Dance time

When did the prime minister and his cabinet last see a concert, a play, or a new Israeli movie?

Last Friday, I went to see Boobies, the new production by the Inbal Pinto Dance Company, directed by Avshalom Pollak. The Tel Aviv Center for the Performing Arts was crowded with young people, even very young people, who chose to spend Friday with one of Israels best dance troupes.

The performance, pleasing enough in and of itself, was particularly heartwarming under the circumstances. Youd think that, at a time like this, with battles raging, culture would fade away; well, here it was, holding its head high.

The flowering of dance in Israel is something special.Alongside troupes like the Batsheva Dance Company and the Kibbutz Dance Company, dozens of choreographers and hundreds of dancers are developing. Once a year, at the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater, when they feature their best productions, they achieve international exposure.

There is no ostensible reason for the blossoming of dance in Israel. We haveno dance tradition; the Jewish peoplehas never stood out in the art.Yet it's a fact thatIsraels artists are invited overseas, their creations are staged all over the world, and some of the worlds best dance troupes visit Israel.

The questionwill arise, how much does Israel invest in dance? When I was director-general of the Ministry of Science, Culture, and Sport, the budget for dance was NIS 20 million. This wasout of a total government budget for culture in Israel of NIS 447 million. That was all.

Former Minister of Science, Culture, and Sport Matan Vilnai fought as hard as he could for the eroded cultural budget. But the amazing thing is that it was not state support, but the power of creativity, and the sheer will and drive of peopleto express their imagination and vision in dance, that brought about the flowering of the art.

Yetthat NIS 447 million makes a huge difference. An abundant, full cultural life isa guaranteeoflively public debateandan arenaexpression of diverse views.Its a superb democratic means of preserving such aforum at a time of pseudo-consensus. I meannot merely political views, but human statementsthat come from the heart and reach the heart.

Culture is alsoan economic activity, since it leads people to consume. Even if the price of culture is low (though sometimes it can be too high), it still brings us out of our homes into the auditorium and the city square, injecting life and movement into places otherwisedeserted and terror-stricken.

Culture is also a Zionist act. In Israel, it has been a platform linking and uniting the diverse tribes living here, gradually and cautiously, and no longer by fiat imposed from above,creating the human infrastructurewith which everyone can connect. Culture also fully and perfectly preserves our people, both as a societyandasindividuals, in their effort to rise above everydaydistress, which has been and always will be with us,incomplex creative enterprise in all its variety. It seems to me a kind of miracle, because these things go against all logical expectations, but they still happen,and they have an effect.

The miracle is all the greater because the culture sprang from below, not from above. Its neither steered, nor motivated by a particular interest. Sometimes I wonder when the prime minister and his cabinet last saw a concert, a play, or a new, successful Israeli movie. When do they become a part of this cultural flow? Its not just a question of time, which is always lacking; its the desire to be in a place where these things are happening, even if no immediate, tangible political or other gains are to be made.

I also have in mind the Ministry of Finance officials, especially them, who are also the ones who determine the budget for culture. Ive asked myself more than once what cultural education they received, or are receiving, and whetherthose whose world is narrow and who do not take advantage ofthe marvelous cultural opportunitiesavailable to them can take the measure of the wealth and value that lie in culture. They are the ones who make the decisions that consign culture and those who create it to perpetual want.

In retrospect, when years have passed, this period will appear unusual and special. The situation has not only produced terrorism, blood, and suffering hitherto unknown; it has also fostered creativity and strength to the same degree. Someday historians will have to determine what forcesled Israeli society onward in its hardest hours, and where to.

Until then, one current political comment is unavoidable. I invite the political parties about to play up to the voters and ask for their votes to add culture to their list of promises. Few of these promiseswill be kept, of course, but perhaps the one about culture will.

Published by Globes [online] - - on November 17, 2002

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