House lights go up, and the bouncers carry the elderly woman, struggling and still shouting, up the aisle and out of the Dome: ‘Free, free Palestine! Free, free….’ The dancers on stage are still, looking straight ahead. The audience clap and cheer. At first I’m not sure if they’re applauding the protest, or the bouncers, or the dancers. The house lights dim and the dancers continue, poise perfect. Batsheva’s young dancers are fantastic and the choreography breathtaking. They come on dressed in Orthodox clothes: black suit, black wide-brimmed hat, open-neck white shirt. And then dance crazily in a most unorthodox style.

‘Free free Palestine! Free…’ house lights up, bouncers move in, applause, two young women carried out. Dancers resume, perfectly. They come down into the audience, advancing kindly yet determinedly, and choose partners to take to the stage. They manage not to choose a protestor, and at the end of this piece there’s a lone couple swaying: a handsome young Israeli dancer being stroked by an elderly woman wearing an Israeli flag-ribbon. The audience love it.

And here’s the problem: Batsheva’s tour is funded by Israel’s  Ministry of Foreign Affairs – their ‘best known global ambassador of Israeli culture’, otherwise known as Brand Israel. This is why people are protesting; art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In 2009, Arye Mekel of Israel’s MFA said ‘This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.’  I’m sure that members of the dance company reject their government’s policies, and their choreographer, Ohad Naharin, has disagreed with his government for years over the Arab-Israeli conflict.

After the standing ovation (richly deserved), there is a Question & Answer session. I step up to the microphone and ask politely of the dancers: ‘Do you understand why people might protest at your performances?’ They look uncomfortable. The chairman quickly replies that that is not a question suitable to this forum. ‘On the contrary, I think it is just the right forum…’ I begin. A bouncer, swiftly at my side, says ‘That is not a question suitable to this forum.’

Advertisements