Edinburgh Festival 2012: Protests Disrupt Batsheva Dance Company Performances
By Andrew Hough
Performances by a leading Israeli dance company at the Edinburgh Festival have been marred by activists “running amok”.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators managed to bring to a halt the performance of the Batsheva Dance Company on three separate nights during one of the country’s biggest arts festivals.
On the first occasion on Thursday night, several protesters unfurled placards and Palestinian flags and began hurling abuse at the performers.
As audience members clapped and booed, protesters shouted “Peace for Palestine” and “Your tickets are covered in Palestinian blood”. At least 10 people were ejected.
The Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat and Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub were reportedly among the audience members. The troupe are partly funded by the Israeli government and are viewed as cultural ambassadors for the state.
The performance was again disrupted at least four times on Friday night with six people ejected.
Then during their final performance on Saturday night, up to 20 protesters entered the Edinburgh Playhouse auditorium and “ran amok” during performance, forcing security staff to eject them at least nine times.
Witnesses reported that on each occasion the dancers stood stock still on stage, the curtain was lowered and the house lights brought up until the protesters were ejected.
At the end of their performance, the highly-regarded, ethnically diverse contemporary dance group was greeted with enthusiastic applause and standing ovations.
More than 200 protesters have also rallied outside the theatre and have been seen shouting abuse at patrons as they left. No arrests have been made.
One audience member told The Daily Telegraph: “A few audience members, including a group including several children, left after the first disruption but other than that the audience remained calm and seated.
“As we left the protesters simply screamed and yelled angrily, behind a line of police.”
The demonstration had been organized by the Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid campaign.
The Batsheva Dance Company and its junior company have 40 dancers drawn from Israel and abroad and tours extensively, with 250 shows annually.
During their three one-hour performances of “Hora”, they danced to a “mash up” including the Star Wars theme and music from Richard Wagner, the renowned German composer.
Leading up to the festival writers and artists including Iain Banks, Tom Leonard and Al Kennedy called for the festival’s artistic director Jonathan Mills to axe the Israeli dance troupe.
A festival spokeswoman said: “The festival supports freedom of expression and people’s right to protest.
“It welcomes constructive criticism, regularly facilitates debates and recognizes the right to peaceful and orderly protest in any public place including outside its theatres.
“Equally the festival defends the rights of all artists, irrespective of nationality, creed or culture to have their voices heard.”
She added: “There was some disruption in the auditorium but the show went on.
“We thank the audience for their patience and their support of the artists. And we thank the artists for their poise and their superb performance.”
Mrs Livnat told Israeli media: “The activists’ attempts to prevent Batsheva from performing and putting Israel’s fine culture on display have failed.”
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy added that was a “completely legitimate action of any democratic government to support culture”.
Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt said he regretted the attempt to disrupt them by a coalition of Scottish pro-Palestinian groups. A spokesman for the Tel Aviv-based dance troupe has not commented.
A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said a “proportionate policing operation” was put in place to “facilitate peaceful protest”.
“(We sought) to balance the rights of protestors with the rights of performers, audience members and the general public,” he added.
Police declined to provide a “heavy presence” within the theatre because it was felt it would unsette audience members.
The activists have announced plans demonstrate “at every Batsheva performance during their 8-city UK tour”, which will cover cities including London, Manchester, Bradford.
Last year pro-Palestinian protesters marred a performance of thee Proms at Royal Albert Hall in London.