Choreographing Livability: Dance Epistemes in the Kibbutz and in the Israel Defense Forces
- Author(s): Melpignano, Melissa
- Advisor(s): Foster, Susan L.
- et al.
Choreographing Livability: Dance Epistemes in the Kibbutz and in the Israel Defense Forces traces the historical articulation of dance as a source of knowledge-formation in Israeli culture through two emblematic sites of performance, between the 1940s and the 2000s. It also proposes a theoretical intervention through the elaboration of the framework of livability, through which I explore the life-stakes and the political investment entailed in dancing within the specific context of Israel, in relation to its larger ideological tensions and political shifts.
My investigation across sites of performance and time-periods ultimately reassesses existing narratives that have framed “Israeli dance” primarily as a joyful, nation-building, recreational, entertaining, and energetic endeavor. In order to do so, I set out the mechanisms through which different dance experiences, even those apparently disengaged from political preoccupations, have contributed to the enhancement of governmental policies and ideological goals, in particular when such political maneuvers reiterated ethnonational divides or mechanisms of settler colonial hegemony. More specifically, through my scrutiny, supported by archival research, ethnography, and choreographic analysis, I unpack how dancers and choreographers in Israel have often articulated dance as a multicultural, universalistic, and humanizing practice. By doing so, I maintain, dance in Israel has generally worked as a strategy for the mitigation and concealment of larger governmental and ideological apparatuses of marginalization, commodification, or oppression.
The Introduction offers an interpretation of Zionism and Israel from a biopolitical perspective, an overview of my livability framework, and a reading of my project in terms of killjoy scholarship. Chapter 1 delineates how dance in kibbutz culture has been able to support shifts in the national strategy, evolving from engine for the international affirmation of Zionism, to agent for a rearticulation of the Socialist Labor Zionist agenda, to neoliberal enterprise. Chapter 2 charts the evolution of dance in the Israel Defense Forces from bureaucratic tool for the administration of military life, to spectacular device for the recalibration of the Israeli soldier’s masculinity, to globalized digital practice that reinforces military authority from the lower levels of the military hierarchy. The Epilogue, in addition, includes four choreographic analyses that, engaging with the kibbutz, the IDF, and the issue of choreographing in Israel, show how dance can invest in a critique of systems of oppression, and expand the possibility of living more livable lives.