Hi Fred,

This is a New York Times articles that shows just how insane religious zealots can be.

Imagine the tremendous waste of time, thought and effort by these fools who are so damned concerned about the costumes of dancers. Who gives a rat's ass? The proper response to their objections should have been abject laughter, not thoughful debate.

It is a serious mistake to encourage fools in their foolishness.

As a citizen of the universe (universe = all-that-is-whatever-that-might-be) I am starting to think that it may be better for everyone and everything that exists if antibiotic resistant microbial plagues were to remove the human race from the equation. Collectively, we are too stupid and too powerful to be allowed to roam free.


In Israel, Religious Groups Opposed Batsheva Dance Company Dress

Dance is no stranger to controversy, but quarrels over meaning in a wordless art have rarely taken on the aura of a national crisis, which was the case last week in Israel when esthetics and politics clashed during a jubilee program celebrating the country's 50th anniversary.

On one side of the dispute was an internationally acclaimed Israeli experimental choreographer whose work, easily labeled post-modernist, uses ambiguity as a hallmark and invites interpretations from the viewer.

On the other were representatives of religious parties who interpreted his choreography for the Batsheva Dance Company more literally than would dancegoers conditioned to a contemporary esthetic that makes form as important as content.

The issue boiled over on Thursday, when the company, Israel's premier modern-dance troupe, did not appear on the program as scheduled. Ohad Naharin, Batsheva's artistic director and choreographer, had resigned after government officials bowed to objections to his dance piece on the program; the protests came from the ultra-Orthodox deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Haim Miller, and two religious parties.

Although Batsheva performed the same segment at "Art of the State: Israel at 50," a festival in March at the John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, the religious parties objected to the idea that male and female dancers at this national celebration would be performing in undershirts and shorts.

No nudity was involved, but Naharin was pressed by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have the dancers appear in long underwear. Even President Ezer Weizman summoned Naharin, 45, and, using the Yiddish word for long underwear, urged him not to make waves. "He told me, so let them wear gatkes," Naharin said.

Naharin, who is Israeli-born, said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv that he had been made to understand that the future of Batsheva, a state- subsidized group, was endangered.

Naharin said he agreed to the long johns so as "not to hurt the company" but resigned on Thursday before the gala as a statement of principle. His dancers withdrew from the program in solidarity.

"It would be comic if it were not so horrible," he said. "There is so much hatred, and I'm not talking about any particular group. We were caught in the crossfire."

Age-old questions of censorship and sensitivity had resurfaced, this time in a highly volatile context. Despite the specific Israeli circumstances of a dispute that made national headlines, the basic issue is one of how dance should be understood.

"If I could write it, I wouldn't have to dance it," Isadora Duncan reportedly said. More to the point is a tenet of Martha Graham, who assisted her longtime patron, Baroness Bethsabee (Batsheva) de Rothschild, in founding the Batsheva troupe in 1964. "Dance does not represent," Graham said. In short, it is not a depiction of something other than itself.

That does not mean a dance work cannot have a subject, but that how to read it or what to read into it is the issue. The choreography that Batsheva was to have performed at the gala could be interpreted as a critique of conformity, deliberately expressed in abstract terms.

Those who were offended apparently viewed it as an attack on Orthodox Jews; Naharin was told that because his dancers wore black suits onstage before they stripped to their underwear, the performers might be viewed as Hasidim.

During its recent United States tour, Batsheva performed this segment in two versions. As an excerpt from "Kyr," which was commissioned by the Israel Festival in 1990, it had the dancers start out in khaki shirts and shorts. In Washington, the segment was part of a full-evening piece, "Anaphase," and the dancers wore the black suits. A viewer told Naharin they looked like stockbrokers.

Whatever the interpretation, the choreography does not use gestures but focuses on permutations of movement in repetitive structures common to minimalist dance and music. Some might see the dance primarily as an exercise in geometric progression or cumulative movement.

The dancers repeat each sequence and add to it. A song like "The 12 Days of Christmas" does the same, as does the song that accompanies the dancers.

This is the last song of the Passover seder, "Achad Mi Yodea" ("Who Knows One"), which repeatedly refers to God as One. Naharin uses the joyful music for a celebratory climax. As the dancers, originally dressed alike and seated on chairs, spring up to begin a new sequence and throw off their outer garments, the pure-movement patterns suggest a metaphor: conformity is discarded, individuality is asserted.

If not all can agree on this as a message, there is no doubt that Naharin's style, favoring a high-energy natural look that excites through its very physicality, has put Batsheva back on the international dance map. After Baroness de Rothschild founded a second troupe, Bat-Dor, Batsheva went into decline in the 1980s.

Naharin, once a dancer in Martha Graham's company, revitalized Batsheva when he became artistic director in 1990.

The day after the Jerusalem gala, he agreed to return as director because of expressions of support from Mayor Roni Milo of Tel Aviv, members of parliament and his board.

The incident underscores how dance, because it evokes rather than states, can become part of a political agenda. One was reminded of how Graham's 1962 "Phaedra" led two members of Congress, Edna Kelly and Peter Frelinghuysen, to protest the Graham company's tour under State Department auspices.

"Phaedra," they said, was too erotic to be financed by federal money. As Frelinghuysen said, "We couldn't make it out, but the import was clear." Maybe not.

Tuesday, May 5, 1998
Copyright 1998 The New York Times


The views and opinions stated within this web page are those of the author or authors which wrote them and may not reflect the views and opinions of the ISP or account user which hosts the web page.

Return to The Skeptic Tank's main Index page.

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank