By on January 3, 2017

Free film premiere showcases the work of a modern movement master.

Choreographer Ohad Naharin has made myriad people go Gaga.

Choreographer Ohad Naharin has made myriad people go Gaga.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Once again, Dancers’ Workshop is serving up world-class dance, this time on screen. DW has teamed up with the Jackson Hole Jewish Community to show an award-winning documentary film, Mr. Gaga, about one of contemporary dance’s most respected choreographers, Ohad Naharin. Jackson filmgoers will enjoy a free advanced screening Monday at the Center for the Arts ahead of the film’s U.S. premiere in New York, February 1.

An anomaly in the dance world, Naharin did not begin dancing professionally until he was 22 years old. Soon after that he was invited by Martha Graham to join her dance troupe in New York City. In 1990, he became the artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company in Israel. Mr. Gaga tells the story of Naharin’s creative journey from a young boy growing up on a kibbutz to becoming one of the most important choreographers of our time.

The documentary takes the audience inside Naharin’s instrumental work, styles and philosophy, which have left indelible imprints on dancers around the world and in our backyard.

“Ohad Naharain is one of the most influential choreographers that I can think of right now,” said Carrie Richer of Hole Dance Films. “His work has impacted everything that I try to consider in my own artwork.”

Directed by Tomer Heymann, Mr. Gaga was shot over seven years and includes archival footage of Naharin’s development as a dancer and choreographer. Heymann notes in the film’s trailer that his mission was to uncover how Naharin works with his dancers. That means exploring the movement language of Gaga, which emphasizes dancers’ exploration of sensation and what Naharin calls “availability for movement.”

It was devised by Naharin and is the primary training method for the Batsheva Dance Company.

San Francisco’s Literature and Arts Quarterly The Hudson Review described the Batsheva style as “focused, explosive, and feral” and “almost reptilian.” Dancers are more attuned with each other’s presence than with the onlooker’s. “A dancer might drop to a crouch, snap up straight with the leg extended to the side, rotate the leg behind, the toes groping like claws, then fall into an extreme backbend, all in about two seconds. Not a twitch of energy is superfluous.”

Dancers are keenly aware of those around them perhaps because Gaga training is done without mirrors. The dancers cannot watch themselves move. Instead they must mine their own imagination and passion. Naharin says Gaga is about “turning up the volume of listening” to one’s own body. He told the UK presenting organization Dance Consortium that Gaga “has to do with delicacy, with small gestures.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Naharin further explained: “I take form and I take content and I put them in a blender.”

The New York Times has described his choreography style as “distinguished by stunningly flexible limbs and spines, deeply grounded movement, explosive bursts and a vitality that grabs a viewer by the collar.” At times, what this looks like on stage is nothing short of earth shattering. The dancers reach and carve through space with their bodies and limbs as if pushing the boundaries of space itself, punching into other dimensions. But the choreography can be quiet as well, exploring intimacy and gesture in subtle put perceptible ways. Naharin speaks of finding delicate moments, and indeed his dancers are attuned to movement down to their toes and even in their faces.

Actress Natalie Portman worked with Naharin for her role in the film Black Swan. In the trailer for Mr. Gaga, Portman calls Naharin, “One of the great dance minds of our time.” She comments on Gaga, describing it as a dance language without a set vocabulary. Instead, she says, “It’s like, ‘Take this idea and make the movement that your body makes.’”

The result is an embodied rhythm that emanates from dancers’ cores. It’s difficult to describe in words, but once a dancer has been trained in Gaga it becomes apparent in the way they move.

Jackson viewers might notice this quality of movement in Contemporary Dance Wyoming member Francesca Romo, who co-founded Gallim Dance Company out of New York. Gallim’s director was a student of Naharin’s.

Prior to the screening of Mr. Gaga, Romo will lead a master dance class in sensation-based movement. The class will offer a flavor of Naharin’s approach.

Romo said her aim is to get more young people involved and enthusiastic about the potential of the human body.

“Every day we are dancing, whether we think about it or not.”

Sensation-based movement master class with Francesca Romo, 4:45 p.m. Monday, January 9, Center Stage. $25, register at, 307-733-6398.

Mr. Gaga documentary opening reception, 5:30 p.m. Monday, January 9 at the Center Theater, film screening at 6:15 p.m. Free. PJH

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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