Annual arts fest aims to bring audiences just close enough together
“Tango Shalom” is “Rocky” meets “Footloose,” says director Gabriel Bologna. It’s the story of a haredi rabbi who enters a tango competition. But will he be able dance without touching his female partner?
The comedy has been screened at virtual film festivals since February. In Washington, the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center’s JxJ arts and culture festival will show the film on a big screen that viewers can enjoy from their cars.
JxJ runs from May 23 to 30 and will feature more than 50 films, concerts and virtual events. The outdoor events will give pandemic-weary Jewish culture consumers a chance to leave their TVs and laptops behind and gather again as a live audience, said Ilya Tovbis, JxJ’s artistic and managing director.
“I think after a year-plus of staying at home, we’re very excited about the possibility of meeting in person,” Tovbis said. “It’s something that really is fresh and unique, and hopefully magical about literally being under the stars, or dancing in the sunlight, to the concerts with your family.”
Some films will be shown at drive-in style screenings. Audiences can watch “Tango Shalom” while parked at Union Market in Washington with audio streamed to the car radio. It’s the kind of showing Bologna in a phone interview said is preferable to a laptop.
“At its core ‘Tango Shalom’ is a dance film, and just beckons the big screen,” Bologna said. “We have these colorful, dazzling, Bollywood-style dance numbers that doesn’t really do justice if you were to watch it on your iPhone.”
Another JxJ venue, the athletic field at Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, will require audiences to wear masks and social distance. Vaccinations will not be required, according to Tovbis.
The festival has scheduled virtual talks and Q&As daily. Speakers include Josh Gerritsen and Tess Gerritsen, whose documentary, “Magnificent Beast,” explores the relationship between humans and pigs. And three-time Helen Hayes Award- winning actress Naomi Jacobson will teach an acting class.
Concerts by Ethiopian-Israeli artist AvevA and Argentine musicians César Lerner & Marcelo Moguilevsky will be prerecorded and shown virtually, Tovbis said.
But Baltimore Klezmer musician Seth Kibel will play live, joined by Washington band Crush Funk Brass. Kibel describes their combined sound as “New Orleans meets the Lower East Side.”
Crush Funk Brass player Santo Buzzanca said the band and Kibel have “good chemistry” and the way their styles blend together is “powerful.”
“Jewish klezmer music and New Orleans brass band music are our high-energy, loud-party dance music,” Kibel said. “They both have that same kind of in-your- face exuberance. So even though they have different origins, I think the flavor, the emotional mood and the goals of both styles are very compatible.”
The band and Kibel will perform at Lincoln Park and Meridian Hill Park in Washington, and at the Bender Jewish Community Center in Rockville.
“I think we’re going to attract audiences who intended to hear us and we’re also going to attract some audiences who maybe didn’t intend to hear us but hopefully will be lured in by the sound they hear for blocks around,” Kibel said.
Tovbis hopes JxJ’s outdoor events will offer a chance for friends and family to gather after more than a year for Jewish-flavored film and music.
“People are quite hungry for this sort of content, where they’re able to see their friends and community and all enjoy together,” Tovbis said.
For tickets and schedule, visit jxjdc.org.