City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Hora, EIF 2012, Review


By Justine Blundell - Posted on 31 August 2012

Batsheva Dance Company ensemble
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Show details
Company: 
Batsheva Dance Company
Running time: 
60mins
Production: 
Ohad Naharin (choreography), Avi Yona Bueno (lighting and stage design), Anna Mirkin (costume design), Maxim Waratt (sound design and editing), Amir raveh (bench design), Isao Tomita (music arranger and performer)
Performers: 
Shahar Biniamini, Matan David, Iyar Elezra, Shani Garfinkel, Chen-Wei Lee, Ia'ara Moses, Eri Nakamura, Rachael Osborne, Shamel Pitts, Ian Robinson, Guy Shomroni (dancers)

The performance of ‘Hora’ by Israeli dance company, Batsheva, was completely overshadowed by the human rights protesters who, rightly or wrongly, took centre stage this evening.

Outside the Edinburgh Playhouse a group of a hundred or so people were gathered, separated from the theatre-goers by a line of police officers. Most were waving Palestinian flags and holding placards that pleaded, ‘Boycott Israel Sanctions Now’. Leaflets were handed out that depicted a dancer leaping gracefully into the air, arms raised, holding a gun, with the caption ‘Don’t dance with Israeli Apartheid’. There were chants of ‘Don’t, don’t cross this picket. Burn, burn, burn your ticket.’

Alongside this group of protesters were others with banners that read, ‘Scottish Jews for a Just Peace’, this party pressing leaflets into bewildered hands bearing the headline, ‘Culture Unites, Boycotts Divide.’

Only one door to the theatre was open, so that bags could be checked by security on the way in. In the auditorium on every level, security officers stood about, wearing headsets to enable them to communicate with one another. The start of the performance was delayed by some 10 minutes or so amid an uneasy and disturbing atmosphere.

The performance was an hour long and was stopped three times by protesters, two groups appearing in the Dress Circle and the final protest coming from the Stalls. All were chanting, ‘Free, free Palestine’, while the dancers on stage halted, the house lights were raised and the protesters strong-armed out of the building.

Some audience members left, others rose to their feet to applaud the increasingly despondent dancers. This performance unwittingly became less about the dancing, and more an effort in perseverance and endurance – on the part of both audience and artists.

The performance itself held promise: the dancers were choreographed to perform individual motions and manoeuvres, rather than an ensemble piece, which explored a multitude of the possible movements that a human body could make.

Many of the movements didn’t appear human and the music, evoking sci-fi themes, together with the luminous green setting, added to the alien vista. However, it was not possible to either engage with or enjoy this performance. It was also difficult to ascertain how the mood plus interruptions was affecting the performers and the performance they gave.

With high-profile Scottish artists such as Liz Lochhead and Iain Banks, among many others, calling for this troupe to be pulled from the Festival, one could argue that their inclusion was asking for trouble.

The EIF has a duty, to its audience and performers, to behave in a responsible fashion. It is questionable whether inviting a company that is hailed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry as Israel’s, ‘best global ambassadors’, at this particular moment in time, is a responsible act. This performance never had a hope of running smoothly, leaving both audience and artists vulnerable and with a rather nasty taste in the mouth.

The audience were ushered out of the emergency exit doors with the chants from protesters, still outside the building, of ‘Your tickets were covered in Palestinian blood’ ringing in our ears. This was not one of the Edinburgh International Festival’s finest moments.

Show times: 30 August – 1 September, 7.30pm

Prices: £30, £27, £22, £17, £12, £10

Protestors interrupt Jerusalem Quartet concert (review)

It was inauspicious of Jonathan Mills to have invited the Batsheva Dance Company to the Edinburgh International Festival as they are funded by the Israeli Government, whose disproportionate aggressive actions towards the Palestinians are constantly being condemned globally as abuses against human rights.   And it was naïve of Jonathan Mills to think there would not be a demonstration against this dance company performing, considering the disruption caused to a Queen's Hall concert in 2008 when the Jerusalem Quartet - also funded by the Israeli government - gave a performance at the EIF.

