Dances With Partial Nudity Stripped of Funding by Israel's Culture Ministry

The performances at Jerusalem International Dance Week feature exposed female breasts, but Israel's Deputy Attorney General argues Culture Minister Miri Regev has no legal authority to withhold funding due to a work's content

From “The Restlessness of Winged Creatures.”
Efrat Mazor

The Culture Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality will not support three performances in Jerusalem International Dance Week, which begins Tuesday, because they feature partial nudity.

The measure conflicts with the position of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit regarding government support for cultural events that include nudity.

In a related matter, according to various sources the Culture Ministry intervened in a number of works presented this month in the Curtain Up Dance Festival, a forum for independent choreographers organized by the ministry.

In response to a query by Haaretz, Mendelblit said that both incidents would be investigated.

Jerusalem International Dance Week is an annual event produced by Machol Shalem Dance House, an umbrella organization for independent dance artists in the capital. In 2016 the Culture Ministry allocated 240,000 shekels ($68,400) to the festival, which attracts the heads of leading dance festivals from around the world to watch Israeli dancers and ensembles. This year’s festival runs from November 28 to December 7.

Black Velvet-Architectures And Archetypes
REBECCA STELLA

Among this year’s 28 performances are three that on the festival’s website appear with an asterisk noting that they include partial nudity and are not supported by the Culture Ministry and the municipality. The three are “Black Velvet – Architectures and Archetypes,” by Shamel Pitts, at the Leo Model Hall on December 3; “The Restlessness of Winged Creatures,” created and performed by Adi Shildan and Nir Vidan, scheduled for December 3 at the Karnaf Hall; and “Body View,” created and performed by Maayan Cohen Marciano, scheduled for December 4 at the Karnaf Hall. All three include exposed female breasts and have been shown in the past in other frameworks.

Machol Shalem director Ruby Edelman told Haaretz that the Culture Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality asked the festival management to note in the program that they do not extend support to performances that include nudity. Nevertheless, Edelman said, Machol Shalem distributes funding equally. “We respected this request, but we support any performance as long as it ... meets the criteria of artistic and professional quality.”

With regard to the note in the program, Nir Vidan, one of the choreographers and performers of “Restlessness of the Winged Creatures” said: “It’s not clear what this sentence means except for the provocation it causes. I and my partner Adi Shildon end the performance with both of us exposing our upper bodies, and we were not asked to hide the nudity ahead of the festival. Our work is not provocative and the place of the nudity has its reason,” Vidan added.

The withholding of funding from performances with nudity is opposed to the attorney general’s position on the matter, according to a white paper submitted by Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber with regard to nudity in a performance in the Israel Festival. After Culture Minister Miri Regev threatened to not to support such performances, Zilber made clear that Regev does not have the authority to withhold funding due to a work’s content, and to do so would have no legal standing.

The Jerusalem municipality responded: “The municipality supports institutions and cultural events in keeping with professional criteria. Accordingly, the city financially supports Dance Week and some of the planned events are not funded by the Culture Ministry or by municipal funding.”

The Culture Ministry responded: “The festival is supported by the ministry. The content of the performances is not determined by the ministry. The festival informed the ministry that nude performances would not be within the framework of the activity supported by the Culture and Sports Ministry or the Jerusalem municipality.”

Curtain Up is organized by the Culture Ministry’s department for the promotion of young choreographers. This year it included 11 performances and was held in Kibbutz Gaaton, Dimona, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, for the first time not as part of the Jerusalem Festival. Its artistic directors, Matey Moray and Itzik Galili, were ministry appointees. Various sources told Haaretz that ministry officials intervened directly and indirectly in the content of events that featured partial nudity.

In some cases, both the officials and the artistic directors asked that nude body parts, which included male buttocks and female breasts, be covered. “The artistic directors are a link in the chain and this was not necessarily their initiative,” one source said. Others said the artistic directors did not show solidarity with the dancers. Moray and Galili have not yet responded to Haaretz’s request for a comment.

The Culture Ministry responded: “Curtain Up is the ministry’s flagship project to encourage dance premiers. The creations presented were in keeping with modesty. ... The content was approved by the project’s artistic management and therefore any claim of pressures ... by the ministry is divorced from reality.”

The Attorney General’s Office said in a response that it was not familiar with the matter but that it would now be examined.