By Georgina Kolber
Curator of Exhibitions, Collections & Programs
“It’s a secular religious experience,” said Joseph V. Melillo, executive producer of the Brooklyn Academy, about watching the Batsheva Dance Company. “You feel something personal and spiritual at a Batsheva performance.”
Tel-Aviv based Batsheva Dance Company was founded in 1964 by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild. Although nearly half of Batsheva’s dancers are not Israeli, as an Israeli dance company that has reached a high level of international success—it has performed in nearly 20 countries in the last two years alone—it continually confronts the paradox of wanting to embrace its national roots while simultaneously working to cultivate an independent identity in which art is the only thing that matters.
We haven’t highlighted Israeli dance live and in the flesh here at the Mizel Museum, mostly because of space constraints. But in October during our trip to Israel, we’ll experience Israeli dance at its source: the Susan Dellal Center in the heart of the historic Neve Tzedek neighborhood in Tel Aviv, a leap away from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Established in 1989, the Suzanne Dellal Center is the home of the Batsheva Dance Company and other dance and theatre groups.
We’ll be greeted by Debra Friedes Galili, an independent dancer and dance scholar, who will discuss contemporary Israeli dance, then we’ll dive into a workshop with Batsheva. She’ll give us an introduction to the company’s history and its current director, Ohad Naharin, who has pushed the company into unchartered territory during the past decade with the development of his new movement language called Gaga. Geared toward both non-dancers and professionals, Gaga encourages participants to “connect to pleasure.”
“Before momma and poppa there is gaga,” says Naharin about the name of this movement language. It’s like baby talk, it’s instinctual. The form is a framework for discovering and strengthening the body. It adds flexibility, stamina and agility while lightening the senses and imagination. Gaga classes are open to anyone over the age of 15, regardless of their background in dance or movement. Speaking philosophically about Gaga, Naharin says “the power of imagination is much bigger than our vocabulary” and “this dance is like an iceberg, there’s what you see, and then there’s this huge thing under the water.”
Recently I had the pleasure of experiencing a Gaga piece choreographed by Naharin and performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. Called “Minus 16,” the piece was set to a pounding remix of the traditional Passover song “Echad Mi Yodea.” The dancers wore black suits and hats. Naharin points out that Israeli viewers assume the work is a commentary on the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox, while a Japanese audience viewed the piece as portraying stockbrokers. Not only is the piece remarkable due to its somewhat porous and open-ended meaning, it’s unique to the Ailey repertory because unlike any other piece, it challenges the dancers to improvise and invites the audience to participate in the experience by joining the dancers onstage. Gaga, Naharin insists, is accessible to dancers and non-dancers alike, so why not bridge the audience and dancers on stage? We’ll experience this phenomenon first hand during Art & Culture in Israel, Mizel Museum’s hand-crafted Israel trip, October 15-25, 2012, when we’ll not only learn more about Batsheva and Gaga, but we’ll participate in a workshop. Let’s dance!