PANIM- Faces of Art and Culture in Israel September-October- 1995

PANIM- Faces of Art and Culture in Israel September-October- 1995


  PANIM: Faces of Art and Culture in Israel
September/October, 1995

(PANIM is an informational bulletin produced by the Cultural and Scientific Affairs Division of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.)


MUSICA SANCTA: Echoes from the Temple?

Is it possible that remnants of the music sung by the priests in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem can still be heard today? Yves Touati, a one-time hard rock musician, has pondered this seemingly unlikely question for the past ten years. Touati, a Moroccan-born, French-educated Jew now living in Israel, was first inspired during a stay at Moshav Even Sapir in the Judean Hills. One Saturday as he sat on a roof-top, he could hear voices floating over the hills in ancient melodies. He soon discovered that they were the voices of monks from the near-by monastery of St. John in the Wilderness (St. Jean du Desert.) Theirs was to be the first recording of what developed into Musica Sancta, a collection of recordings of vocal liturgical music from the churches and monasteries in Israel.

A friend of Touati's, cartoonist Ya'akov Kirschen, was developing at the time a computer program that could analyze music for its different components and isolate particular elements such as melody or rhythm. This capability gave Touati the idea of searching for elements of the music from the Temple in the ancient melodies of the Christian churches. Although there remains no record of the music of the Temple, Touati believes it must have had a great influence on surviving musical traditions. Working backwards, the common threads of the music from the first millennium should provide some indication of what the Temple's music sounded like. The Armenian Church, for example, preserves the oldest Christian music, dating back to the third century. The Gregorian chant dates from the ninth century. All of these predate known Jewish prayer melodies, the oldest of which can be traced to the Middle Ages.

For the past two years, Touati, with the Vatican's blessings, has brought the different choirs into the recording studio for the first time. Among them are the Byzantine, Ethiopian, the Community of the Beatitudes (a Roman-Catholic group in search of their Jewish origins,) the Benedictine and the Armenian churches. Scales of 22 notes (the same number as the letters in the Hebrew alphabet,) the preservation of the quarter tone, which has all but disappeared from western music, and the use of biphonia

(two notes - a bass and a melody) instead of the common three-note chords are among the distinctions that characterize the music of these churches.

In the wake of such international hits as the Spanish album Chant and the German Visions, there has been tremendous interest in Touati's Musica Sancta project holy music from the Holy Land. Ultimately, Touati hopes to record virtually every religious community in Israel, including the various Jewish and Moslem traditions.

Out of 20 planned recordings, 12 have been completed. The first five recordings will soon be released in Israel by Helicon Records. A TV series on the various Christian communities, their history and their music, is also in the works.



In a festival that saw renewed enthusiasm for local cinema, the Wolgin award for best Israeli feature film was bestowed on both Savi Gabison's "Lovesick" (Holei ahava beshikun gimmel) and Eli Cohen's "Under the Domim Tree" (Etz hadomim tafus.) Director Shemi Zarhin received an honorable mention for his first feature film, "Passover" (Leilasedeh) and Amit Goren's account of the immigrant experience in Israel, "Good or Bad, Black and White" (Yehiye tov, yehiye lo tov,) received the award for best documentary. "Lovesick" screenwriter/director Savi Gabison was also honored by the Lipper Foundation of New York with an award for best feature film screenplay.


As a tribute to Israeli cinema, the Montreal World Film Festival is devoting a special portion of the festival to Israeli features, documentaries and student films. Shemi Zarhin's "Passover" is participating in the official competition and Eli Cohen's "Under the Domim Tree" is in the concourse. In addition, the Festival's focus on Israeli cinema includes nine new features, four student films and four documentaries, including the Israeli-Palestinian co-production, "On the Edge of Peace."


Minister of finance Avraham Shochat and minister of trade and industry Michael Harish recently agreed to establish a capital fund of $50 million for international film projects. Half of the money will come from the government budget and half from private investors in Israel and abroad. Criteria and guidelines for the fund's administration have yet to be worked out but activity is meant to begin during the 1996 fiscal year. The fund is expected to provide a significant push to the Israeli film industry.


1. "Passover" (Leilasedeh): Described as a "Passover fairy tale," the story revolves around a family gathering for the Passover holiday. For two days, family members rattle around the huge house and grounds, mixing and mingling in a collage of love, betrayal, longing, anger, laughter, tears and a great deal of food. Director: Shemi Zarhin. Producers: Michael Sharfstein, Amitan Manelzon.

