Who Is Mr. Gaga?
Ohad Naharin was born in 1952 and is an aborigine of Kibbutz Mizra (Northern Israel). His creative streak didn’t just fall from the sky, he was brought up in an artistic home with a father who was a doctor in psychology as well as an actor and a mother who was a dance instructor. Ohad did not start dancing until his later years. In 1974 he had started taking classes with Batsheva Dance Company. That year a guest choreographer Martha Graham, came to visit Israel and had offered Ohad a place in her company. He toured the United States with the Graham company as well as attending Julliard and the School of American Ballet oh scholarship.
After touring around the world, he had returned to New York in 1980 which led to his choreographic debut at the Kazuko Hirabayshi studio. That same year he established the Ohad Naharin Dance Company with his wife, Mari Kajiwara (former Alvin Ailey dancer) who had passed away from cancer in 2001. For the next decade (1980-1990) Naharin’s vision and company continued to develop and had performed abroad. As his work continued to develop he received multiple commissions from companies including Batsheva, Kibbutz and Nederlands Dans Theater. In 1990 he was appointed artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company.
“Watch stuff with your eyes going out of focus; you will see more and miss less.”
(Dance Magazine November 9th, 2009)
Ohad’s appetite to create wasn’t exclusive to dance, he also collaborated and created multiple tracks and albums. He was trained in music throughout his youth and has often used these musical talents to enhance and amplify his choreographic works. Some of these artists include The Tractor’s Revenge (for Kyr, 1990), Avi Belleli and Dan Makov (for Anaphaza, 1993), and Ivri Lider (for Z/na, 1995). and Ohad Fishof.
Ohad’s biggest contribution to Modern dance is his development of an improvisational movement technique called Gaga technique. This new way of moving has swept Israel and is wrapping its beautiful tentacles out to the rest of the world. Gaga technique initiates with the body as the instrument. Listening to the body and diving in as well as sensations are movement generators.
In a close up in Dance Magazine, Ohad writes about his passion for choreography in describing how his brain feels like is on fire. He says, “Choreographing is having the privilege to be clear and articulate without the need to explain.” (Dance Magazine Oct. 2013) He describes his choreographic process like a playground with new rules and codes each time. Having been trained musically in his younger years (Batsheva.co.il), he finds great value in the musical score to each piece he makes. He describes this process as being meditative (Dance Magazine Oct. 2013).
“You don’t have to understand the work you are watching. The creator most likely doesn’t care to be understood; he/she just wants to be loved. “
(Dance Magazine November 9th, 2009)
Ohad seeks out universal and personal texture amongst his dancers. You will come to find that throughout most of his works, especially the earlier ones he uses a lot of social and political conscience. I would find this to be viewed on more of an vernacular scale. He was well aware of what was going on in the world at that time. Although he was aware of what was happening in the world around him he did not want to “bore” his audiences and/or dancers with expressing the suffering in the world and storytelling but rather focus on a person’s ability to add different layers of texture to their own personal movement style. It is always about the process and to never stop searching.
Some of Ohad’s works have been commissioned by the Frankfurt Ballet, Opera National de Paris, Grand Theatre de Geneve, Sydney Dance Company, Lyon Opera Ballet, Les Grand Ballets Canadiens, Rambert Dance Company, Compania Nacional de Danza, Cullberg Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, Ballet Gulbenkian, Balet da Cidade de Sao Paulo, Bavarian State Ballet, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Pittsburg Ballet Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
The most obvious influence on Ohad, as is for any person, is his cultural surroundings. Israel has had political conflict and is commanded by military and war. When asked how the conflict between Israel and Lebanon affects Ohad as an artist he responded, “I don’t separate my artistry from my life. My life and my work is all one thing. I’m affected by what’s going on, of course.” However influential, Ohad insists that it not an experience or environment greatly dramatic in comparison to a distressing Midwest neighbor (as an example). Along with his history working with Martha Graham, Ohad says that he was more personally influenced by dance greats such as Merce Cunningham, William “Billy” Forsythe, Pina Bausch, and David Gordon. He worked with David Gordon and greatly appreciated his use of multidimensionality as well as David’s relationship between space and the body. He prefers to work with his Batsheva dancers as they have an accessibility to movement invention and dialogue that other dance companies do not. His words to describe his dancers are, “rich and intelligent.” Therefore, the dancers in and of themselves influence Ohad’s work immensely. His fascination with people verses dancers carries over to his compositional work as he likes the tension it creates through prejudices, insecurities, and humor. A back injury is what inspired him to develop his movement languange of gaga technique.
Why should we, as dancers care about this artist?
Ohad Naharin believes in more than just the technical aspect of dance. He brings a new layer of movement concepts and innovative ideas to the world of modern dance. He teaches us that our bodies have more than just one engine, that if we listen carefully enough they will speak for themselves and true genuine movement will rise to the surfaces of our skin. Seeing how Gaga language was developed and cultivated after a back injury Ohad was nurturing at that time, this movement language can also help many dancers with all types of injuries. It is about healing from within rather than looking for the answers in the external world. His movement language has personally helped with my own choreographic palate as an artist. I find something new within myself each Gaga class I take, a new seed of imagination that has been unlocked, now remains open. I have found new patterns of connectivity through Gaga and feel as though I am moving in way that I never imagined I would be able to.