UPDATED: 22 NOV
The Batsheva Dance Company performed the first of three performances at London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre Monday evening.
This Israeli dance ensemble receives funding from the Israeli government and is seen as part of ‘Brand Israel’ – a propaganda attempt by the Apartheid State to whitewash their war crimes and atrocious human rights record by showing Israel’s prettier face to the world.
In London, an Israeli Dance Company was facing protests tonight over the crisis in Gaza. Demonstrators were planning to march from the Israeli Embassy in Kensington to Sadler’s Wells where the Batsheva Dance Ensemble was due to perform. Eleven UK performances have been interrupted, with the Islington dance venue the target for the next three nights as campaigners accuse the company as acting as a “cultural fig leaf for the atrocities.”
Arriving at 7:15, the first thing noticeable aside from the large police presence was the very long queue that snaked up the street and around the corner. Ticket holders expressed relief when it was announced that the sold-out show, scheduled to begin at 7:30 pm was postponed until 8:00 pm, as it was impossible for everyone to be seated in such a short space of time.
About 400 pro-Palestinian protesters were directly across the street shouting: “YOUR TICK-ETS ARE COV-ERED IN PALESTINIAN BLOOD!” and “HEY-HEY, HO-HO, THE OCCUPATION HAS GOT TO GO!” A large white trailer parked in front of the theatre partially obstructed the protester’s view of the queue. Further up the road penned in quite a distance away was a much smaller group of Zionist counter-protestors who were outnumbered by their Israeli flags and according to the police, left as soon as the performance began.
Working the queue was Jonathan Hoffman trying to save face after losing his position as Zionist Federation Co Vice-Chair, as well as the equally repulsive Martin Sugarman who positioned himself at the entrance to the theatre, both distributing flyers while desperately on the lookout for pro-Palestinian trouble-makers and thus prevent the performance from being disrupted by human rights activists.
Hoffman was so busy thrusting flyers at everyone and arguing – even with fellow Zionists – that he passed a group of people in the queue that he should have recognised and Sugarman was in a stupor after being told off by a police constable for loitering. There were also several pro-Palestinian campaigners who were distributing their Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid full colour flyers (below) and others publicising Saturday’s national demonstration for Gaza.
In the lobby of Sadler’s Wells, there was a battery of security guards behind tables, frantically checking bags that often tested the patience of those waiting.
It was gratifying to see ticket holders experience both the inconvenience and indignity of what thousands of Palestinians are forced to endure at checkpoints every single day. Also it was nice to know that the money to pay for all this additional security has to come from somewhere – hopefully out of Batsheva’s pocket!
After a quick inspection by one of the guards and being allowed to pass into Sadler’s Wells foyer, there was an usher handing these out, something you don’t see every day:
Inside the auditorium there were dozens of stern-looking security staff and ushers who were positioned by every exit. Everyone knew something was going to happen and a feeling of anxiety permeated the audience.
In a way, this too was gratifying, because the audience – and no doubt the dancers and crew – were also feeling anxious, not knowing what will happen which is a common occurence for many Palestinians: A house demolished, homelessness, an olive grove uprooted, sewage dumped into a water supply, arrest, administrative detention, torture and even death.
The draconian security arrangements inside the theatre included a complete ban on the use of mobile phones and during the interval, a guard was overheard saying he was going to kick out someone who was continuously texting.
Sure enough, it wasn’t that long after the performance began when a group of activists started shouting: “FREE, FREE PALESTINE!” After some screaming and yelling, they were quickly ushered out while the performance continued.
What was also worth mentioning about the performance was a highly charged militaristic dance sequence featuring female dancers in marching formation. Given the current political climate, not in the best of taste.
Minutes later, another disruption: A voice shouted out “FREE PALESTINE!” Security guards and ushers waving torches ran past. More screaming, shouting and clapping.
After the interval, a female voice, close by, shouted: “END ISRAELI OCCUPATION!” Turning around, I saw that the guards had to struggle and had a hard time removing her. One later said to an usher that she had a scarf that was tied or wrapped around her seat which made her more difficult to remove.
At the start of the question & answer session held after the performance, it was made clear that any questions answered would only be about the company and not other issues associated with the tour. Ohad Naharin, the Artistic Director, boasted that some of the dancers were Spanish, Japanese and American (but of course not one dancer was Palestinian). During the company’s appearance in Edinburgh, a woman was shouted down by the audience for daring to ask a question about Israeli Government funding.
So much for questions and answers.
It was at that point we left disgusted, thinking how anyone with a molecule of conscience could remain passive while sitting through one of the most nauseating spectacles ever.
A news report from Monday
Soprano Deborah Fink was one of the people who disrupted Tuesday’s performance. As was the case on Monday, the performance was halted while security staff removed the protesters.
As part of the show, a voice said, among other things, ‘Ignore Beethoven’, so I just had to sing ‘Ode to Boycott’ again, (Sung to the tune of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’: “Israel end your occupation, there’s no peace on stolen land) – the parody with which we disrupted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at last year’s prom!
Within seconds, security guards yanked me out of my seat and whisked me off down the stairs. They took me so fast that my feet barely touched the ground – am not joking. But I carried on singing the Ode, as well as I could, under the circumstances, as well as slogans in operatic recitative style.
I’d been in the upper dress circle so I had 3 flights of stairs to go down.
Ten minutes later, two more women emerged having unfurled a colourful banner bearing the words, “Israel dances while Gaza burns.”
One of them, Teresa said:
I took this action to give a voice to the Palestinian people whose culture is silenced.
Fellow Londoner Anne said her message was, “Remember the blood of Gaza” and “Brand Israel off the stage.”
Compared to the over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters who turned up on the second evening, the Zionist counter-protesters numbered just four.
AND ON WEDNESDAY…
Around 20 minutes into Wednesday’s performance, a Palestinian student from Ramallah unfurled a Palestinian flag and called out: “Stop the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” and brought to a halt the performance while he was removed.
A second protester, Georgie, held up a banner declaring: “Israel dances while Gaza burns”. She later said:
“People were sitting watching dancers while the country that sends them is slaughtering innocent Palestinians, stealing their land and bulldozing their homes,”
The theatre’s chief executive and artistic director Alistair Spalding refused to meet academics from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) who had asked to discuss the invitation to Batsheva with him.
Batsheva’s next and final leg of its UK tour is Plymouth where they can expect more of the same on the 23rd and 24th Nov.