The entrance to the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre
Since first experiencing Gaga – the movement language created by Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director Ohad Naharin – in early 2008, I have been yearning for more, and so has most of the dance world. When the Israel-based company performs abroad, they try to offer Gaga classes not only for dancers, but also for the general public. After all, Naharin developed Gaga after years of working with both dancers and non-dancers while also recovering from his own back injury. Batsheva trains daily in Gaga, and since 2001, open classes in several cities throughout Israel have been available to the public.
Fortunately, my recent trip to Israel gave me an opportunity to once again experience Gaga (in Hebrew, גאגא) – this time at the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre in Tel Aviv. I could hardly contain my excitement as I approached the Centre and arrived at the studios. With a heartfelt todah raba – thank you – to Deborah Friedes Galili, a dance scholar and expert on Israeli contemporary dance, and Yossi Naharin (Ohad’s brother), who oversees Gaga classes, I was able to take two classes while in Israel, and therefore immerse myself in two unique, transformative experiences that are now a part of my growing understanding of Gaga and sense of self.
The first class took place last Thursday evening and was taught by Ohad – not Ohad Naharin, but another man named Ohad who has worked frequently with Batsheva. I was exhausted from my travels all over Israel in the days prior to the class, but I knew that one of the most essential guidelines for Gaga is listening to the body and becoming aware of its sensations, limitations, and abilities. Furthermore, maintaining connection to pleasure in movement is critical, especially while exerting effort. In my sleepy state, I knew it was acceptable – in fact, encouraged – to work at a pace that was best for me. The introductory Gaga sheet that I received before class also assured me that taking class while feeling tired wasn’t such a bad idea:
Gaga is a new way of gaining knowledge and self awareness through your body. Gaga is a new way for learning and strengthening your body, adding flexibility, stamina and agility while lightening the senses and imagination. Gaga raises awareness of physical weaknesses, awakens numb areas, exposes physical fixations and offers ways for their elimination. Gaga elevates instinctive motion, links conscious and subconscious movement. Gaga is an experience of freedom and pleasure. In a simple way, a pleasant place, comfortable close, accompanied by music, every person with himself and others.
Throughout the hour-long class, Ohad gave verbal instructions in Hebrew and English to me and the other fifteen participants in order to draw attention to our actions and increase awareness of how we were – or weren’t – moving. We started standing in silence, finding multi-dimensionality in the chest in order to breathe more freely while gently shifting our weight from one leg to the other. Some of the prompts and instructions included: finding quivers at the center of your body and allowing them to move outward to your limbs, back, neck, and even to your voice; melting into the floor and then moving as if you’re standing, but using the floor’s gravity; lifting your bones away from your flesh; sensing a cloud around your body while feeling the earth below your feet; imagining a pool of water in your stomach and a pole that connects your arms by running through your chest. Rather than each prompt replacing the previous one, Gaga layers one on top of the other, so the class is an accumulation of movement and sensations.
The home of Batsheva Dance Company’s studios
One of the most satisfying aspects of Gaga, for me, is the ability to move more honestly and openly, free from previous training, old habits, and technical do’s and don’ts (It’s also incredible to move in a judgment-free environment, since all mirrors are covered during Gaga classes). In the most exhilarating moments, I was able to move without exerting much effort or force, instead allowing the energy, quivers, and quakes pulsing through my body to guide me. Discovering movement that is based in pleasure and sensation does not abruptly end when the class does, but rather is part of an ongoing journey. As I left the studios on Thursday evening I felt awake, refreshed, in touch with my abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and limitations, and eager for my second Gaga class the following morning.
All photos by Evan Namerow