 What this review does not say is that the noise of the protesters in the auditorium was drowned out by the sound of the audience clapping, an effective response to what was, make no mistake, an attempt to censor artistic freedom. I am no supporter of or apologist for the Israeli government or defence force, but neither is this dance troop. The fact that they receive some state funding makes them no different from many artistic groups around the world. This was not state propaganda and the specious nonsense that allowing them to perform in the EIF somehow normalises Israel and its unacceptable actions in Palestine would be laughable were it not so insidious. Who next?

I find it so incredible that artists such as Iain Banks and Liz Lochead were prepared to support the calls to have the performance banned. Since when did artists support censorship - for that is what it is - of the works of other artists? If the art were demonstrably in support of unacceptable actions by the Israeli government then that would be a different case. It was not and to censor it purely on the grounds that the company came from Israel is surely suspect at best, sinister at worst. 

Incidentally, contrary to the impression left by this review, my party left by the main entrance, the protesters nearest to us inside the theatre were not "strongarmed" out, merely escorted and we felt nothing but sympathy for the dancers which defeats the intention of the protest. The protesters had every right to be there, but they missed their target by exaggerating their case with the ridiculous blood on tickets chant. 

Just to clarify: Scottish Jews for a Just Peace, of which I am a member, were there to SUPPORT the boycott. The anti-boycott leaflet was being distributed by a sprinkling of Zionists who, despite their leaflet's careful wording, showed little interest in peace or justice - at least not the man I spoke to who called me a 'Nazi' for criticising Israel.  The core of our SJJP leaflet is given below:
 
4 reasons why we are supporting the call for a boycott of the Batsheva Dance Troupe:
 
This dance tour is funded by the Israeli Government as part of its campaign to promote positive images of the country and draw attention away from the realities of military occupation and oppression.
 
Israel feels free to pursue these policies because other countries look the other way and continue to provide trade and aid. Maintaining a positive international image is thus an integral part of the Israeli Government’s policies of oppression.
 
These policies are condemning generations of Palestinians to a life of poverty and persecution and are corrupting and brutalising Israel’s Jewish citizens.
 
As Jews living in the security of Scotland, we feel it our duty to speak out and make people aware of what is happening in order to try and stop it. And we realise the importance of making it clear that criticism of Israel’s government is the only path for all those who care about peace and freedom, and should never be confused with anti-Semitism.
 
Scottish Jews for a Just Peace (SJJP) is a network of Jews in Scotland committed to peace, social justice, and human rights in the Middle East. We support the right of both Palestinians and Israelis to self-determination and to live without fear of violence or oppression. 
For more information about SJJP, or to join us, see sjjp.org.uk

I deplore the way in which this Edinburgh International Festival event was spoiled by the disgraceful behaviour of protesters.   I am a firm believer in keeping political protest out of both the arts and sport.    The Batsheva Dance Troupe performers were not trying to spread a political message.    In the same way sportsmen and women do not take part in the Olympics or Paralympics in order to spread the message of their national government.   Political protest should be made to politicians of whichever country is concerned or to our own Government.    The artists or athletes should be allowed to do what they came to do - perform well and entertain the audience with their best possible performances.

Amongst the calls for politics to be kept seperate from art and sport, I have to wonder if those decrying the protesters have selective memory when it comes to world history.

Has it been forgotten that the white South African government repressed the blacks with an apartheid state, exactly as Israel are doing to Palestine?

Has it been forgotten that the global comdemnation and boycott of all things South African was hugely successful in bringing about an end to that regime?

Would a South African dance company have been permitted to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival thirty years ago? I'll answer that one myself - "Never".

I'd like to ask those who choose to condemn the protestors to explain why an apartheid against the people of Palestine is of less significance than that which previously existed against the blacks of South Africa?!