Censoring Dance

revolutiondancersThe Hong Kong Ballet has been in the news recently for allegedly self-censoring its recent performance of The Dream of the Red Chamber, a collaboration with Germany’s Ballett Dortmund. [h/t Katja Vaghi]

The premiere on 1 November included a 12-minute video of periods from China’s history from the Ming Dynasty through to the Cultural Revolution. The latter featured dancers dressed as Red Guards waving copies of Mao’s little red book’ but this sequence was cut from subsequent performances.

According to the [Hong Kong] Standard the “Hong Kong Ballet explained that the video episode was cut due to technical reasons” while the South China Morning Post writes that  “Some media reported that senior management from Hong Kong Ballet met their German counterparts and decided to cut the section because it was politically incorrect.”

Whatever the story (I’ll be watching this one), here’s a few other examples of censoring dance:

1. Not taken lightly in Egypt

In June 2013, two months before President Mohammed Morsi was ousted, an MP of the Salafi Al-Nour Party called for a ban of ballet in Egypt, describing it as “the art of nudes” (at the same time an MP from the Salafi Asala Party  called for Egypt’s National Council for Women to be disbanded).

“Nour Party member Gamal Hamed said …that ballet performances at the Opera House spread immorality and obscenity to the people.

Hamed’s comments came during a meeting of the Shura Council’s Culture, Information and Tourism Committee, in which the budget for the Opera House for the new fiscal year was being discussed.

Hamed clarified that he is not against the arts in general, but that he opposes “nudity” in the name of art or under the banner of cultural slogans.

The call for a ban was part of wider series of moves, including the removal of several people from senior culture positions, that sought to impost Islamist control over the arts. The sacking of Ines Abdel-Dayem as head of the Cairo Opera House along with call for a ban on ballet, prompted performers and cultural figures to stage a sit-in at the culture ministry lasting several weeks.

(After Morsi was ousted, Abdel-Dayem was offered a job as culture minister in the new interim government but facing opposition from Al-Nour she declined and instead resumed her role in the Opera House).

2. Not before the watershed in the UK

Eternal Damnation To Sancho And SanchezYou don’t have to look too far from home for state censorship. In 2009, the BBC cuts scenes from Eternal Damnation To Sancho And Sanchez when broadcasting the ballet at Christmas. The scenes depicting a pope abusing an altar boy and strangling a pregnant nun were deemed unsuitable “for a pre-watershed broadcast.”

3. No Visas in Malaysia

SingaporeDanceTheatreIn 2012 the Singapore Dance Theatre were denied visas to perform in Kuala Lumpur by the Malaysian Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture, “on account of the indecency of their costumes”.

That company had performed in Malaysia before without any problems and as Bilqis Hijjas, president of Malaysia’s MyDance Alliance said:

“All of the costumes for women had long skirts, except for The Nutcracker, which was to be performed in a short classical tutu and tights, the kind that has been worn by ballet dancers since they performed before the Russian tsars in the 1870s.”

4. No state funding in Turkmenistan

Saparmurat Niyazov

Saparmurat Niyazov, or to give him his full title “His Excellency Saparmurat Türkmenbaşy, President of Turkmenistan and Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers” ruled as one of the most totalitarian and repressive dictators from 1985 until his death in 2006.

Amongst his many decrees (including renaming days of the week and months of the year after himself) in 2001 he decided opera, ballet, and the circus were foreign to Turkmen culture and stopped state funding of them.

In 2008, his successor President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov reversed the decision on circus and opera but ballet remains off limits it appears.

4. No mention at all in Iran

Iran booksIn Iran, even the word dance is problematic. According to publisher Hossein Shahrabi:

“The term dance is one of those terms that, if mentioned in a book, is most often censored by Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. For this reason, in translating Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man without a Country, I didn’t translate dance intoraqs [=dance]; instead, I defined it as “Moving your hand and foot”; a definition with some complexity which is somewhat a subtle synonymy for dance and appropriate for the satirical tone of the book. “


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