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Politics - Just Say No (Batsheva)

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Life imitated art imitating life at The Lowry two nights ago. Last month the theatre hosted Billy Cowan’s The Right Ballerina - an absurdist drama inspired by a real life incident where a dancer’s support for a right wing group led to disruptive protests at performances.

At The Lowry groups of people who probably don’t go to the theatre often are protesting that the sponsorship of the Batsheva Ensemble by the Israeli state creates a positive image of that state. The protests didn’t actually make much impact on the show – the protesters were segregated to prevent them interfering with audience entry.

But that’s not the point. As Cowan’s play made clear the protests aren’t aimed at the audience but at the sponsors and promoters of the show. Disruptions at performances draw attention to the cause of the protesters and off-set the positive image of the sponsors. The fact that the process could ruin shows to which the audience have been looking forward and have paid to see is neither here nor there.

Politics taints everything. You’d have thought that a mixed gender multinational dance company was a practical demonstration of a group working across boundaries and without prejudice. Yet the naivety of the company in getting involved, however tangentially, with politics may have damaged their reputation. The tactics of the protesters –dismissively treating the audience as collateral damage in a worthy cause- reflects the contempt that politicians show for their constituents. They know what’s good for us. If I want to be patronised I can always go and listen to my M.P.

The whole process made me feel that, where art is concerned, it is better to avoid politics if at all possible. This isn’t apathy; its rejection. I’ve done some research on playwrights but the intention was to improve my appreciation of their works rather than reveal their dirty secrets. Possibly unconsciously I’ve avoided finding out too much about modern writers in case greater awareness spoils my enjoyment of their work. At least judging things on their artistic merit can be consistent.

Politicians are notorious for changing their minds. Some years ago Ben Elton was a right-on comedian and the pop group Queen were perceived as supporters of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Now they work together. In a year or so the Czars of Fashion will probably decide its okay to support the Ensemble.

Mind you I should talk about consistency. My ‘don’t ask’ approach works only because I’m selfishly flexible so don’t deny myself the writings of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson just because their politics are dubious. But lesser writers don’t get forgiven. It’s hard to find P J O’Rourke funny once it’s clear that his public persona is the real thing.

This probably makes me a hypocrite. Fair enough. Leonard Cohen said that ‘We are ugly but we have the music’ Well I’m a hypocrite but I’ve got the music, plays and books and that’s a fair trade for avoiding politics.

- Dave Cunningham

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