Filed under: Art, General, History and Culture, Israeliness, Pop Culture, Profiles
With all the talk in recent years about Israeli popular music exports, it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of Israeli entertainers in other realms who have been enjoying growing successes overseas. The world over, there are plenty of Israeli illusionists, dub bassists, jazz saxophonists, supermodels and even boxers - you name it.
When the percussive Mayumana dance troupe got started 13 years ago, many dismissed it as a local knockoff of international sensation Stomp. Now the ensemble maintains a busy schedule touring worldwide. Today Mayumana employs 100 people globally and has starred in ads for brands like Fiat and Coca Cola. Last week, the ensemble premiered Momentum, its new show, for local audiences of thousands at the Jerusalem Theater, under the framework of the Israel Festival.
Ha’aretz recently interviewed Tel Aviv-born Mayumana co-founder Boaz Berman as well as producer Roy Ofer, who joined the team shortly after its launch.
Ofer believes that the key to Mayumana’s success has been the way that he makes sure to keep things in-house:
“We have our own people who we work with, and we rarely involve people from the outside. On tours abroad, we have our own way of doing things. We don’t just perform and leave. We performed in Madrid for eight months, we were in New York for six months, and so on.”
Berman, meanwhile, remembers the early days fondly:
“Our goal was to put on a show that would be different from anything else out there. We were so fired up that we were sure we’d succeed. The people who worked with us then did it for free, because they all believed in us. We worked all day every day, and when we had enough material we started doing open presentations to friends on Wednesdays, which evolved from week to week.”
But according to Ofer, it’s unfair to call Mayumana a “troupe,” when so much more comes into the performances:
“In a troupe, the members all do one specific thing – dancing or drumming or whatever,” Berman explains fervently. “With us, everyone does everything, even though on the face of it they’re completely disparate – one is a professional dancer, another is the national archery champion, another one’s an actor, this one’s a contortionist. Our job is to unite them. It’s a group of people, not a troupe.”
Hey, man. Whatever terminology you prefer. Just keep doing whatever it is that you want to call what you’re doing, because people seem to like it.
Just when we thought we’d seen all that Jerusalem has to offer, along comes a surprise in the most unusual of spaces. For weeks, the Jerusalem municipality has been running full-page ads promoting Art Jerusalem 08, an exhibition with hundreds of mostly new and unknown artists. The setting was the Underground Prisoner’s Museum just off Kikar Safra (City Hall Plaza) in the Russian Compound neighborhood.
The fair was fabulous, ranging from under appreciated impressionists like Reuven Rubin to up and coming artists such as Ra’anana-based Estee Kreisman whose paint-on-photo panoramic canvases were one of our favorites. There was also a fair sprinkling of multimedia new age video and music-centric installations.
Art was for sale too. In one gallery, you could pick up a pint-sized version of David Gerstein’s striking multi-layered metal-on-metal sculptures or gaze longingly at an authentic Agam. There was an exhibition of just Bob Dylan photographs and even a Sotheby’s gallery featuring paintings for sale (at prices jumping to the hundreds of thousands of dollars for some works).
The highlight, though, was not the art itself but the interplay between the exhibition and the museum. The Underground Prisoner’s Museum was new to us (though both of our older kids have taken school field trips there). The museum is set in and around a former British jail used to house inmates ranging from petty criminals to political prisoners from 1918 to 1948 when the British quit Palestine. The building itself dates back to 1858 when it was served as a Russian pilgrims’ hospice for women.
The exhibits depict life in the prison and tell the stories of the underground groups and their members in order to perpetuate their memories. Incarceration resulted from offenses that included putting up posters, training and possession of weapons, and physical assault. At its height, the prison population totaled 250.
There are several long corridors lined with prison cells where inmates slept 8 to a room on thin woven mattresses on the floor. We toured the solitary confinement cells, the infirmary, synagogue and death row. Prisoners from the Jewish underground were put to work making coffins and gravestones for British policemen and soldiers they had killed in combat.
In retaliation, the British executed tens of Jews from the Irgun, Hagana and Lechi brigades during the time the jail was in operation (most of the underground members were transferred to the prison in Acre for execution). Large photographs of each of the underground fighters executed are displayed in an emotionally wrenching gallery.