Tel Aviv Topless Dancers Cover Up, Fearing Modesty-minded Culture Ministry

Inbal Dance Theater bars female dancers from appearing topless in 'Simple Dance' show, fearing loss of state funding. The ministry had said it would issue directives on modest dress and behavior at events it funds.

The Inbal Dance Theater perfoming 'Simple Dance.'
Tomer Zmora

The Tel Aviv-based Inbal Dance Theater has barred two of its female dancers from appearing topless, fearing it may lose financial support from the right-leaning Culture and Sports Ministry.

The change was made last week for performances of “Simple Dance,” choreographed by Mor Shani, an Israeli now based in the Netherlands.

The work was performed at Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Center as part of the Diver dance festival. Sources at Inbal said the change, imposed a day before the premiere, was triggered by the concerns of top managers and board members, some of whom are religiously observant.

The male dancers were to be left wearing only their underwear, while two of the five female dancers were to be left topless. “It was undressing not for the sake of undressing or as some kind of statement, but as part of the work, not a fundamental part of it,” a male dancer told Haaretz.

The dance company declined to comment.

At the end of August, the ministry said it would issue directives on modest dress and behavior at events it funds, after a singer sparked controversy at a festival in Ashdod, where she performed in shorts, a bathing-suit top and an open shirt.

The second part of Inbal’s performance was due to include a 20- to 30-minute segment in which the dancers gradually took off their clothes. The nudity wasn’t initially included in the work but was added during the rehearsals, the male dancer said.

At a later stage, Inbal’s director Eldad Grupi and artistic director Dalia Chaimsky saw the rehearsals. Last Sunday, a day before the premiere at the Diver Festival, the company dropped the topless aspect.

“Arguments broke out in the company between the dancers and the director and the artistic director,” said one male dancer.

Inbal is considered a multidisciplinary ethnic dance theater. Last year it received 1.5 million shekels ($400,000) from the Culture Ministry as a folk troupe, not a dance troupe.

The Inbal Dance Theater performing 'Simple Dance.'
Tomer Zmora

Shani, who has been working for a decade in the Netherlands and was invited to have the premiere of “Simple Dance” performed with the company, told Haaretz the work wasn’t marred by the lack of nudity.

“It’s something Israeli, political, a general thing and I’m surprised by it. But I wouldn’t let my work be marred, and it hasn’t been marred,” he said.

“From the moment they began talking about the nudity, I understood that it was an Israeli thing. I haven’t been here for nine and a half years. I work in Holland. I’m not part of this discussion.”