Going deep into the Arava Desert in southern Israel, you will find an unexpected oasis amidst a seemingly arid desert landscape. As you get closer to the tree line, the sounds of drums fill the air. Closer still – between two charming buildings – the sun begins to set, and the drums and music grow louder. Then, in a small stage surrounded by an intimate group of onlookers, a colorful folk dance. Inspired performers in full costumes create a beautiful and mesmerizing show to the beat of the music.
Yet far from any performance you’ve ever seen or heard, this one is brand new. It was choreographed and rehearsed, from scratch, just weeks before that night. And as soon as the performance ends (of course) to raucous applause, the next group emerges from the crowd to start their show – just as unique as the last.
This is the Residesert Festival – A Jewish National Fund-USA– thirty-day residency supported in eight locations in the Eilot Regional Council in Israel; and presented by the Elad Theater Company. Each program is led by a different kibbutz, inviting around thirty artists, actors, directors, musicians… to revive and foster a creativity that cannot be taught in this way anywhere else.
“I think Residesert Festival is the epitome of the reason for the establishment of Elad Theater,” explained Dvir Benedek, member of Elad’s artistic committee. “To say, ‘hey, let’s do theater here,’ not like you see in the center, in the north, or trying to be like them, or trying to get there. Instead, we improve the theater here. Theater is born within communities of people and must continue to do so. It must return to its roots, go back to the communities and grow from them. And not let the communities buy performances that someone another created for them.
Similarly, Elad Theater artistic director Shay Pitowsky describes the Residesert project as a dream come true. “Inviting artists – the main players in Israel – to come and create here in the Arava, and they gave all the space and freedom to create; as well as quality time with themselves and time for research,” continues Pitowsky. “It’s a magical month where artists meet and mingle with each other and the community.
Initiated in 2020 in partnership with Jewish National Fund-USA, the Residesert The festival was born to provide a creative escape outside of the country’s bustling central cities and create a new center for creative expression and learning in the southern desert regions. Arts and Entertainment Working Group Tony Award-winning Broadway member and producer Heni Koenigsberg knows the power of theater first hand. “JNF-USA’s partnership with Elad Theater to bring culture to 12 border communities in the Eilot area is a win for everyone,” Koenigsberg proclaimed. “Life in these remote areas can be tough and seeing the transformative power of theater infuse these communities with vitality is truly inspiring. We helped fund the Elad Theater at the start of the global pandemic, when there was no work for theaters in Israel. We are proud to have provided much-needed financial support to struggling artists. We are also proud to partner with a theater troupe that serves as peacebuilders by embracing the mosaic of Israeli identity, including Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, LGBTQ and multi-ethnic backgrounds. Support from the Arts and Entertainment Task Force is part of a broader strategy to work with Elad Theater to increase population growth with 200 new families, generate thousands of jobs, boost economic growth and tourism premises and provide world-class cultural content to residents and visitors alike. It is an honor and a privilege to be at the forefront of initiatives like this that are shaping the future of Israel.
The head of Eilot Regional Council, Dr. Hanan Ginat, called it “a project that connects art, a pioneering spirit and the installation of ‘art in its highest form'”. This while the program promotes community life among the many participating kibbutzim and offers workshops and masterclasses in various fields including writing, production, acting, directing, music, composition, choreography of dance etc.
Participating actor Ala Dakka described his experience as very serious and focused during the day, then “so fun and freeing at night”. “We are far from home; we go to the desert to live in a bubble. We are not in the “swamp” of Tel Aviv, so there is freedom to challenge yourself and try new things. »
Additionally, the program runs a Youth Theater Workshop, where children and teens can hone their skills or even get a taste of what it’s like to be involved in theatre.
Actor Avi Sarussi – another former participant in the program – said it has been an incredible month, a full year after being unable to work due to virus lockdowns and restrictions. “Honestly, I don’t even want to go home. You have no idea how much I appreciate that,” Sarussi said.
Above all, the Residesert program reintroduces performers to the roots of performance itself. Actor Amir Khoury said it reminded him of how theater and storytelling are designed. And Saar Harari, artistic director of the Gaga Dance and Movement Company, says there is unlikely to be “much in the Israeli art world that can touch and rekindle the pioneering spirit emanating from people of the Elad theatre”.
Pitowsky adds that the goal is to make Eilot and Eilat a center of creativity and to “bring artists here from the fields of theatre, dance and music, and allow them to create a place that might just be the nicest one in Israel.
For more information about the Jewish National Fund-USA Arts and Entertainment Task Force, contact Sharon Joy, National Campaign Director, at [email protected] or call 323-964-1400 x810.