India, Israel bonding over new cultural initiatives

New Delhi: Israel and India are creating new cultural synergy with exchanges in theatre and the arts. After the critically-acclaimed performance of “Stampenyu” – a play by celebrated Yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem in the national capital – the Jerusalem Train Theatre has brought “The Cube Circus”, a contemporary experimental theatre to India.

The Train Theatre was established in Jerusalem in 1981 as a collaboration with four independent puppeteers who performed for the first time in a train carriage. Over the years, it became a source of creative inspiration.

The Cubes Circus, which uses solid paper and cardboard cubes a la Picasso’s cubist art and geometrical visuals, is an example of the new wave performance in Israel.

It is a string of eclectic narratives in which actors Renana Lotem Ohpir and Nir Landa enter the cubes, manipulate the boxes and carry on conversations about life, relationships, the world and nature. The conversations use puppetry, plastic art and dance theatre with actual words. Sometimes, material as diverse as hangars, polyester and plastic are used to embellish the boxes.

The show will be staged at the India Habitat Centre April 11.

Director Galia Levy-Grad says the dance theatre has been inspired by Bauhaus’ dance theatre, “The Triadic Ballet” of Oscar Schlemmer and her own book, “Tsaful”.

Levy-Grad, who had been searching for years for “transformation in shapes”, says Dov Meilnik, the light and design director of the show. The roots of her conceptual design lie in oregamy – the Japanese art of shaping paper. “The idea was to create from what exists,” he said.

“The world of theatre in Israel is a large laboratory, where actors are trying to find new expression. We do a lot of this kind of graphical material where the visual becomes very communicative,” he said.

Two other theatres that experiment with contemporary visual theatre are the Micheal Svironi Visual Theatre and Clipa Theatre. Michal Svironi, a puppeteer and performance artist uses props and intimate theatre techniques to reach out to her audience with little scenarios. Clipa Theatre, a body acting ensemble, communicates with motions rather than words, actor Renana Lotem Ohpir said.

“One of the reasons why contemporary experimental theatre finds a big audience in Israel is the fact that it is a young country culturally. Though we have a 5,000 year old heritage, theatre and music are new to the country. Our tradition began in 20th century with Shalom Aleichem’s modern theatre. Post-modernism is represented by actors like Hanoch Levin’s Israel-Jewish upsurge Theatre in the 1960s in an indirect protest against the holocaust,” Dov Meilnik said.

The Cube Theatre wants to take back Indian mythological stories. In 2012, a troupe staged “Dooma-Doomi” – a children’s visual theater based on an Indian folk tale.

“We would love to promote such exchanges. Right now, the bulk of the exchange programme is limited to theater and arts,” said Chana Anzi, the Israeli embassy’s cultural attache.

One such project was a collaboration between Idan Cohen and the Sapphire Creations in Kolkata that worked around contemporary dance last year. Another ongoing project is a theater exchange between David Zinder, the Samahara Theatre in Hyderabad and the National School of Drama in the capital.

Zinder, who has directed over 60 physical plays in Israel, had been conducting workshops in Kerala and Hyderabad and at the National School of Drama here since 2011.

Anzi said “an Indian theatre troupe will be visiting Israel to perform at the popular Cameri Theatre House in May”.

In March, Israeli choreographer Shaked Dagon arrived in India to spend two months at the Chalal village in Lahul in Himachal Pradesh to work on a performance piece for schools in India.

“Several of these initiatives were the enterprise of actors and artistes across the two countries,” he said.

By Madhusree Chatterjee

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