Israel Festival Blends Artistic Lines

The theme of identity exploration is a unifying component in the eclectic, high-quality artistic productions at this year’s Israel Festival.

By: Gidon Ben-Zvi

The Israel Festival, taking place from June 1st to June 18th, 2017, is a sensory delight. The annual interdisciplinary celebration, based in Jerusalem, features performances that you simply won’t be able to see anywhere else. Indeed, the fact that the Israel Festival is supported by the Ministry of Culture and Sport, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Foundation enables the event’s organizers to dare, innovate and enrich the cultural landscape, without having to worry about turning a profit.

“We always want to be five years ahead of the mainstream,” says the Israel Festival’s General Director, Eyal Sher. However, though this year’s program is wildly eclectic, it’s also very well-defined. “What we’re presenting isn’t avant-garde, rather contemporary and innovative” Sher asserts.

And while the high-quality productions in dance, music and drama bring captivating new stage languages from around the world to life, the theme of identity exploration is a unifying component of this year’s festival.

“Crazy Girls Save the World” is a manic, pulsating, whirling carnival of video projections, pop-anime music, confetti, glow sticks, buckets of water and seaweed that portrays our desire to externalize happiness and seek instant gratification as a byproduct of living in a world that’s become flat as a result of globalization. In the digital age, accepted concepts of identity are constantly being stretched by the growing confusion between reality and its online imitation.

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Then there’s “Job,” an astoundingly contemporary interpretation of the Biblical story of a righteous man’s tragic journey that explores some of the most profound questions humans ask about their lives. The spark of genius that illuminates the Israel Festival’s production is the theatrical-operatic treatment of Job’s suffering, which provokes a disconcerting yet altogether vital reassessment of morality and belief, reward and punishment.

To anyone who may feel intimidated by the thought of having to digest complex themes and grapple with high concept artistic discourses, Sher says, “The complexity doesn’t prevent the performances from being compelling and enjoyable, on the contrary.”

Sometimes Playful, Sometimes Profound

Despite the possibility of audience members assigning political motives or agendas to the performances, the festival’s performers are simply dedicated to making good art, with all other possible interpretations being mere byproducts.

And in a politically overheated city such as Jerusalem, a cultural destination that enables sometimes playful, sometimes profound interactions between Israel’s many voices is as welcome as a cool evening breeze after a hot summer’s day. Indeed, the festival is a stage for the country’s top performers, representing Israel’s vibrant multicultural spectrum. Reflecting a desire to at least temporarily set politics aside, the 56th edition of the Israel Festival kicks off on July 1 with an electrifying groove party at the open air Sultan’s Pool that featured Israel’s top emerging and established musicians.

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So, should you happen to find yourself in Jerusalem over the next three weeks, you may want to check out the Israel Festival. From Baroque music performed by one of today’s preeminent ensembles to a hypnotizing fragmentation of flamenco that transports the genre to the realms of jazz and rock, this year’s event includes a treasure trove of new experiences that, should you so desire, teleport you to new worlds you didn’t know existed.

And if you become depleted after having your mind blown and senses overloaded, you’re a mere 15-minute bus ride from downtown Jerusalem, home of some of the best falafel joints in Israel.

All in all, not a bad way to spend an early summer’s night…

Gidon Ben-Zvi is a Jerusalem-based freelance writer, editor and contributor.