In Win for BDS, Brian Eno Pulls Music From Israel’s Batsheva Dance Troupe

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Brian Eno, right, and his protege Ben Frost, May 31, 2011.
Brian Eno, right, and his protege Ben Frost, May 31, 2011.Credit: Bloomberg

British musician and composer Brian Eno pulled his music from a performance by the Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company on Tuesday, citing the Israeli Embassy’s cosponsoring of the event.

Batsheva, directed and choreographed by Ohad Naharin, performed its signature show “Three” at Turin’s Teatro Regio on the opening night of MiTo, an annual dance and music festival. The ensemble had planned to dance to a piece from Eno’s 1993 album “Neroli.”

But Eno, a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, demanded that the music be pulled, even though Batsheva had danced to it in the past. Eno sent a letter to Naharin that was published by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Eno said the use of his music in the show was “an unacceptable prospect” because of the embassy’s participation. At international events such as MiTo, governments sometimes help fund and promote their country’s artists.

While conceding that Naharin himself had “shown some sympathy to the Palestinian cause,” Eno warned him that the Israeli “government exploits artists like you, playing on your natural desire to keep working – even if it does mean becoming part of a propaganda strategy.”

Ohad Naharin, left, with director Tomer Heymann.Credit: Alon Shpransky

Naharin, who has been the artistic brains behind Batsheva for 25 years, is one of the most famous Israeli artists in the world. He has also taken a political stance; he has supported left-leaning activists such as the soldiers and ex-soldiers in the group Breaking the Silence. Still, he has spoken out about BDS demonstrations against both Batsheva and Israel, such as catcalls during performances.

Naharin responded to Eno at a festival event Monday; he called the musician’s decision a “lazy” and “useless” act.

“If boycotting my company would help the Palestinian people, then I would boycott my own show,” Naharin said. “If the boycott of my work could bring a peace treaty, I would be the happiest person in the world. But I know it would be useless,” he said at the event, where he presented Tomer Heymann’s documentary “Mr. Gaga” on Naharin’s choreography.

BDS activists protested before the screening. Meanwhile, Naharin substituted Eno’s piece with music by the Israeli Ohad Fishof. When Batsheva performs “Three” in Israel at the end of this month, it won’t be using Eno’s music either.

Back when Batsheva’s performance was announced, a pro-Palestinian group in Italy plastered Turin's center with posters urging the people to boycott the show under the slogan “Don’t dance with Israel!”

Batsheva Dance CompanyCredit: Moti Kimche

On its website, the group said its efforts had convinced Eno to pull his music, but Naharin was quoted in Italian newspapers as saying he had received the letter from Eno “a month ago.”

No disruption was reported after Tuesday’s performance. “Italians see politics and culture as two separate things,” Eldad Golan, the Israeli Embassy’s cultural attaché, told Haaretz in a phone conversation.

Writing in La Repubblica, which is considered moderately pro-Palestinian, critic Anna Bandettini sided with Batsheva against Eno. “The company has been using his music since 2005, yet until recently he didn’t seem to mind it at all,” she wrote.

Anna Momigliano reported from Milan, Gili Izikovich from Tel Aviv.

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