Jews Continue to be Fringe Elements for Annual Festival

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A musical called As the Matzo Ball Turns set in a Los Angeles deli.

A “comedy” involving a Jewish-Palestinian romance and discussions about Zionism and politics.

A chance to play with some puppies at La Peg Beer Garden (no discernible Jewish connection but, puppies!).

The Fringe Festival will offer plenty of contemporary artistic performances to satisfy any taste as the 21st annual event spreads across the city from Sept. 7 to 24.  

And this year, there are plenty of Jewish artists and performances planned.

This will be Noa Schnitzer’s first Fringe Festival, and she is looking forward to sharing her show The Currency of Belief: Trapeze and Spiritual Comedy.

Schnitzer grew up in Rehovot, Israel, before moving to the United States and settling in Seattle for a while. She moved to the East Coast five months ago and made a home for herself in West Philly.

She studied at Sandciel, a school for dance and circus arts in Israel, and her passion for trapeze and dance has propelled her career.

Noa Schnitzer

For her Fringe performance, which explores Jewish mysticism and prayer through elements like dance, acrobatics and even shadow puppets, she drew upon her Orthodox upbringing and the meaning of prayer she gleaned from that to inform her piece.

She also reflected on what that means to her now, as she is no longer a practicing Orthodox Jew. She has her own Shabbat traditions that she follows, but the concept of prayer has changed.

“I’m really interested in the conversation that happens through practice and kind of that place where we meet ourselves, where we want change or growth to happen, and I think the practice of prayer is this interesting place where there’s potential for that,” she said.

“Coming from that practice and understanding, it was really interesting,” she added, “but being in a place where that practice doesn’t speak to me, I’m still in this place where I’m searching for a spiritual practice that does speak to me.”

While she has performed the piece before, she is looking forward to having a potentially more Jewish audience in Philadelphia — the Jewish community out west isn’t as large, she noted, and the audience may not have understood the references she made.

“The performance speaks on many different levels,” she said. “I hope that the audience is willing to come along on the journey.”

If you go: Performances are Sept. 7 and 9 at 5:30 p.m.; Sept. 8 at 10 p.m.; and Sept. 9 at 12:30 p.m. at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St.

Talia Mason will perform Onion Dances — a dance piece that she has been continuously working on and expanding.

The piece is an evening-length autobiographical solo in which she explores her Jewish-American roots, now with an added oral history component.

Mason, who was born in London, traces her family history from when they came to the U.S. during the Civil War era and helped found the largest Reform synagogue in Minneapolis in 1878.

“The piece has evolved a lot and has grown a lot, as the scope has both narrowed and widened as I’ve had time to grow alongside it,” Mason said, adding she’s worked with a dramaturgical team and sound designer this time around. “These collaborations, as well as the time that I have spent recording audio in the city — whether protests, rallies, synagogue sermons, conversations with family members — have found their way toward the heart of the piece, or the heart of the onion.”

Talia Mason

Working on Onion Dances is also a way to express herself as a Jewish female artist.

“Making work that is political and personal and about being a feminist — and having roots and family members who were feminists before the term existed — matters,” she said. “Art that is not easy to see matters. I don’t make safe work, and making work that is political and personal is very challenging, but it’s in taking strides and attempting to speak up and share my story that other people’s stories — and similar experiences — can be heard.”

If you go: Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.; Sept. 23 at 4 and 7 p.m.; and Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at Community Education Center, 3500 Lancaster Ave.

After performing BARRY: Mamaloshen in Dance! in her first Fringe last year — her first evening-length choreographed work in which she explored her own family history as well as Yiddish culture, set to the klezmer music of the Barry Sisters — Asya Zlatina decided to take a different approach in this year’s festival with Storm.

Storm explores emotions and feelings, and she created the piece before finding the music for it.

She met a woman in the audience as she performed BARRY who wanted to work with Zlatina on other pieces.

Learning about her life and difficult moments influenced the piece.

“We started developing the movement with her — what is it like to be in pain? What is it like to be anxious? To go through changes in life, to be uncertain and getting older,” she said. “We started with that first and it took me forever to find the appropriate music because you want to do the work justice but it’s purely based on the internal struggle inside her.”

Asya Zlatina

In her search for music to fit the piece, she discovered Gustav Holst’s seven-movement orchestral suite The Planets. The planets have moods and characteristics — Venus is the bringer of peace and Mars is the bringer of war, and the music embodies these notions — that fit the various characters of Storm perfectly, as Zlatina found. The suite premiered in 1918, she noted, which makes this performance near to its centennial.

“[Holst] just did such an amazing job transmitting the feeling, I was able to visualize it in my head,” she said.

She is excited for the festival and will probably start counting down to next year’s.

“It’s an amazing thing in our city,” she said. “I’m addicted and I can’t stop from now on. I’m afraid it’s gonna have to happen every year!”

If you go: Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m.; and Sept. 17 at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. at Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine St.

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740

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