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The Pleasure of Motion – Ohad Naharin

Submitted by on 10 Jul 2007 – 4:56 PM Comments


Ohad Naharin has made his indelible mark on the dance community. This iconic, if not enigmatic, dance choreographer has created his own movement language, Gaga, worked with some of the most celebrated companies in the world, putting Israel’ Batsheva Dance Company on the map with a decade of critically-acclaimed work. He returns to New York City, twenty-seven years after premiering his first work at the Kazuko Hirabayashi Dance Theatre in New York City. movmnt met with the maven a few weeks before the US premiere of his latest work, Decadance, in New York City.

Israeli born Naharin, grew up on a kibbutz with his mother, a dance teacher, and his father, a psychologist. At an early age, Naharin extensively studied music and, unlike the vast majority of professional dancers today who begin their dance training before adolescence, didn’t start until his early twenties.

A year after studying ballet and modern dance technique at the Batsheva School, in Tel- Aviv, he was invited to study in New York City by Martha Graham. Graham and Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild co-founded Batsheva in 1964. Naharin accepted Graham’s invitation and moved to New York City.

“People were fascinated by my body, and I was totally untrained,” he recalls of this time.

Naharin began dancing with the Martha Graham Company and the Maurice Bejart Company in Brussels. He received a scholarship from the School of American Ballet and Juilliard, where he continued his studies. Around the same time, he turned down an offer from Jerome Robbins to dance for the New York City Ballet.

It was inevitable that Naharin would become a choreographer. “I used to dream dances,” he says. ‘I started to choreograph because I just wanted to dance more. It points to something that I enjoy doing, which is making up things, whether it’s writing, painting, music.” Even though Naharin gravitates toward movement as his principal means of expression, he continues to explore other mediums. When there is time, he performs a popular one-person show at a cabaret in Jerusalem that incorporates his original text and music compositions.

Naharin’s choreography is physically and emotionally challenging and ranges from large-scale pieces like the spectacular multimedia extravaganza Telophaza to intimate works like Mamootot, in which dancers, painted white, walk through the audience, staring deeply into patrons’ eyes. The latest Naharin work to be performed in North America is Decadance, to be performed in June by the Cedar Lake Ensemble in New York City.

Decadance premiered in 2000 as an evening-length work reconstructing ten pieces from Naharin’s repertoire. The piece has changed since then, however, depending to some degree on the company performing it and on Naharin himself. For Naharin, the excitement of the creative process is also one of his major challenges as a choreographer: to keep the movement alive.

“When I see my choreography I get bored, but when I see the freshness of the expression of the dancers, that’s what moves me. I like to mix and abolish the borders between the things that compose my work. If I use tradition or mathematics or if I use ideas, I like to mix it in such a way that you cannot identify the components, but you can identify the sublimation of all of these things. That’s challenging, and that’s what makes it my language. It’s very challenging to make the dance such that when I watch it, I don’t see my choreography but I see the offering of the dancers, the suggestion of the dancers,” says Naharin.

Naharin suffered a serious back injury that left him with permanent nerve and spine damage. After surgery, Naharin was forced to explore how to move more efficiently and utilize different muscles while dealing with the daily pain from his injury. This physiological exploration has evolved into a movement known as “Gaga” the daily practive for Batsheva dancers – a kind of yoga-improvisation-movement therapy. Gaga may translate to “hit” in Hebrew, but it is a technique focused on unblocking the body, thereby teaching dancers to move with control and more efficiency.

Learning Gaga is an important step for a company that is new to Naharin’s work. It gives the dancers the tools to do more than just execute the work and communicate with him. It also teaches them to move efficiently, expending less energy and extending their limits. Naharin also covers up the mirrors, so they must learn to move instinctively, without the crutch of a reflection.

“Artists have more connection to abstract thinking and multidimensional movement than others,” Nahiran explains. “We cover the mirrors so that pleasure doesn’t come from looking at yourself, but from the movement. If it were not for motion, we shall not exist; were it not for existence, we shall not experience emotion.”

by Kristin Lewis