2. Baba Luba: Rock singer Danny Bassan and his mother left Brazil for Israel when Danny was four years old. 35 years later, Danny returns to his place of birth with a film crew in an attempt to locate the father he has not seen since childhood and discovers a family he never knew he had. This moving documentary account of a deeply personal drama deals with the quest for identity, closure and, above all, family. Director: Julie Shles. Producer: Amit Breuer.



As a result of Noa and Gil Dor's triumphant appearance on France's top-rated music show, Tara-ta-ta, at the end of June, the album "Noa" has reached 9th place on the French album charts. In the Far East, covers for Noa's songs, "Its Obvious," and "I Don't Know," have been released in Cantonese.


In memory of the late conductor/composer, scores of young conductors from around the world have been participating in the First Leonard Bernstein Jerusalem International Conducting Competition, preliminary rounds of which were held in London, Vienna, Tanglewood, Sapporo and Haifa. 17 finalists from 12 countries reached the last round which will be held in Jerusalem from October 5-14, 1995. Two gala concerts for the winners will be held, one with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the other with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. $25,000 and conducting opportunities await the winners of the competition.


The Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra will perform in Tirana at the beginning of November in a special concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the rescue of Albania's Jewish community from the Nazi occupation. The program will include works by Israeli composers, including Michael Wolfa's "Contemplations" (1993.)



The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, has gone on line and opened its electronic doors to the public at large. Now available through the Internet is general information on the Museum and its permanent collections, as well as a directory of its curators and administrators . In addition, a guide to the special exhibits and events is up-dated on a monthly basis. A map, color photos and text accompany the virtual visitor through a tour of the Museum's various wings. From the archeology, ethnography and Judaica galleries to the art and youth wings and the Shrine of the Book, visitors can access both general and detailed information on the different areas. The Museum's address is: WWW.IMJ.ORG.IL.



"Not my house," says actress/film maker Michal Bat-Adam on the phone as she names a cafe in the heart of Tel Aviv. Opting for neutral territory, Bat-Adam is determined to keep her private life private. Mum's the word on her age; Michal Bat-Adam won't even reveal what types of books she likes to read. "Its personal," she whispers, as if she has already said too much.

Bat-Adam's reticence seems rather incongruous for someone who has dramatized a great deal of her life on screen. From her painful childhood experiences growing up with a mentally ill mother, to her conflicts as an adult caring for her Alzheimer's stricken father, juggling home and career its all old hat for anyone familiar with Bat-Adam's films.

"That's why I need to preserve my privacy," say Bat-Adam, dismissing any inconsistencies with a nervous, almost childish laugh. She says her autobiographical films (three in all) stemmed from a deep, instinctive inner need. "Not everything has an intellectual or even logical explanation," says the intense-looking film maker.

She even sees her career as a series of chance happenings. Her childhood not being the stuff of which fairy tales are made, Bat-Adam was packed off to a kibbutz at an early age where she studied the violin with the passion characteristic of everything she does. The experiences of those years were characterized in the films "Thin Rope"(1981) and "Boy Takes Girl" (1982.)

Upon moving to Tel Aviv, Bat-Adam earned her keep playing the violin for musical productions. "I used to sit in the orchestra pit and learn actresses' parts by heart," she recalls. She applied to the prestigious Beit Zvi acting school "to get those silly notions out of my head" and, to her surprise, was accepted. What followed was a string of leading roles with all the major theater companies in Israel.

Recognizing the power of the camera from an early age (her father was a photographer,) Bat-Adam was naturally drawn to the screen. Rejection slips piled up until film director Moshe Mizrachi cast her in his award-winning 1972 film "I Love You, Rosa." A bit of serendipity combined with a lot of raw talent, and the rest is Israeli film history.

Dressed in a simple white shirt and jeans, her pale skin bare of any make-up, Bat-Adam cuts an unglamorous, almost pedantic figure. She cooks, cleans house and has trouble remembering what awards she's won: "A few David's Harp Awards, something from the ministry of trade and commerce, something else from the daily Yediot Aharonot..." Bat-Adam says she does not want to sound like an ingrate, but holds fast to a film-for- film's-sake philosophy.

What led her to film-making was another fortuitous, Bat-Adam-style chain of events. Living in Paris in the 1970's with Mizrachi they eventually married and have a 14 year-old son and not being fluent enough in French to act there, Bat-Adam decided to write a screenplay for herself. Her next thought: "Why not direct it as well?" resulted in "Moments," a critical success at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and Israel's Oscar candidate for the Foreign Film category.

