UC San Diego's Department of Music

February 26, 2008

  Kamza and Bar Kamza: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Conflict
Shlomo Dubnov's March 5 interactive performance applies the Talmud to world conflict

In the Talmud, the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza is a parable about the destruction of Jerusalem. When Shlomo Dubnov came across the story as a young composer at Jerusalem Music Academy, he was struck by its universal relevance to contemporary conflicts.

"When I found the story, I thought of it being staged as an opera or a film," says Dubnov, a member of U.C. San Diego's music faculty. But that concept evolved. "It's a story that has been neglected, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized the story is about the questions it raises and not so much about the actual narrative. It's a story to debate, and this is the whole Talmudic issue, you want to debate, not present one view."

Created, directed and produced by Dubnov, "Kamza and Bar Kamza" debuts as a work in progress on March 5 at 7 p.m. in the Calit2 Black Box Theatre, in Atkinson Hall on the UCSD campus. The production takes the form of "theater-in-the-round" combining HD video, live music (including UCSD percussionist Steven Schick and baritone Philip Larson), oratory, commentary and audience participation.

Schick and Larson's performances including improvisation and gestures that help mediate meanings that emerge spontaneously during the performance, with elements of their performance captured by sensors and processed in real-time by laptop computer.

Dubnov's three-year project is one of the first programs sponsored by UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox's "Collaboratories" initiative. With Dubnov's guidance, UCSD undergrads devoted a class to exploring the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza and developing their own stories and ideas around this parable. Dubnov expects their interjections, along with spontaneous responses from the audience, to fuel the dialog on March 5. The production will also include live performance and video projection.

"I think that the central theme is about a sense of belonging - to a social group, to the country, to the world," Dubnov says. "Society, much as a living organism, can be viewed as a collection of selfish individuals, or genes, or parasites, who co-exist in harmony but who can also turn against each other when facing disease or infection."

While Dubnov sees his project as directly relevant to the civil strife taking place in Iraq and the Gaza Strip, such conflicts are less familiar to U.S. citizens, who don't experience war in their own country.

"What we want to do is raise awareness of the dilemmas that everyone faces where they make decisions between their own self interest and society's best interests that may determine whether the society will collapse."

Dubnov's "Kamza and Bar Kamza" takes the form of four acts, each focused on certain themes. Act I, for instance, includes "On the nature of scrupulousness" and "Culture of sacrifice," while Act II explores "Rising of radical groups" and "principle of commitment".

He sees the project as an experiment in collaboration that encompasses research in digital media, research in history and Judaic studies, and research in economic theory, conflict resolution and rationality.

"Some of the inspiration for exploring this new form of presentation comes from methods of debate and commentary that are common in traditional religious academic situations, such as Mishna studies in the Jewish tradition and debates and commentary in Tibetan Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy."

Dubnov's project collaborators include Joel Sobel and Eli Berman, members of UCSD's economics faculty; David Goodblatt, history faculty; Morana Alac, communications faculty, who works with groups of students participating in classes about Kamza and the lessons it holds for us today. UCSD performers Steven Schick and Philip Larson, who will help create the sound/music element. UCSD graduate students Benjamin Kay (economics), Toby Algya (theatre), and Jose Ignacio Lopez Ramirez-Gaston (computer music) are also key participants. Lopez Ramirez-Gaston, who is also a Professor of Religion at Universidad Iberoamericana in Tijuana, has been instrumental in designing an immersive and non-standard space where the participants can establish a non-linear dialogue needed for the deconstruction of the story. His devotion as responsible for the production was crucial to success of the project.

In the months following the March 5 event, Dubnov will compile materials from the event and arrange them in a database. These elements will be archived online, allowing retrieval and re-use according to different topics which occur in the process of personal viewing or additional public performances.

Dubnov plans to present the next interactive "Kamza and Bar Kamza" play in 2009, in San Diego and Paris, in conjunction with Pompidou Centre's Institute for Research and Innovation (IRI), where the goal of collaboration is to focus on the study and development of cultural and learning technologies that can benefit society.

The project's final phase will summarize the results and develop a methodology for using the debate and commentary play in additional contexts, with the emphasis on educational usage and broad delivery in compelling digital formats that could include DVDs, podcasts, collaborative web platforms, annotation tools, mobile technologies, multimodal interfaces, and digital design.

UCSD's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) is sponsoring the project together with the Department of Music. The Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA) at UCSD is hosting various Kamza project activities including classes and performances.

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