Should Companies Be Blamed for the Policies of the Governments That Support Them?
The United States has never had a strong tradition of government support for the arts. But we take what we can get and, since its founding in 1965, American artists have gratefully accepted whatever the National Endowment for the Arts is willing and able to give. Though the NEA has at times been aggressively politicized, for the most part, we have maintained a delicate separation of art and state.
There's a general understanding that this government support doesn't translate to endorsements of specific policies or a specific administration, nor is it a calculated attempt to distract from them. If funding came with such strings attached, surely many American artists would think twice about accepting it.
Yet when the Batsheva Dance Company, Israel's premier dance troupe, comes to the U.S. this spring, it will be met by its many fans and, in some places, boisterous protests as in years past. The protestors oppose Israeli government policy and believe that Batsheva is guilty by association. They convey this message through signs wielded outside venues, flyers handed to arriving audience members and, occasionally, by interrupting performances. It has become an almost expected part of any Batsheva tour.
But why target a dance company? What does Batsheva have to do with Israel's geopolitical conflicts? The protestors, who tend to be locally organized members of the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, see Batsheva as a tool of the Israeli government's efforts to distract from political controversies, such as the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They argue that because Batsheva receives about 30 percent of its budget from the government, it is complicit with current Israeli government policies, as well as with Israel's branding efforts to make audiences look the other way.
Responding in news articles and interviews, Ohad Naharin, the company's renowned house choreographer, counters that the funding structure has been in place for decades and is independent of the policies of any particular government. The money comes from the taxpayers, he argues, and has long been earmarked for supporting the arts with no demands made of artists. Naharin is also an unabashedly outspoken critic of the current Israeli government, regularly stating that he sympathizes with the protestors' grievances, just not their methods and targets.
Why are other prominent international companies not receiving the same scrutiny as Batsheva? The Bolshoi Ballet, which was founded in 1776, has been supported by the Russian government for centuries (approximately 70 percent of its budget). At the moment, the U.S. has accused Russia of ongoing human rights violations and of meddling in our democratic process. And yet, when the Bolshoi pays a visit, there are no protestors to be found. The same goes for dance companies from Cuba, whose Communist government we officially oppose, and from China, who we have also called out for its problematic human rights practices.
In fact, we look to artists from Russia, Cuba and China to find the humanity in countries whose governments we may oppose. Welcoming these companies allows us to see people, not policies. And through this artistic exchange comes opportunities for dialogue and a deeper understanding of the complexities that every nation faces, both internally and in its relationship with the world.
The protests against Batsheva are so frequent and prominent because the BDS movement is a broad effort that advocates for boycotts against all things Israel. It really has nothing to do with Batsheva, yet Batsheva has gotten caught in its web. In other words, just as the protestors accuse the Israeli government of using Batsheva to further its aims, so too are the protestors using Batsheva to further theirs.
And it's working. If the goal is to get people to talk about Israeli policy, well, here we are, talking about Israeli policy. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. We should be connecting the dots between art and politics and the financial relationship between companies and their governments. If we see a troublesome trade-off at play—for example, government demands for loyalty, attempts at censorship or artists defending authoritarian regimes—we should hold those artists to task. But that's not the case with Batsheva.
And we should also apply our scrutiny consistently. Looking at ourselves in the mirror, we would then have to ask whether an American artist receiving a grant from the NEA today would, by extension, be associated with the actions of our current administration. Most artists would—rightly—balk at the idea. So if we continue to insist on more government funding for the arts at home and also value and assert the separation of art and state here, we should allow conscientious artists abroad the right to do the same.
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.