Bat-Adam has since directed six more films (she stars in three out of the seven), including the 1986 box office hit, "The Lover," based on A.B. Yehoshua's best-selling novel of the same name. In her most recent film, "Aya: An Imagined Autobiography," Bat-Adam plays herself in a film-within-a-film self-portrait of a director as a young girl. She is currently at work on a new screenplay. That it is not autobiographical is about all she is prepared to say on the subject.

Local color, local ethos, local politics (her left-wing views are well-known), everything and anything Israeli feature in Bat-Adam's films. So do music and madness. Any connection? Bat-Adam shrugs her shoulders. None, it seems, except that she grew up with both. "People are always digging up symbols and searching for hidden meanings," she says, not without reproof. "The truth is, most of us have absolutely no idea of what we are doing, or even why."

Shelley Kleiman



Among the responsibilities entrusted to the Foreign Ministry's Division of Cultural and Scientific Affairs is the negotiation and implementation of cultural cooperation agreements between Israel and countries around the world. Within the framework of such agreements, provisions are made for activities in specific spheres of arts and culture. At present, Israel has agreements with some 75 countries, a third of which were signed in the last three years alone.

The cultural exchange between the United States and Israel is rich and thriving. Yet, because of American policy not to enter into official cultural agreements on the national level, Israel has been working with the individual states. Currently, two monumental projects are in the works: Israel's upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations and the North Carolina/Israel Art Project. A third project, the Anglo-Israeli Arts Training Program, provides the means by which Israeli artists can improve their art through contact with some of the world's leading experts.

ISRAEL AT 50: America Celebrates

1998 will mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. Although still three years away, plans are already being made for large-scale celebrations in cities such as Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The best of Israel's artists in all fields will be seen from Lincoln Center to Kennedy Center and beyond. Arts and culture are appropriate barometers with which to measure a country's spiritual direction and, in view of Israel's unique heritage, they are reflective of the state's multi-layered identity.

Preliminary as some of the programs are, planned events include shows by Israel's leading theater and dance companies, classical music (including original Israeli compositions), east-west musical ensembles, popular music, Israeli film retrospectives, art exhibits, literary programs and symposia, and children's activities.

In Washington, one of the proposed ideas would have Israeli soloists performing with the National Symphony Orchestra. Suggested exhibit locations include the National Gallery, the Holocaust Museum and the Library of Congress. In New York, possible venues include Central Park, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the World Financial Center.

The coordination of the festivities is being handled in Israel by the Foreign Ministry's Division of Cultural and Scientific Affairs, the Arts and Culture Administration of the Ministry of Science and Arts and the 50th Anniversary Celebrations Committee.


In April, 1994, Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., of North Carolina signed an unprecedented agreement with the State of Israel establishing the North Carolina International Commission on Israel. One of the stated objectives of the Commission is "to increase cultural awareness, promoting a deeper understanding of shared values through the arts, humanities and education." Under the auspices of the commission and the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, many of the state's leading arts institutions were invited to collaborate on the project.

Each institution was encouraged to develop a program that would address a different aspect of Israeli art and archeology. The result is a program of exhibitions, artist residencies, film festivals, scholarly symposia, lectures and workshops - all focused on Israel. Many of Israel's leading artists will be represented by major works, including several commissioned pieces. A wide variety of media will be featured: painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, fiber, clay, film and site-specific installations.

The majority of programs will open in fall 1996, with several traveling to additional venues in the southeastern United States in 1997. Collectively, the North Carolina/Israeli Art Project constitutes the most ambitious and far-ranging examination of Israeli art ever presented in the US, and has already served as a model for future cultural exchanges between Israel and other American states.


During his visit to Israel in March of this year, British prime minister John Major announced the establishment of the Anglo-Israeli Arts Training Program, a three-year project (1995-1998) aimed at enhancing the cultural ties between the two countries. The project, which is administered jointly by The British Council and the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Division of Cultural and Scientific Affairs, in cooperation the Culture and Arts Administration of the Ministry of Science and Arts, is the first of its kind for Israel and an integral part of the cultural and scientific cooperation agreement between Israel and Great Britain.

