Gaga: A Foreigner Explores Ohad Naharin’s Movement Language

Dance Training, My Reflections

Gaga Class November 2008

(Photo: Gaga class with Ohad Naharin, center, in November 2008.  I am “connecting to pleasure” on the left.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.)

(I originally wrote this post for The Winger on May 4, 2008, under the title, “Going Gaga All Over Again.”)

When I took my first Gaga class in fall of 2007, I was like an infant, tentatively trying out a new way of moving while also beginning to learn Hebrew. Everything was foreign to me, and processing a different framework for dancing in an unfamiliar language was a challenge.  Thankfully, my Gaga teachers were willing to pepper their instructions with English, and my Hebrew tutor helped me learn the frequently used terms which I wrote down after lessons.

Like a child, I steadily gained more mastery of my body and built up my communication skills; I acquired a physical language and, at least partially, the accompanying verbal language.  It’s not always easy to see progress in language acquisition – but when I successfully took two Gaga classes taught almost entirely in Hebrew on April 22, 2008, I was floating both figuratively and literally (to float, or “latzoof,” is one of the most common directions in Gaga).

April 22 was a special day.  Besides taking my usual morning Gaga class at the Suzanne Dellal Center, I got to catch up with a friend visiting from abroad who enjoyed her first Gaga class ever.  We spent hours dissecting it and continued our conversation with another friend of hers who has danced both here and in Europe, taking on an array of topics.  Here’s a tasting of the questions we tackled: What techniques are primarily concerned with the body’s relationship to space, what techniques are more focused on the sensations and movements within the body, and where does Gaga fall in this spectrum? What is unique about the physicality used in Gaga and Ohad Naharin’s work? How has Gaga and/or the Batsheva aesthetic influenced the larger Israeli contemporary dance scene?  What are the other training methods used in major contemporary companies today, both here and abroad?

I’ll leave these big questions aside for the time being – they’ll take a lot of time, space, and energy to explore (clearly, even while I write, I’m a Laban-influenced dancer) – and for now I’ll continue on with the events of April 22.  To cap off my day of Gaga, I joined over 70 people for a special monthly class taught by Ohad Naharin himself in the Batsheva Dance Company’s spacious main studio.   By 8 p.m., Studio Varda was packed with a diverse crowd: men and women; 20-somethings and 30-somethings, middle-aged folks, and senior citizens; dancers (including some I recognized as Gaga teachers, Batsheva company and ensemble dancers, and people I’ve met at contact jams) and non-dancers; even a few young Ethiopian students who have been studying Gaga as part of one of Batsheva’s outreach programs.

With such a range, I couldn’t help wondering, what are these people’s stories?  How did they come to Gaga, and what kept them coming back to classes? Gaga’s ability to attract followers outside of the typical dance class population is truly extraordinary.   Not only do participants commit to at least one class weekly, but many Gaga enthusiasts take advantage of the unlimited monthly plan and eagerly take multiple classes per week.  When it comes time for Ohad’s monthly class, a huge crowd shows up, and the energy in the studio is absolutely electric.  The evening of the 22nd was no different – the excitement was palpable when Batsheva’s artistic director entered the room.

Although at other Gaga classes I’ve met an assortment of new immigrants or foreigners on extended stays in Israel, the population of this class was overwhelmingly Israeli; indeed, when Ohad asked if there was anyone who didn’t speak Hebrew, I was one of (I think) only 2 people who raised their hands. Floating (literally) while he asked if my Hebrew was good enough for him to teach in his native language, I reflected on my morning class and answered “Ken” (“Yes”).  Thus I plunged into his most Hebrew-based class yet.  We walked, stretched, and shifted our weight from leg to leg.  We found circular motions in different body parts, generated movement from the image of balls traveling through our bodies, and gave and received energy from partners far away from us.  We grooved, laughed out loud while grooving, and then let the memory of that laughter guide our own personal dances.  We shook, moved in slow motion, and then did the two actions together (it’s possible!).  And yes, we floated some more.

As has happened to me before in Ohad’s class as well as in several other lessons, there were many magical moments of transcendence during this evening – moments when, as the introductory Gaga handout states, there are “links” formed between “conscious and subconscious movement.”  If the verbal cues in Gaga are indeed suggestions rather than the hard-and-fast rules which govern many dance techniques, they are at times picked up by my body and mind with neither resistance nor with a concerted effort to follow them.  It’s as if they seep into me through the air, and I respond physically without forcing myself to act in accordance with what I heard.  The processing of this verbal information (and, for that matter, of the visual information around me – and perhaps the energetic information flowing through the room) is not purely a conscious one.  It’s almost as if I am responding to subliminal messages, despite the fact that the messages are conveyed directly and I know I am receiving them.

I should note that this is not always the case.  Remember the first time someone asked you to pat your head while rubbing your belly, and your brain hurt from concentrating as you tried to master that coordination?  That still happens sometimes, like when I attempted to shake and move in slow motion simultaneously during this last class.  Particular challenges – especially new ones – demand a heightened level of attentive, active exploration.  But when I’m just shaking, quaking, floating, or responding to certain other suggestions, it can be a different matter.   The wonderful upshot is that through both the conscious and subconscious exploration that Gaga affords, I am discovering a wealth of movement possibilities, physical connections, and dynamic options beyond those fostered by my previous training.

* * *

Related posts on Gaga on Dance In Israel

Gaga in the Dance Blogosphere

  • “Get Your Gaga Groove On,” from IsRealli, the new blog of Israel, was posted during Naharin’s residency at Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet (post date: Mar. 2007).
  • “Ohad-ing It,” from The Winger’s Matthew Murphy, who discusses Gaga briefly in the context of Ohad Naharin’s choreography (post date: Nov. 2007).
  • “Ohad Naharin’s Gaga,” by Jonathan Krebs of the Joyce Theater Blog, who also explores Gaga along with Naharin’s repertory (post date: Feb. 2008).
  • “Going Gaga for Gaga,” from Evan at Dancing Perfectly Free, who took some Gaga in New York last spring (post date: Mar. 2008).
  • “Gaga Class in Tel Aviv,” by Rebecca Crystal of Art in Motion, who took several weeks of Gaga here in Israel this summer (post date: Jan. 2009).
  • “Thoughts on Batsheva and Gaga” by Michael J. Morris of Betwixt Thee and Me Let There Be Truth, who experienced a Gaga class at Ohio State during Batsheva’s 2009 tour (post date: Feb. 2009).
*This post was made possible thanks to a Fulbright student grant funded by the U.S.-Israel Educational Foundation and hosted by the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.