It’s the 60th year for Jerusalem’s iconic Israel Festival, and as befitting such a milestone event, this year’s celebration will look, sound and appear different from all previous iterations.
For starters, it will take place in September rather than its perennial June date, and over the course of 10 days, September 15-22, instead of the three weeks that once marked the event.
Rather than hopping between spaces throughout the city, nearly all performances will take place in the environs of the Jerusalem Theater, the historic location for early Israel Festivals — befitting an event that once set the standard for all Israeli cultural events, said Itay Mautner, the new co-artistic director of the festival.
“My biggest influence growing up in Jerusalem was the Jerusalem Theater and the Israel Festival,” said Mautner, who previously directed the Mekudeshet Festival. His co-director, Michal Vaknin, also worked at that Jerusalem-based event. “It’s an amazing heritage site that hasn’t changed all that much. But the field of culture has changed, and the festival has to ask and answer a lot more questions.”
This year, the festival is focused on showing performances that create, rather than exhibit, said Mautner and Vaknin, a thought echoed by general manager Eyal Sher.
“We’re looking to break down the walls between audiences and performers, we want to plant the seeds of change,” said Mautner.
That change begins with one of the flagship performances, “Sun & Sea,” a beachside opera that spotlights climate change, winner of the 2019 Venice Biennale Golden Lion created by Lithuanian artists Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė.
The libretto has been performed worldwide; in Jerusalem, it will be recreated on the Sherover Theater stage, the Jerusalem Theater’s largest auditorium, with a mosaic of real sand, towels, bathers, sand toys, and beach paraphernalia scattered on the stage with the audience standing and looking down from four- meter-high catwalks built above the stage.
“It’s an insane effort to recreate this on the Sherover stage, we first looked all over the city for a place to hold it,” said Mautner.
The premiere of “Sun & Sea” will run for five days, with entry every 30 minutes throughout the three-hour event each evening — free with sponsorship from the Wendy Fisher & the Kirsh Foundation — with preregistration.
In “VHS – Blast from the Past,” performers Renana Raz and Nitzan Cohen asked other performers to dive into their families’ video archives and create stage interpretations of what they found.
“It’s a simple but deep idea,” said Mautner.
There’s also “Temple of the Eye,” inspired by a shrine created long ago for Israeli general Moshe Dayan’s missing eye. This performance and exhibition by Gon Ben Ari and Oren Fischer reveal artworks from the secret site of worship established in Israel’s south in the 1970s by Shmuel Fischer. The identical family names are no coincidence: Oren, grandson of Shmuel, reveals large-scale canvases made by his grandfather while Ben Ari, a scion of the Dayan family, performs songs also inspired by the shrine and his own personal journey.
In “Affordable Solutions for Better Living,” visual artist Thèo Mercier and dancer Steven Michel challenge the concept of happiness as a product. Michel’s choreography puts him onstage with a familiar Ikea bookcase, as he attempts to assemble the iconic shelving unit and its promise of a good life.
The audience becomes the performer in “A Thousand Ways,” an encounter created by company 600 Highwaymen, in which audience members open themselves to fleeting encounters with strangers through a phone call, a one-on-one meeting onstage, and lastly a meeting between 16 people.
There are more familiar concepts apparent in “Hillula,” a celebration of Jerusalem, Morocco’s Marrakesh and the southern city of Netivot — the three-point axis for performers Neta Elkayam and Amit Hai Cohen. The two have invited more than a dozen artists to a one-night event of song, dance, film, art, the spoken word, a Moroccan drag performance, and shots of Arak.
Entrance is free to “Let Water Flow,” a music and dance event with surf-rock band Boom Pam, the Japanese dance company Mitobi Shishi Odori with Japanese musician YokiHoko Yutsakura, and singer Amy Shirsaki.
Boom Pam created a mini-album in collaboration with traditional Japanese artists during the pandemic, inspired by a connection made more than a decade ago following an earthquake in eastern Japan that brought Israeli rescue units to the region.
One of the final events at the festival is “Night Train to Izmir,” a Turkish-Israeli musical celebration to be held outside in Independence Park, with musical collaborations building on connections between Ankara and Jerusalem, Izmir and Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Sderot.
Musicians Berry Sakharof, Dudu Tassa, Balkan Beat Box and Red Axes along with Turkish musicians Kalben, JANSET and Murat Ertel will all perform.
For more information and tickets to the various Israel Festival events, go to the Israel Festival website.