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BavelThe problematic relationship between Israel's Ethiopian immigrants and its established
Sephardic/Ashkenazic culture has given birth to a particularly provocative brand of theater that uses traditional
Ethiopian music and storytelling in a modern context. The first example to reach our shores is "Bavel," a new play
by Netela Theatre of Israel, written and directed by Moshe Malka and performed by a mostly-Ethiopian cast of 13.
The waves of Ethiopian immigrants who arrived in Israel during the '80s and '90s as a "forgotten child"
invoked the aura of the Lost Tribes and intimations of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. As welcome as these new
Israelis were, their problems of assimilating into the more modern, technological culture of the Jewish State have
been more visible than those of their European or Arabic immigrant predecessors. Ethiopian culture and language are
quite exotic, by Israeli standards . Then there is the self-consciousness of a people who look different. Some
Ethiopian jews exhibit a feeling of alienation that would be familiar to American Blacks. "Being black wherever you
are is to be automatically discriminated against," agrees Yaffa Schuster, who is actually Ashkenazic but is Artistic
Director of Netela Theatre, a principally-Ethiopian troupe that was established in Jerusalem in 1994. "But once you
are good on your own stage, you are finally good enough." Schuster leads the troupe in collaboration with Zena
Adhanani, Theatre Director, who is Ethiopian. Both are actors by training; Adhanani is also a musician and dancer
who graduated from University of Haifa.
Such is the impulse to the creation of an absolutely new genre of world theater. "Bavel," a multilingual
play performed in Hebrew, Amharic (the main language of Ethiopia), English and Swedish, is America's first taste of
the theater born of the Ethiopian Israeli experience. But the Netela Theatre is also known for two other works,
"Stone Shoes," a play describing Ethiopian immigrant experiences through music, dance and narrative, and "Black
Netela," a musical dealing with the conflict of Ethiopian immigrants longing for home and their difficult adjustment
to Israeli society. The latter was chosen by the International Theatre Festival in Budapest to represent Israel in
1996. "Bavel" bowed in Israel's Acco Festival in 2000.
"Bavel" synthesizes mythic traditions of African ancient cultures with the personal stories of the actors of
the troupe. It is about unrooted people who wander in an endless search for hope and salvation. Israeli critics
have commended as interesting and important its fusion of African ancient cultures with modern theater. The story is
actually a play-within-a-play in which a storyteller, a "fool on a hill," tells a tale of a princess whose prince was
kidnapped by a wicked magician. The play was constructed out of the actors' personal stories, which are
proto-mythically transposed into the events of the play. A grandmother tells her granddaughter about her lost lover;
a drunken husband has conflicts with his wife and a criminal friend; a hungry prostitute looks for clients. The plots
seem to universalize the experience of immigrants who never seem to arrive anywhere but are always on a journey.
Throughout, traditional Ethiopian music and singing are used. Hebrew, Amharic and Enghlish are used to portray the
"foreigners." Westernism is represented by Swedish. For the benefit of American audiences, the non-English dialogue
will be simultaneously translated in projections.
|Dates: ||Feb. 7, 2002 - Feb. 10, 2002|
|Schedule: ||Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 10 at 5 p.m.|
|Venue: ||Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street|
|Tickets/info: ||(917) 606-8200|
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