A Living Culture
Combining the wisdom of the past with the creativity of the present,
`Ashkenaz, the largest festival of Yiddish culture in the world,
returns to Toronto Aug. 31-Sept. 2.
Special to the Jewish News
itch Smolkin believes in really big
weddings — 70,000 big.
That's the number of people antici-
11111 pated to be around when Smolkin,
the artistic director of this year's "Ashkenaz: A
Festival of New Yiddish Culture," weds Sylwia
Szymanska over Labor Day weekend in Toronto.
He knows his guests won't lack for entertainment.
They'll have lots of choices — theater pieces, music,
visual arts, dance — although some of the acts will
have admission charges.
Smolkin thinks of the marriage ceremony as a
symbol of the unity he believes should be shared by
Jews of all backgrounds.
"We want to offer a gathering of diverse-artists
and stress the idea of coming together," says the 23-
year-old singer-actor, who will be vocalizing with
klezmer duo Kurt and Annette Bjorling on Sept. 1
and reciting excerpts from White Challah by Lamed
Shapiro on Sept. 2.
"We hope all of the people participating or
observing feel better about their Jewish cultural
identity because of this experience."
"Ashkenaz," which began in 1995, draws on the
culture of the past and celebrates the creativity of
the present. The idea is to offer audiences a chance
to learn and grow while sensing their ancestral ties
to Eastern Europe and their present ties to artistic
To extend the idea of unity, Smolkin is arranging
for the festival marriage of a couple that met in an
earlier incarnation of the event, now in its fourth
year (more than 70,000 people attended the last fes-
tival in 1999).
He also has purposely scheduled acts made up of
people who actually are husband and wife.
Partners In Dance
Allen and Karen Kaeja, one such couple new to this
year's program, bring a very personal piece among
three dances they've either choreographed or per-
formed under the auspices of their company, Kaeja
d'Dance. All three will be showcased Sept. 2.
Sarah is based on the woman married to Allen
Kaeja's father prior to World War II. She and the
couple's baby son, who would have been the dancer's
half brother, were killed in the Holocaust.
In contrast, the Kaejas will be performing Storm, a
dance of poetic abstraction, and Unveiled, a roman-
tic presentation about a heartbroken bride and a
"This program expresses the depth, breadth and
range of our company, and it also shows the nature
of our partnering on stage," says Allen Kaeja, 43,
who came to choreography in the early 1980s after
nine years exploring wrestling and judo.
Kaeja started configuring dance as
soon as he decided to try the dis-
cipline, and he expands the
direction of his
career by teach
ing at both the
by Nashman and Mark Cassidy, puts Nashman in
the spotlight as Franz Kafka. As sole performer, the
actor also evokes the father and women important
to the famed author.
"We're dealing with a remarkable text, a letter
with a built-in theatricality written by Kafka to his
father," says Nashman, 42.
Kafka was 36 and living at home when he wrote
the 50 pages of confession, recrimination and des-
peration. The letter, which was intercepted by
Kafka's mother and never given to the man supposed
to see it, quotes from statements the author remem-
bers his father making and imagines what 'could
have been said in response.
"Kafka, who came from an assimilated Reform
family, went on to explore Jewish mysticism and
Zionism," says Nashman, a Canadian actor and
writer who has appeared on both secular and reli-
gious stages as well as in TV series. "Throughout
Kafka's life, he was fascinated by Yiddish theater and
Nashman comes to this production with
experience portraying a number of
famous historical figures. He
has been cast as Albert
Einstein in Picasso at
the Lapin Agile,
Canada and the
School of Toronto
Dance and by work-
ing on dance films.
He has received the
Clifford E. Lee
Choreography Award, du
Maurier Foundation Arts
Award and the Bonnie Bird
"We are all deeply affected
by our roots," says Kaeja, who
dances with his wife but
"I have created works that
deeply reflect that."
Father And Son
While Alon Nashman is not
part of the theme of marriage,
he does address the issue of fam-
ily through Kafka and Son, a
world stage premiere set for
Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
The theater piece, written
Allen and Karen Kaeja in
"Sarah," a very personal
piece performed under the
auspices of their company,
Kaeja d'Dance. "We are
all deeply affected by our
roots," says Allen Kaeja.
Allen Ginsberg in Howl and Jesus in If Jesus Met
A graduate of the National Theatre School and
recipient of the Ontario Arts Council's Emerging
Artist Award for 1997, Nashman also has appeared
in Jason Sherman's Reading Hebron and on CBS's
"The relationship between father and son is always
epic," Nashman says. "I think the play will resonate
with audiences and trigger memories of power strug-
gles and authority figures."
CULTURE on page 84