Batsheva show goes on in Birmingham despite protests

By Jennifer Lipman, November 14, 2012
Batsheva dancers

Batsheva dancers

Five anti-Israel activists were removed from the audience of the Birmingham Hippodrome after mounting vocal protests against Israel's Batsheva Ensemble during their performance.

Activists have arranged demonstrations outside the venues at all of the stops of the Dance Consortium arranged tour, including in Edinburgh, Brighton and Bradford. At each performance, they have also purchased tickets in order to shout out anti-Israel slogans during the show, in an attempt to disturb the dancers. However the Batsheva performers have consistently maintained their composure and their performances have mostly not stopped. Last night's performance was briefly halted while protesters were ejected shouting slogans such as "free free Palestine", "From the river to the sea Palestine will be free" and "Don't cross the picket, burn your ticket".

"The dancers just paused on stage and carried on amazingly – the audience was totally behind them," said one person who saw the show.

On Tuesday night, in the first of two performances in Birmingham, the disruptions were co-ordinated by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (Bricup), and by Sue Blackwell, the veteran anti-Israel academic and former lecturer in English at the University of Birmingham.

Before the show a group of supporters of the Batsheva performers also held a counter-demonstration.

In Brighton over the weekend it was a similar scene. "The pro-Palestine supporters were very aggressive and were shouting at people entering the show- remarks about Palestinian blood on their tickets," said a woman who attended a rally in solidarity with the dancers. There were also three disturbances during the show.

"The venue security staff moved very quickly and had the instigators removed instantly. Following the example set in Edinburgh and Manchester, this was to the applause and cheering of the audience supporting the performers and the removal of the trouble makers."

Although the second of the two originally scheduled Batsheva performances at the Brighton Dome was cancelled out of awareness for security requirements, the venue recorded the show and aired i t on the website, attracting nearly 1,000 views in one day, as well as holding a private screening.

The chief executive of the Brighton Dome, Andrew Comben, said freedom of expression was vital to the arts and vowed to continue to welcome artists from all over the world.

"We have a duty to ensure that our audiences have a safe and enjoyable experience," he said. "We are disappointed that their enjoyment of this company's work was disturbed on Friday evening."

Last updated: 10:13am, November 14 2012