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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Going Gaga: Ohad Naharin’s Movement Language

Imagine two snakes inside your body—one running along your spine and the other across the width of your arms. Lift your flesh away from your bones. Float, but feel the ground below your feet. These are not uncommon directions I’ve heard from an instructor while practicing Gaga, the movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company. 

Gaga. It sounds like baby talk and has a playfulness that lends itself to the freedom of Naharin’s movement language, which Batsheva dancers do daily. Gaga has also gained popularity worldwide, with classes offered for both dancers and non-dancers. The reason? To connect with pleasure, listen to your body, and build awareness of sensations—a refreshing change from dance forms that require a rigid technique. While recovering from a back injury, Naharin developed Gaga to find ways of moving that worked with his body rather than against it. He developed it into a daily practice for Batsheva, and soon after it arrived in New York, Japan, and elsewhere.

There is no prescribed technique in Gaga. Rather, it’s about personal, investigative research that encourages using all of the senses to become aware of your body. Attention to gravity, texture, tension, and dimensionality are important. This might sound like it requires serious focus, but Gaga also encourages laughter, silliness, and release. Mirrors aren't used in classes—a rarity in dance since most forms rely on them for self-correction. But how refreshing! Self-consciousness literally dissolves. 

In the October 2006 issue of Dance Magazine, Naharin said, "Abolish mirrors; break your mirrors in all studios. They spoil the soul and prevent you from getting in touch with the elements and multidimensional movements and abstract thinking, and knowing where you are at all times without looking at yourself. Dance is about sensations, not about an image of yourself." I love that quote. It captures everything that Gaga stands for. 

The absence of mirrors allows for movement that is more honest, open, and deeply investigative—all of which is evident in Batsheva performances. Batsheva dancers move with intense physicality that emerges from sensations. While performing MAX at BAM in 2009, the company seemed fully present on stage. They possessed magnetic alertness, fluidity, and authenticity in their movement that was undoubtedly rooted in Gaga. Textures, use of breath, and playfulness were particularly noticeable. It’s exciting to think of how the dancers’ personal investigations in Gaga make the leap from studio to stage, offering audiences a raw, wholly satisfying performance.

—Evan Namerow

Experience Gaga at an open class with Batsheva at noon on Saturday, Mar 10. And don't miss Batsheva performing Hora from Mar 7—10 at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House.

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