The Buzz, 12-30: Living in the Light
Give peaceful response a chance; 24 hours in a room with David Dorfman; Lit-up by Loie Fuller
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2008 Paul Ben-Itzak
(Publisher's Note: The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Dance Insider institutionally, its other writers or staff, or its advertisers.)
With 345 Palestinians killed and an additional 1,450 wounded by three days of Israeli bombing of the densely populated Gaza strip as of Monday evening, at least half of them civilians including five children killed while sleeping in their home, Israel saying the strikes are a reprisal for Hamas rocket fire on Israel, and Hamas having been ready to renew a ceasefire had Israel lifted a blockade of food and other vital supplies that was slowly draining the life out of Gaza's 1.5 million residents, it's appropriate to ask whether Israeli dance companies should be subjected along with other cultural and academic institutions to an internationally recognized peaceful means of resistance and protest: The boycott. And while one company should not be singled out over another -- just as dance should not be singled out over other cultural institutions -- an ongoing North American tour by Israel's leading troupe, Ohad Naharin's Batsheva, scheduled to culminate in March at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, makes the question even more pressing and prescient.
On Sunday I asked regular Dance Insider contributor Omar Barghouti, a Jerusalem-based freelance choreographer, cultural analyst, and founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (www.PACBI.org), to reiterate the justification for including dance companies in this overall boycott.
"PACBI, including I, call for boycotting ALL Israeli dance companies due to their complicity," Barghouti explained. "None of them has ever taken a position calling for an end to the occupation, not to mention recognizing UN-sanctioned rights of the refugees or ending racial discrimination against the state's 'non-Jewish' citizens (the remaining indigenous population).
"A dancer here or there may say things here or there, but none of their groups has ever taken a position. This is complicity.
"Also, none of them has ever challenged reserve service in the occupation army, despite the fact that punishment for doing so is minimal in Israel (unlike Germany in the '30s, say). This is an even deeper level of complicity. Those same dancers are part-time occupation soldiers, manning roadblocks, protecting colonies, evacuating homes and demolishing them, killing children and letting pregnant women die at checkpoints by preventing ambulances [from passing through], letting young bleeding youth bleed to death without medical aid, etcetera. What a bunch of liberal dancers! And what do their institutions do? Nothing." [Indeed, in October 2006, as cited by MIchelle J. Kinnucan in the web-based magazine Electronic Intifada, Naharin told Dance Magazine that two of the dancers in his junior company were Israeli soldiers.] (To read a related article by Barghouti in these pages, click here.)
In addition to PACBI, international organizations and individuals supporting a boycott include UN general assembly president Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (on Monday, Israel bombed the Islamic University of Gaza as well as the culture ministry -- exactly how are these centers of Hamas power?), renowned art critic John Berger, choreographer Ornelia D'Agostino, composer Brian Eno, dancer/choreographers Serene Huleileh and Zkynap Tanbay, dancer and musician Magdalene Joly, movement artist Rainer Knupp, dancer Maria Munoz Guillen, writers Eduardo Galeano and Arundati Roy, and filmmaker Elia Suleiman.
Here's part of how Berger explained the international artists' joining the boycott, already subscribed to by a myriad of Palestinian artists and artistic and civil organizations:
"Boycott is not a principle. When it becomes one, it itself risks to become exclusive and racist. No boycott, in our sense of the term, should be directed against an individual, a people, or a nation as such. A boycott is directed against a policy and the institutions which support that policy either actively or tacitly. Its aim is not to reject, but to bring about change."
Do Israeli dance companies fit this definition, and can they thus be fairly included in a boycott? Here's what Stephan Laurent-Faesi, a professor of dance at an American university, says: "As much as the current actions of the Israeli regime are abhorrent to me, I have made up my mind a while ago that boycotts of unrelated organisms (i.e. not involved in the reprehensible actions) are only an extension of punishing the many for the actions of the few, and therefore just continue to perpetrate injustice. A commercial boycott I could support (e.g. refusing to book passage on El Al or vacation tours to the 'Holy Land,' or refusing to buy Israeli-grown strawberries); a cultural boycott seems wrong-headed to me. On the other hand, an appeal to Israeli artists to raise their voices in opposition to the Guernica moment of Israel could be far more effective."
I almost agreed with Laurent-Faesi, until I realized that indeed, the question is not whether Israeli dance companies and other artistic institutions should be singled out for boycotting, but why, if boycotting is a proven useful tool of *non-violent* opposition and resistance, dance companies should get a special pass. G-d knows that, notwithstanding a long history of political activism by some -- dating back at least, in the States, to the New Dance Group's incipient efforts in the '30s demonstrating against Franco -- artists too often are perceived, often with accuracy, as holding themselves aloof from events around them. So I see no reason to treat them specially here.
