Acco Fringe Theater Festival: Alternative Theater (and Dance)

Events, Israeli Festivals, Video Views

Video: Some of the entries in this year’s competition, including Ofer Amram’s physical theater work Sanatorium

I took a detour from writing strictly about dance when I accepted an assignment to cover the Acco Fringe Theater Festival for the Jerusalem Post.  Though I’ve never been to this event, I’ve heard that it’s one of the most adventurous and intriguing festivals in the country – and I was certainly intrigued by how many programs in this theater festival are movement based.

Some shows are billed as dance theater (Yoav Bertel and Avigail Rubin’s A Compensating Experience), physical theater (Ofer Amram’s Sanatorium), or motion theater (the group Makhol).  Others are outright dance works, like the Acco Dance Greenhouse ensemble’s Neuronirvana, which was shown this summer as part of the Maholohet festival at Suzanne Dellal.

The international selections also feature a good dose of movement.  3Some, from Germany, was created by Israeli choreographer and actor Nir De-Wolf with Knut Berger, while The Vengeance Cell is by Japanese butoh artists Taketeru Kudo and Jun Wakabayash.  The Teatro Pavana street theater group from the Netherlands includes stilt-walkers, and the German group Grotest Maru employs physical theater techniques in The Waters of Acco – A Dance on the Shore.

To learn more about this year’s Acco Fringe Theater Festival, read my article below, which was initially published in the Jerusalem Post.

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Alternative Acco

In the midst of the Jewish holiday of Succot, modern-day Israelis added a new celebration.  Just as the ancient Israelites journeyed to Jerusalem for the holiday, hundreds of thousands of hungry culture-goers flock annually to the old city of Acco during Hol Hamoed to witness the latest harvest of alternative theater.  Now in its 30th season, the Acco Fringe Theater Festival is as adventurous as ever with 450 diverse performances challenging typical notions of theater.

Smadar Ya’aron, who is co-directing the festival for the first time with Moni Yosef, explains, “We are looking for pieces of theater which propose another approach, whether it’s visually, or concerning the content or other aspects of the theatrical event . . . What is also important for us is that the theater will be daring . . . To dare to do a step, to dare to say something which is maybe not so popular, to dare to try and explore.”

This year’s lineup certainly promises a wealth of bold, experimental creations.  Some works blur the borders between disciplines, such as the offering from the motion theater Makhol, which includes paintings by visual artist Kim Goldberg.  Other selections inventively refigure the relationship between performers and viewers.  Stage Fright is presented by one performer to one spectator, while in Les Souffleurs Comandos Posiques, actors whisper secrets into the ears of the audience via pipes.  Puppet theater, physical theater, pantomime, light shows and a variety of street theater add to the festival’s eclectic mix.

While the works themselves may be departures from conventional theater, the programming reflects a sense of continuity and tradition.  As in previous years, the 2009 Acco Fringe Theater Festival includes a prestigious competition for ten selected works. Several events are also designed to pay tribute to the festival’s 30-year run, including a special symposium, a photography exhibition, and a retrospective by the Ghetto Fighters’ House in honor of the play Arbeit Macht Frei fun Toitland Europa, which was performed 15 years ago at the festival.

Yet in their debut as directors, Ya’aron and Yosef have placed a fresh twist on the Acco Fringe Theater Festival.  Yosef notes that this year’s schedule boasts a wider array of international guests hailing from Japan, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic.

Video: Excerpts include productions from Germany, Japan, and Italy as well as street theater from around the world

Even as the program features a more global component, Yosef reveals that there is also greater emphasis on local flavor.  Initiated by the festival, Pablo Ariel’s Whispering Alleys takes audience members on a tour of the old city, and Yoav Bertel and Avigail Rubin’s A Compensating Experience follows six Acco residents who took part in last year’s riots.  Project Acco, a co-production of the festival and the city’s new center for culture, youth, and sports, includes Jewish and Arab Israelis as well as performers from France, Lebanon, Iran and England.  Meanwhile, local Jewish and Arab youth took part in an artist-in-residence project and will present their creations as part of the festival.

Yosef states,”We want very much for the festival to be a bridge between the culture and society.”  As these works tackle the complex cultural issues which characterize Acco, forge interaction, and spur dialogue, they establish a powerful link between art and life. Alternative never felt so real.

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