs with a more alternative soundtrack and narration.

From France, veteran set designer Philippe Quesne brings “Night of the Moles,” a subterranean world of small mammals who form a rock band. The audience enters the moles’ cave theater, a world where realities are mixed into a humorous allegory of existence, said Sher.

The next day’s version, “Afternoon of the Moles,” is suitable for the whole family.

There are original Israeli productions as well during the festival, developed by Sher and Giuli to premiere at the two-week event.

The Clipa Theater will place audiences overlooking Tzahal Square, a central site of downtown Jerusalem that overlooks the Old City; Eilat’s Elad Theater will perform its site-specific “Romeo and Juliet” at Jerusalem’s Nature Museum, where audiences will party and dine along with the ill-fated couple; the wildly alternative Great Gehenna Choir will perform as well, along with the Zik Theater, Itim Ensemble, The Revolution Orchestra (with a piece that accesses John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Jimmy Hendrix and others) and the DAVAI theater grouip.

The free events including FestiVan, a traveling circus van with hiphop shows, spoken work and rock performances from June 3 through June 12, taking place downtown, at The First Station, and in other local neighborhoods.

There’s also a free night at the Museum for Islamic Art, with free entry to the exhibit “Jewelry Making: Past and Present” and entry to a concert with Israeli metal band Orphaned Land featuring singer Mira Awad.

For a full schedule of the Israel Festival program, head to the event site.

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