Anytime you see the Batsheva Dance Company in performance, you can pretty fairly expect a gut-wrencher, a blasphemy without words. It's a trademark of the Tel Aviv troupe's leader, Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. But last Saturday, audience members entering YBCA's Novellus Theater encountered a few surprises.
Among them, we found Naharin's work Max to be as low-key as anything in his repertory. My gut nearly went unwrenched. But even before we entered the theater at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts — no kidding — we got protesters! Protesting a dance show!
I was handed a leaflet advocating the boycott of Batsheva, citing the group's failure to condemn the persecution of Palestinians as complicity in “Israeli apartheid.” As “Israel's best known ambassador of global Israeli culture,” quoth the leaflet, Batsheva is a marquee name for the Brand Israel campaign, active since 2005 or so. Apparently Israel has an image problem! The Israeli foreign ministry wants us look beyond its occupation (and worse) of the Palestinian territories. (Really though, “Brand Israel”? As propaganda goes … wow.)
Naturally, I asked four of the 10 or so protesters if they knew of Naharin's work, which is pretty clearly pro-human rights. Nada. God bless 'em, these folks turned out to be one hell of a way to kick off the night. Because Max needed a little social context to really pop. And because I can't deny that the protesters made some valid points. Though not about Naharin.