Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An evening of Dada readings, poetry and music at the Jerusalem Music Centre

Entering the auditorium of the Jerusalem Music Centre on November 25th 2010, the audience was puzzled to find chairs scattered around higgledy-piggledy, facing all directions. (This, of course, did not prevent some conscientious audience members from looking to find their correct rows and seat numbers.) The occasion was the “DADA Evening”, an evening of Dada music, readings, song and poetry and one of the two events of the “Absurdada Week” held at the JMC, the other event being Israel Sharon’s opera setting of Eugene Ionesco’s “The Lesson”. A Kaprizma production, the initiative to present an evening of Dada was that of pianist and composer Israel Sharon, who co-directed it together with Dory Engel and Assif Am-David.

The Dada movement, began simultaneously in Europe and America in 1916 as a revolt against the culture and values that had supported the carnage of the First World War, rapidly developed into an anarchistic type of avant-garde art that resorted to outrageous tactics designed to shock the establishment and the general public. The term Dada (meaning “yes, yes” in Russian, “there-there” in German and “hobbyhorse” in French) is essentially a nonsense word selected at random from a German-French dictionary by the poet Richard Huelsenbeck and painter-musician Hugo Ball. The movement centred around the visual arts, literature (much poetry), art manifestoes, art theory, theatre and graphic design.

‘What are you doing here, planted on your backsides like a load of serious mugs…
…you serious people, you smell worse than cow dung
DADA, as for it, it smells of nothing, it is nothing, nothing, nothing
It is like your hopes: nothing
like your heaven: nothing…
like your politicians: nothing…
like your artists: nothing…’ “Cannibal Manifesto”, Francis Picabia

Actress and mezzo-soprano Noa Bizansky (b. Haifa, 1979) issued the evening in with Satie’s “Bonjour, Biqui, bonjour” a song of three words which ends, quite surprisingly, almost before it has begun. Possessing a fine command of the French language, Bizansky performed Satie’s “Trois Melodies” and joined Am-David and Israel Sharon in the first part of the composer’s “Messe des pauvres” (Mass for the Poor). The latter work, written in 1895, both strange and enigmatically beautiful, composed originally for organ and unison voices, takes its inspiration from medieval plainchant, repeated melodic motifs and lush harmonies. The audience enjoyed Bizansky’s vocal flexibility and color as well as her stage comfort.

We heard Ariel Halevi and Netanel Fastman performing Francis Poulenc’s Capriccio for Two Pianos (after Le Bal Masque) (1952), a whimsical piece spiced with carnival rhythms, humor and joviality contrasted by a melancholy middle section; music to make one smile, but, nevertheless, fine writing for two pianos.

Actor Dory Engel’s reading of representative Dada manifestos, nonsense poems and sound poetry of Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball and Francis Picabia was articulate and polished; his poker-faced performance invites the audience to shake off preconceptions and pretensions and to dare to grapple with the texts.
…‘The cheese is cousin to the marmalade.
The horse is cousin to the cock.
The hen lays eggs.
The egg is cousin to the cheese and butter,
The son and daughter of the milk.
Isn’t it strange?
It is.’ “Perhaps Strange”, Kurt Schwitters

Assif Am-David (b.Tel Aviv, 1981) is a highly versatile young artist. Actor, singer and harpsichord player, he is frequently heard and seen as a soloist in Baroque- and other vocal works. The Dada evening saw him in a variety of roles: joining Israel Sharon at the piano where the two performed pieces by Erik Satie for four hands, he read Dada poems in perfect German, in excellent English, sang mellifluously in French and displayed a fine sense of wit and enjoyment of the absurd.

Small touches added to production’s lighthearted atmosphere – the full use of the space of the auditorium, movement within it, microphone effects and little dress effects - such as artists wearing two different shoes. A worthwhile evening of high quality performance, its content provided the audience with entertainment and enrichment. Israel Sharon’s productions are a valuable contribution to the JMC’s intentions of stepping aside from purely mainstream performances of music.

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