But let's accept that an Israeli dance artist could exempt him or herself from being boycotted by forcefully opposing his or her country's violent actions. To what degree, then, has Ohad Naharin -- Israel's most internationally visible dance artist and thus arguably the least vulnerable to destructive backlash -- done this? I've been monitoring Naharin's statements for more than two years now, both here on the Dance Insider and in other publications, and while he's been willing to criticize his country, he doesn't volunteer it; you have to ask. I find no reports of him going out of his way to condemn X or Y Israeli action -- be it the invasion of Lebanon, the construction of a Wall which disrupted Palestinian economic and social life, the blockade of Gaza, the ultimate refusal by Israel to accept the Palestinians' rights to democratically elect their own government, the ongoing aggressive settlement activity, the repeated killing of children, forceful evictions, destruction, and repossession of homes or other collective punishments. Nothing. True, when pressed, he's used a term as strong as 'war crimes' but without any specificity.
What would I have Naharin say? In my dream world he would get up on stage before each and every of the company's upcoming performances over the next two months in Houston, Purchase (NY), Princeton, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Columbus (OH), Ottawa, Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn and take his cue from Berger, who sent out this plaintive cry Sunday:
"We are now spectators of the latest -- and perhaps penultimate -- chapter of the 60-year-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. About the complexities of this tragic conflict billions of words have been pronounced, defending one side or the other.
"Today, in (the) face of the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the essential calculation, which was always covertly there, behind this conflict, has been blatantly revealed. The death of one Israeli victim justifies the killing of a hundred Palestinians. One Israeli life is worth a hundred Palestinian lives.
"This is what the Israeli State and the world media more or less -- with marginal questioning -- mindlessly repeat. And this claim, which has accompanied and justified the longest Occupation of foreign territories in 20th century European history, is viscerally racist. That the Jewish people should accept this, that the world should concur, that the Palestinians should submit to it -- is one of history's ironic jokes. There's no laughter anywhere. We can, however, refute it, more and more vocally.
"Let's do so."
"Visceral" is an interesting word. In its Spring season release, BAM describes the dance companies it's featuring -- including Batsheva -- as "visceral." I had a visceral reaction to this photo (the second from the bottom of the page) of Israeli soldiers lighting a Chanuka menorah and happily chanting as they massed on the Gaza border preparing for an operation which will inevitably kill more innocent civilians. Why? Well, what's Chanukah about? Chanukah commemorates how the Macabees, after driving the Romans from the Temple, discovered they only had enough sacred olive oil left to light the menorah for one day, but somehow, miraculously, made the one day's provision last for eight. (Some latter-day Palestinians might not even have one olive's worth; Israel has also been known to wantonly chop down Palestinian-owned olive orchards.) Faced with an Israeli blockade that prevents them from getting provisions -- food, oil, medical supplies, etcetera -- and short on miracles, the Gaza Palestinians devised a series of tunnels from Egypt so that they could at least get some supplies in. (Were they also being used to smuggle in arms? I don't know. But Israel could easily have obviated this raison d'etre by lifting the blockade.) As the Israelis in this picture celebrated the provision miracle of an earlier time, their airborne compatriots were bombing the tunnels that were the last lifeline of the Gaza residents to smithereens.
As a person of Jewish heritage, I'm ashamed at the lack of shame that this photo depicts. I'm ashamed that a nation which banks on being 'the Jewish State' for so much -- chiefly the deadly green lights from American officials of both main political parties in the misapprehension that Jews like me look at Israel as our country right or wrong -- has, as a state, lost any sense of Jewish values.
A few years ago, the American choreographer William Forsythe saw a photo of terrorist violence and carnage in Pakistan. The location didn't matter; the photo provoked in him a visceral reaction that lead to an artistic visceral response in the form of a ballet that implicitly if not directly condemned his country of origin's invasion of Iraq.
The occasional journalist-prompted breast-beating aside, Ohad Naharin has yet to issue anything close to this kind of response to what his nation has perpetrated and is perpetrating as I speak, a deadly campaign which could most charitably be described as a disproportionate so-called 'defensive' attack in which the death of one Israeli is seen to justify the deaths of 100 Palestinians, the sick equation nailed by John Berger. (Or worse; tally Monday evening European time: 345 Palestinians, two Israelis.)
This is Ohad Naharin's right.
But it is not the kind of demonstrated conscience and consciousness that would get him a get-out-of-boycott-free card, at least in my book.
Blinded by the Light
Well dance insiders, I know that the last thing I need after that last item is more enemies, but I can't resist: (All in fun!)
If I say, picture yourself in a room with a post-post-modern dancer wearing a blindfold and ear-plugs and liberty to improvise non-stop for 24 hours, you might well ask, who's the victim and who's the torturer here? (Thud.) On the other hand, there are certain post- and especially post-post-modern choreographers I'd love to get in a locked room blindfolded and ear-plugged. (Thud encore.)
