Crossing Lines

Culture, Dance Add comments

Last weekend, BFF Debra, the lovely Reney, and I went to see Batsheva Dance Company‘s production of Deca Dance, a “greatest hits” compilation of some of the best work choreographed by the company’s Artistic Director Ohad Naharin over the past ten years, already performed at the Spoleto Festival in 2007 and the Edinburgh Festival in 2008.  Although Batsheva, founded in the 1960s by Martha Graham and the Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild and based in Tel Aviv, is one of the most important, pre-eminent arts organizations in the world, continuously travelling and presenting in the world’s cultural capitals, it’s last show in Chicago was a very long 15 years ago.   So their two-show performance schedule last weekend was quite the treat for Chicago’s cultural cognoscenti.  And it was quite the performance – the troupe of 17 dancers displayed both jaw-dropping technique and evocative emotion in seven complex numbers, from the energetic, mesmerizing opening number “Anaphaza” (also being performed by Hubbard Street Chicago as part of their repertoire) in which they performed intense, synchronized moves in a “wave”-like fashion until they feverishly removed their clothes, to the 35 minute excerpt from the modern ballet “Three” which seemed to be a reflection and commentary on young adult life in Israel.  Deca Dance was world-class performing arts at its best, and I gave the group a sincere, well-deserved standing ovation at curtain call.  Before we entered the Auditorium Theatre, though, we had to get through a pretty sizable phalanx of Chicagoans with signs, passed-out leaflets, bullhorns, and drums protesting against Israel and expressing support for Palestine.  Regardless of what I personally feel about the Middle East conflict, I thought crossing those protesters’ lines was quite jarring and discomfiting.  I don’t think the majority of the audience members bought tickets to Deca Dance expecting to encounter a political event prior to taking their seats in the theater.  We weren’t there to be political, we were there to view the work of a globally-acclaimed, extremely-talented, culturally-significant arts group.  Sure, the playwright Tony Kushner and other artists have said that all art ultimately is political (and Naharin’s work has admittedly political overtones, some subtle, some not-so), but from a paying audience member’s point of view, was it appropriate for the protesting groups to confront us in such an in-your-face fashion?  Were they merely trying to raise consciousness of their cause and their opinions, or were they also implicitly indicting us, attempting to extend our support of the art, of the work, to a support of the arts organization’s politics?  I respect the right of the protesting groups’ to demonstrate outside of the Auditorium Theatre, and we’re very fortunate to live in a country where they have the freedom to do so, but were they fair to the audience members?  Shouldn’t audiences be allowed to embrace the art, de-coupled from its politics? 

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