Monday, December 1, 2014

S.Ansky's "Dybbuk" as the inspiration for multimedia performances at the Hansen Hospital, Jerusalem

The 2014 Voice of the Word Festival, in memory of Mario Kotliar, a joint collaboration of Mamuta Art and HaZira – Performance Art Arena – presented “In His Voice: the Dybbuk”, three evenings (November 24th to 26th 2014) of multi-media performances at the Hansen Hospital, Jerusalem. The project curators were Guy Biran and the Sala-Manca Group. This writer attended the event of November 26th. The aim of the three events was to examine the relationship between word/text and performance art. Artworks on display at the Mamuta spaces of the Hansen House took their cue, directly or indirectly, from the Dybbuk phenomenon, as presented in Russian Jewish writer and ethnographer S.Ansky’s Yiddish play “The Dybbuk” or “Between Two Worlds” (1912-1919). S.Ansky’s play is the story of a young bride possessed by a dybbuk – a malicious intrusive spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person. The play is based on research Ansky carried out documenting folk beliefs and stories of Hassidic Jews in the small towns of the Ukraine and Russia.

The Hansen Hospital, established as the “Jesus Help Asylum” by the city’s Protestant community in 1887 in what is today Jerusalem’s affluent Talbiyeh neighborhood, nestled in a large walled compound, consisting of four water cisterns, a vegetable garden, fruit trees and livestock; a shelter for people suffering from leprosy (or Hansen’s Disease) it was designed to be self-sufficient. Run from 1887 to 1950 by the Herrenhut Brotherhood of the Moravian Church, it housed 60 patients. It was sold to the Jewish National Fund in 1950. With the development of an effective cure for leprosy, the last patients left the hospital in 2000. Sympathetically restored, the centre today is one of Jerusalem’s most beautiful buildings, housing exhibition spaces, an animation laboratory, theatre performance space, a projection room and studios, constituting a home for design, media and technology, combining creativity, education, research and continuing activities.

The Mamuta Centre for Art and Media, located in the Hansen building, is a centre of activity, of encounter, research and exhibitions. The Center offers project support, produces and initiates projects at the Hansen House, in other venues in Jerusalem and further afield, supporting individual- and group work as influenced by the times and location in which it is created. The HaZira Arts Arena, established in 1988, focuses on various disciplines of performance arts and their combination – theatre, dance, music, exhibits and multimedia. Its creative agenda aims at advancing inter-discipline performance in cultural- and artistic dialogue and initiating original, new productions in Jerusalem and Israel in general.

The three evenings at Hansen House took the form of a number of very different small events taking place in various rooms of the building. The audience moved from room to room, negotiating dimly lit corridors, climbing up and down stone stairs, moving from small basement rooms with barrel-vaulted ceilings to pleasant ground floor rooms, eventually arriving in the upper storey hall. The small basement rooms were well suited to the intimacy of some of the happenings – text-sound artist Josef Sprinzak recording and rerecording his own voice in song and word-play that focused on the Dybbuk’s inability to escape, followed by two other artists engaging in groans and tremors, some instrumental effects and some recorded sound to produce a hellish, psychotic-sounding display of horrific suffering; then, to Shira Borer of the Sala-Manca Group, portraying a young woman doing house chores, strange in her actions, seemingly possessed, locked into isolated, frozen silence. In another room, Lee Lorian’s charming, tasteful and poignant visual presentation (sound: Adam Yodfat) consisted of a small stage placed on a table, also shown on a screen, with changing scenes of Jewish village life, most scenes showing Theodore Herzl looking in, the performance backed by a nostalgic and richly colored soundtrack.

Most refined was an event taking place in an intimate and pleasant living room, its dining table set with an elegant, old coffee service. Seated at the table were Argentinean-born Eliezer Niborski and his teenage daughter Attala. With mesmerizing and haunting eloquence, time stood still as the two read from S.Ansky’s original Yiddish text, Eliezer reading from a leather-bound copy of the work, the yellowing pages attesting to its age. Another impressive and moving event, also connecting directly to Ansky’s text, was performed in both Yiddish and Hebrew by experimental Israeli vocalist Victoria Hanna and musician Noam Inbar with some sparse sounds of a zither. Sometimes seated, at others, moving around the room in circles, Hanna’s huge vocal- and emotional range reflected the different sides and predicament of Ansky’s Leah, with Inbar (his tenor voice often singing above hers!) representing Hannan as soothing and ever inspiring hope, comfort and support.

In the hall on the upper floor, a room with a superbly crafted wood ceiling, we watched a shortened version of the 1937 film of “The Dybbuk” or “Between Two Worlds” spoken in the Yiddish language. Directed by Michal Waszyński and filmed in Kazimierz (Poland) and in a Warsaw studio, its eerie, stark and dramatic grey and black visuals bring home the elements of magic, fate and folk beliefs, as the living mingle with the dead. Adhering to the extravagant German Expressionistic style, the film is still considered to be one of the greatest films in the Yiddish language. Most of the players were then known to have perished in the Holocaust. Seated behind the screen in the hall of the Hansen House was the Jerusalem Academy Conservatory Orchestra. Conducted by Michael Klinghoffer, the well-trained young players gave a vivid and zesty performance of sections of Smetana’s “Moldau”, synchronized to fall in with dramatic moments of the film. This was an unusual idea - experiential and certainly effective.

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