If you’re reading this post, you probably know how spectacular Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company is. A few weeks ago, I attended the community performance of Sadeh 21 and the work was compelling as expected but what I found most compelling that evening was what went on right outside of Royce Hall post performance - student protesters voicing their concerns over the Israeli Palestinian conflict. I say Kudos to CAP and UCLA for furthering this dialogue through art. (Even though it might not have been intended) I had a great evening and was really moved by the artists and students. The experience however has made me think differently about Batsheva's 50th anniversary tour and how exportation of a country's culture impacts world views in both a positive and negative light. Here in the US, I know companies like Alvin Aliey American Dance Theatre and ABT are often looked to as companies which export american dance culture abroad but does AAADT and ABT really represent the breadth of American culture? I think the Department of State program DanceMotion USA administered by BAM does a great job of selecting a diverse set of companies to participate in cross cultural exchange. At any rate, I can go on and on about international exchange but here's what the student protesters at UCLA had to say in an official statement obtained from a group representative regarding the performance run.
Three Reasons to Boycott Batsheva Dance Company (And Why We Did)
1. One-third of Batsheva’s funding comes from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In order to receive funding from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, artists must sign a contract committing to “promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.” Batsheva is contractually obligated to promote the Brand of Israel— a brand of oppression and subjugation. Certainly it is easier to say “art is art” and that it exists within an apolitical vacuum, however this is simply not the case. Art serves to express, to reveal, to excite— not to perpetuate positive narratives of apartheid.
2. The Lack of Palestinian Dancers in Batsheva
Despite Ohad Naharin’s assertions that he “sympathizes” with the Palestinians and their
plight, Batsheva does not employ a single Palestinian dancer. In fact, it never has. If he truly
sympathized with the Palestinians, the Dance Company could seek to become a model for
positive inter-state relations with Naharin at the helm of positive change. Detractors may argue
that there are simply not enough dancers in Palestine with the technical training to “keep up”
with Batsheva, which reveals an even greater issue; the lack of resources provided to
Palestinians, while Israelis are showered with stuff. This includes everything from dance training to water, while the Palestinians are denied all essentials of survival.
3. The Inability of Palestinians To Travel From— Or To— Their Country While members of Batsheva (and of the Israeli population in general) are permitted to freely leave the country, Palestinians are sequestered into two small populations of land— Gaza and the West Bank. There, they are constantly harassed and denied their right to leave, even during periods of war-- meaning that they are quarantined and within these spaces destined to die. Despite the existence of several Palestinian dance companies, Americans have rarely heard of (let alone seen) a single one. This is not a coincidence. The media presented to us has been constantly and consistently “whitewashed” in order to deny Palestinians the right to culturally-- and literally-- exist.