As regular denizens of Oxford’s Centre for Political Ideologies (a research centre in the DPIR) know, unlike most branches of political theory and political philosophy, studying ideologies requires more than unpacking the canonical texts of great thinkers. Not always bad things (like totalitarianism or fundamentalism), ideologies occupy the space between ivory tower ideas and day-to-day politics and thus come in many forms – speeches, slogans and sermons. But even ideology-focused students, including your blogger, forget to look for political messages in more creative spaces. Like dance. Luckily this is what my Dphilling colleague Dana Mills, an accomplished dancer herself, focuses on most.
Dana always urges me to look at the similarities between my word heavy work on liberalism and the physical properties of an ideology that go along with it. So it was a pleasure to finally get a chance to hear about some of her research, which she presented a few days ago at Mansfield College’s Topical Symposium and Transitional Justice Seminar Series (for those of you at a loose end, she is giving a similar talk tonight in the DPIR, 17:00, seminar room D).
But for those of you too busy with exam revision, I asked Dana to sum up her talk at Mansfield, replete with a couple videos.
Politics in Spires: Hi Dana, what was the title of your paper?
The title is ‘Moving identities: reflection of the Israeli- German relationship in Israeli dance’.
Politics in Spires: Tell us a bit about it.
This paper comes out of a presentation I gave three years ago in my homeland of Israel, as part of a conference dealing with representations of the Israeli- German relationship in art. It was hosted by the History and Theory department of Bezalel, an important institution for the practice and study of aesthetics in Israel. [If you read Hebrew, you can read more about the presentation and paper here]
The paper starts from theoretical premises: identity and citizenship can be understood as interplay of discourses. Drawing on Rogers Smith’s “The American Creed and American Identity: the limits of liberal citizenship in the United States” (1988) and Yoav Peled and Gershon Shafir’s “Being Israeli: the dynamics of Multiple Citizenship” (2002) the paper seeks to scrutinise the dynamics between three prominent discourse in Israeli identity: ethno- national, liberal and republican.
The paper looks at three periods in the history of Israel, starting with its first decades, in which, it is argued, the republican discourse is the prominent one. As a case study John Cranko’s work for the Bat Sheva dance company, Ami Yam. Ami Ya’ar (my people the sea, my people the forest), premiered 1971 is discussed. The work uses strong nation- building references, such as referential movement depicting a group of people going towards their death, then becoming trees, ocean, and forming a strong collective out of a group of individuals; its language movement is very dramatic and places a strong emphasis on unison movement rather than individual dancers. The holocaust is interpreted as an epic event which gave rise to the formation of the Israeli state. The influences on the individuals who went through it are not part of the work.
The second work discussed is Rami Be’ers work for The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, aide memoire, from 1994. Video clip here.
This work reflects the change in generations and citizenship discourses. This period is characterized by thinking about the effects of the holocaust on the second generation of survivors who suffered some PTSD effects. The work deals with the effects of memory and national formation on the individual. It uses a wide array of choreographic elements such as contrasts between square lighting patters and fluid, circular movement; unison movement and individuals breaking out of it; everyday movement and expressive, intimate moments. The work looks much more at the individual, and how his or her identity is constructed in these conditions. Israeli citizenship at this point is influenced by a much more prominent liberal discourse, which looks at the individual rather than the group. In addition, some of the events glorified in the first work are critically discussed in this work; the price individuals pay in situations of nation- building and the sacrifice of individuality for the sake of collectiveness.
The third stage of the paper leaves it open-ended. It is a depiction of the third generation of holocaust survivors. The work discussed here is Berlin-Jaffa back and forth (2011) performed by DeDe Dance Company (Israel) and Wee dance company (Germany). Video clip here.
Israel is now trying to become more cosmopolitan and accommodate more discourses than those described above. It is, however, uncertain how much of the original nationalistic impulse towards holocaust remembrance is still there, whether on an individual or on a collective level. It seems that only time will tell how this event will influence the identity of later Israeli generations.
A Blake Ewing is a DPhil candidate in Politics and a contributor to The Economist.