But seriously folks: Just when I was about to fall flat on my hypocritical butt -- hey, it's 2009, I'm 47 years old, I'm still the boss for the moment and we don't have any more advertisers anyway, can't I just say 'ass'? -- in the middle of the last item over the refute that if I'd boycott Israeli dance companies for not opposing what their country's doing, why wouldn't I boycott Yank troupes for what we've done to Iraq, to the rescue comes Miguel Gutierrez and the powerful post-post-moderns! These would be choreographer-dancers in, at last count, 31 states plus the District of Columbia who will spend the last 24 hours of the year reprising Gutierrez's 2001 "performance/protest/ritual" (quotes not meant to be sarcastic) "Freedom of Information." The original was performed by the author seven years ago as a response to the U.S.-lead invasion of Afghanistan; this one has as target, so to speak, that one plus the war on, excuse me with, excuse me in Iraq. (Am I fired yet, Boss?) Each choreo will perform non-stop from midnight December 30 -- hey, that's tonight! -- to midnight December 31 while blindfolded and ear-plugged which, says Gutierrez, "is intended as a contemplative act of solidarity with those displaced by the wars.... Moving continuously for 24 hours throughout the space of her/his choosing in a sensory-deprived state, the performer meditates on the dislocation and disorientation of those who do not have the basic right of being safe for the duration of a single day, who instead must be continuously on the move because of the threat of violence." (To say nothing of homeless people, especially in these hard days of Winter.) To find out where to check the performance in your neck of the woods -- for as long or short as you want, and for free -- check here.
Lit-up by Loie or, freedom of inebriation
I don't know about you, dance insider, but moi, after 24 hours in a room with a blind-folded ear-plugged David Dorfman (he's in charge of Connecticut, btw; bring on the Light Brigade!), I'd be ready for a Loie Fuller! What's a Loie Fuller, you ask? Besides being the pre-modern, pre-Momix American who dazzled Paris toward the end of the 19th century, literally lighting up the Folies Bergere in my old neighborhood with her luminous, light-infused and swirling gowns when Josephine Baker was still but a gleam in her parents' eyes and Moses Pendleton not even a speck in the universe? What's a Loie Fuller besides all that? I direct you to page 78 of "Le Barman Universel" (Flammarion, Paris, 1969, a very good year), by one P. Dagouret, the former director of the association of maitres d'hotel of the Paris region, who must have misplaced the rest of the letters in his first name when he tried the following:
The Loie Fuller
The principal is to pour a few drops of each bottle in the glass penché (er, the glass, not you; forgot for a second that I'm addressing dancers), without mixing them, in such a fashion that each color is clearly visible.
Here's the order currently followed by the expert hands of our barmen (NB: I actually prefer the current term: 'baristas'):
1. Groseille syrup (groseilles are kind of like cranberries)
2. Cassis (a.k.a. liquor of red currents)
3. Anisette (i.e. pastis)
4. Curacao rouge
5. Maraschino (did you know that maraschinos are the one thing that will still be in your stomach when you're dead? As for dead drunk, which is where I'd already be headed at this point in the recipe, dunno.)
6. Menthe verte
7. Menthe blanche
8. Fraisette (probably strawberry liquor)
9. Prunelle (prune, either liquor or eau de vie, not sure)
10. Cordial-medoc (no doubt a cordial from the Medoc region)
11. Kummel OO (no idea but sounds dangerously like 'pummeled,' which is how I'd feel at this point)
12. Cherry brandy
13, Imperial mandarine (I'd be that high right about now)
14. Kummel Wolfschmidt (what Kummel OO turns into if he's still standing at 14)
15. Chartreuse verte (the color I'd be turning)
16. Benedictine (she looks good now too)
17. Cointreau (also a key ingredient in the famous Cosmo, which you'd be wishing you'd stuck to)
18. Grande fine champagne (to cleanse what's left of the palette)
One can, as needed (P. Dagouret goes on), modify the names of the liquors (n'importe quoi!) without breaking the law (driving is another question), but for this case only. Besides, this blasé drink goes in the same bag as the "Barman's cocktail." (I know, I know, you or me would hardly be blasé about imbibing a concoction like this, but that's what it says, really!) See under "cocktails." (Who's seeing anymore?)
The other great thing about ordering a Loie Fuller, of course, is that before getting lit up like Loie you get to teach your barman dance history -- your history, dance insider.
Cheers or as the French say,
Tchin (which is what I'm getting up off of)
PS: Btw, if you're not one of the choreographers confined to a room for 24 hours tomorrow night and plan to be out galavanting in the harsh Winter air, think about bringing your Loie Fuller with you in a handy Fanny Elssler glass whisky flask, Fanny's memorable U.S. tour of 1840-1842 winning her a full-length spot on the portrait bottles then in vogue, according to Cyril Beaumont in his "A Miscellany for Dancers." (Dance Horizons, 1981.)
Happy New Year!