By: Ori Lewis
A disused Ottoman-era jail in Jerusalem has been taken over this month for performances of American composer Steve Reich's "Different Trains" multimedia work that recounts the ferrying of Jews to the Nazi death camps.
The antiquated building in Jerusalem's walled Old City was built by Palestine's Turkish Ottoman conquerors in the mid-19th century and later used by its British Mandate rulers, but the site has lain derelict for decades.
The show, part of Jerusalem's Season of Culture, was brought to the city by Stockholm's Jewish Theatre that first staged it under the direction of Pia Forsgren in the Swedish capital in October 2008.
Sweden's Fleshquartet played electronic instruments in the cavernous hall to perform Reich's work that debuted in 1988 and won a Grammy Award in 1990 for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.
They added their own improvised sounds in a work they call "Tears Apart" on colourfully lit bulbous glass vessels in a darkened hall draped in black and with video footage of trains projected onto the walls.
To watch a clip of the Fleshquartet's performance of the work click here: vimeo.com/24105329
"The beautiful glass shapes could be souls or bodies. Beauty here is a way of making communication possible, of allowing us to take in the unspeakable, and of giving us strength," Forsgren said.
Through sound and light, Reich's work recounts his experiences and thoughts when he travelled on trains in the United States in the 1940s while at the same time other trains in Europe were taking Nazi Holocaust victims to the death camps.
The blown glass shapes, each weighing some 10 kg (22 lb), were created by Swedish artist Anne Wahlstrom. Some of the 80 objects were suspended from the ceiling and others were placed on the floor.
Forsgren said the concept for the performance grew gradually: "The basis is Anne's soap bubble, a vase she created ... I asked her to make it more like a human body or like something you (could) drop from a train."
Access to the prison building, built on top of ruins from the period of King Herod the Great, is via a dry moat flanked by imposing stone walls that rise to a height of 14 metres (yards) at some points.
The site is in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed. Another section of the Kishle complex serves as a police station.
For decades, the moat was used as a rubbish tip. The archaeologist who oversaw excavations and the clean-up said diggers removed an 11-metre (36-foot)-deep layer of garbage and found two Herodian pools she said are unique.
"We have found one of the most precious finds in Jerusalem, huge pools from the Herodian period carved out of the rock ... Seventeen steps, 17 metres wide, 23 metres long carved out of the rock ... this is unique in the Roman world and in Jerusalem," said archaeologist Renee Sivan, curator of the Tower of David Museum.
The expanse and historical significance of the pools, one a leisure pool and the other a swimming pool, are easily lost on passers-by as they are partly hidden underneath the moat walls that block out the spectacular vista of Jerusalem's hilly landscape that Herod would have seen when he built them, Sivan said.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
© Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.