Comprising the program is a series of workshops, competitions and exchanges involving experts from the UK in the fields of dance, drama, film, music, fine art and arts administration. In some instances, the British experts come to Israel to work with Israeli artists while in others, the Israelis study in Great Britain. Whether it be a video course for choreographers and dancers held in Tel Aviv, a new writers program with the Royal Court Theater in London or an award given to a fourth-year fine art student of the Bezalel Academy, the impact of this program on the quality of Israeli art and artists is undeniable. Other programs include an exchange of young Israeli and British photographers and printmakers, theater workshops at Tel Aviv University, workshops for women writers and directors, British specialists at the Early Music Workshop and a screen writing workshop at the Jerusalem Film and Television School with one of the foremost British teachers in the field.



The Israeli-Arab music group, "The Olive Leaves," broke new ground when they performed in the Jordanian capital, Amman, at the end of July. The concert, attended by Jordanian and Israeli business people at the Amman Intercontinental Hotel, marked the first Israeli cultural event ever held in Jordan. The group, composed of Israeli singer Shoham Eynav and Israel Arab and Palestinian musicians, performed in Hebrew and Arabic. Eynav was hailed by audience members for her resemblance to the legendary Umm Kulthum and for a voice reminiscent of Fayruz. From the first song, "Bring Me Peace" (Jib li salaam,) the show exemplified the potential for cultural cooperation and exchange between Arabs and Jews. The goodwill even spilled over to an impromptu duet performance between Eynav and a Jordanian singer who happened to be on the hotel terrace after the show. The concert was made possible by the Foreign Ministry's Division of Cultural and Scientific Affairs.


Sesame Street, one of the world's most successful children's television series, may be venturing into the Middle East. If all goes as planned, 65 new episodes of the long- running show will be produced by a joint American-Israeli-Palestinian effort. Representatives of CTW, the American producers of Sesame Street, were in Israel recently to discuss details with their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. The idea has received the support of Israel Educational Television. The Jerusalem Film Institute, a Palestinian production company, and the Palestinian Broadcasting Company have also expressed interest in the project. Through the use of Sesame Street's beloved and well-known characters, the show aims to teach children (ages 3-7) tolerance, mutual respect, conflict resolution and the avoidance of stereotypes. The shows, to be produced at an estimated cost of $4 million, are scheduled to air in fall, 1996.


It is a favorable sign of the times when a Jordanian theater group comes to Israel to mount its satiric impressions of the peace process; Israeli tourists in Petra, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Yasser Arafat and even King Hussein. In November, the Jordanian theater company, "Nabil and Hisham," is coming to Israel, with King Hussein's blessings, for a series of 14 performances around the country. The ten-person troupe, one of the most important theaters in the Arab world, will mount excerpts from two shows, Salaam ya Salaam and "Welcome, Normalization," in Arabic and English. Their Israeli tour was arranged through the efforts of Cameri Theater director, Noam Semel, and Motti Peri, director of Beit Hagefen, Haifa, who signed the contract in Amman.


Over 70 top international, Israeli and Arab fashion designers heeded tourism minister Uzi Baram's call to design an evening gown that symbolizes peace. The result was The Fashion World's Salute to Peace, the largest fashion event ever held in the Middle East. The ancient Roman amphitheater in Caesaria provided the dramatic setting for the unique collection, part of the ministry of tourism's "Peace Tourism Year" activities. From Chanel and Giorgio Armani to Ralph Lauren and Yohji Yamomoto, the international fashion community shared the stage with Israeli designers including Gottex and Gideon Oberson, Egyptian designer Amr Khalil and Jordanian Leila Jiryes. Popular motifs included the dove and the word "peace" in various languages. The show was broadcast live on Israeli television and was covered by the international media such as MTV's fashion program and major fashion publications.


The Tunisian flag flew above the Jerusalem Cinematheque as Rida Behi's "Swallows Never Die in Jerusalem" was screened, in the presence of the Tunisian director, before a mixed Israeli and Arab audience. Though not an easy film for either side to watch, both sat captivated by the story of the search for a long-lost Palestinian grandmother whose picture turns up one day in a local newspaper. Starring Jacques Perrin, Ben Gazzara and Israeli-Arab actor Salim Dao, the film takes place following the Oslo Agreement. A French TV reporter (Perrin) arrives in Jerusalem and, together with Hammoudi (Dao), his Palestinian guide and son of a Gaza refugee family, sets out to track down Hammoudi's grandmother, encountering along the way memories of the Holocaust and the effects of the Intifada and Islamic fundamentalism. Shot in Israel, Gaza and Tunisia, the Tunisian-French co-production won the FIPRESCI Award at the Carthage Film Festival.



For the second year in a row, Ensemble Batsheva, under the artistic direction of Naomi Perlov, tackled the ambitious task of blending dance and film. This year, two choreographers, Lionel Hoche from France, and Batsheva's own rising star Lara Barsacq, each produced a piece for the stage and an independent, narrative film creation.

Lara Barsacq, a young Ensemble dancer slated to join the parent company before the coming season, exhibited her unique, high-energy brand of choreography in her piece, "Freezer Frog." The all-white, textured costumes and the semi-clear plastic slats that hung from the rafters to delineate the stage area, invoked the cool nature of her chosen theme. The accompanying film, "The Messenger," directed by Gabriel Bibliowicz and choreographed by Barsacq, was a surrealistic look at the anonymous bike messenger. Story and dance sequences brought to life his fantasies of what lies behind each closed door.

No stranger to Batsheva, French dancer/choreographer Lionel Hoche created a contemporary ensemble piece entitled Le Jardin ("The Garden") for the program. His film creation, Le Chant de la Violette ("The Song of the Violet") directed by Ruth Walk, took the tale of Alice in Wonderland to new heights. The "rabbit" dressed in feathers and lilies and racing around on rollerblades, transvestites, wrestlers on the beach and a wind recorder are among the zany characters encountered by Hoche's modern-day (male) Alys.

"Dance-Stills," a photography exhibit curated by Meir Wigoder, added still another dimension to this year's Videodance project. An interactive encounter between dancers and photographers, "Dance-Stills" was the result of the collaboration between Ensemble dancers paired with fourth-year photography students. Each pair produced a personal interpretation, in Cibachrome, of a well-known 20th century black-and- white photograph.


Established over 40 years ago by Sarah Levi-Tanai, the Inbal Dance Theater, Israel's renowned Yemenite dance company, has recently undergone an infusion of new blood and new direction. After years of decline that almost led to its closure, Inbal is back on stage thanks to Margalit Oved, one of the company's founding dancers and now its new artistic director and choreographer. Oved recently returned to Israel after 30 years in the United States to take up the reigns of the ailing troupe. Armed with a crop of strong, young dancers and an updated vision of the character of the company - a synthesis between contemporary and ethnic dance - Inbal has produced a new show that combines classic Inbal repertoire with new pieces by Oved and her son, Barak Marshall. While Oved, herself born in Aden, remains inextricably tied to her origins, she refuses to be confined to a purely folk interpretation of the company's nature. The resulting production, Zaffa, draws on biblical, Yemenite and universal themes.


On the heels of the successful "Aide Memoire" (Zichron dvarim,) Rami Be'er's last work, the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company premiered his newest piece Makomshehu (loosely translated: "Someplace") at the recent Karmiel Dance Festival. A year in the making, Makomshehu examines the meeting points of issues in our daily reality. Construction and destruction, the individual and the group, hope and disappointment, life and death, are brought to life through Be'er's fluid choreography, his effective lighting and set designs and the androgynous, silver-tape costumes that blur distinctions between the male and female dancers. Wooden cubes function as building blocks and drums. The metal scaffolding set is a multi-level jungle-gym on which the dancers climb and weave their bodies. The 75-minute, uninterrupted piece is set to a musical collage arranged by Alex Claude.



The fall will see Israel represented at two international biennales, in Istanbul and Kwangju (Korea):

German curator Rene Block selected sculptors Zvi Goldstein and Micha Ullman to represent Israel at the Fourth International Istanbul Biennale

(November 10-December 10.) The exhibit, "Orient/Ation: The Vision of Art in a Paradoxical World," features some of the world's most well-known artists. Goldstein, who works in metal, is producing a new piece, "The Peripheral Man," for the Biennale.

* * *

On the other side of the world, in Kwangju, Korea, more than 60 countries will participate in the international installations exhibition, 1995 Kwangju Biennale, (September 20-November 20.) Clive Adams, the British curator responsible for artists from the Middle East region, chose two video artists, Guy Bar-Amotz and Buki Schwartz to represent Israel. Adams first saw Bar-Amotz's work in last year's Art Focus. His multi-media installation entitled "Cinema Cloud" examines the fine lines between the plastic arts, theater, movement, film and technology. Buki Schwartz presents his video sculpture, "Video Swing," as part of the Biennale's InfoART pavilion. The Israeli artists will be participating alongside Lebanese, Egyptian, Moroccan and Palestinian artists.

Both exhibits are sponsored by the Foreign Ministry's Division of Cultural and Scientific Affairs and by the Culture and Arts Administration of the Ministry of Science and Arts.

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