I realize there's been a lot of awful things in the news lately. I feel separated from it here in the naturey, artsy haven that is Interlochen. I've been trying to catch up and read about the latest terrible events that have rocked the black community. I began to have conversations with colleagues about what we can do. I also saw Abraham.In.Motion, perform here, a dance company that focuses on physical portrayal of social issues. The nearly all-black company performed a piece representing the events in Baltimore and Furguson, and it was very powerful for me, and relevant. What am I trying to say? I'm not sure exactly, what I wanted to say I am here, and I am with you. The dichotomy...
From a Black Lives Matter protest in Chicago, November 2015
Twelve years ago, a 13 year old girl had a piece of her innocent view of the world torn apart as she watched the towers fall live. She was a freshman in high school, and believing in all things idealistic and optimistic, she broke down when her world ceased to turn. She watched in the fine arts wing of her highschool with her band, choir, and orchestra mates, as concrete turned to rubble, as computers, printers, millions of sheets of paper, and humans....turned to ash. Our major symphony turned minor....eerie...dissonant.
That night, the girl went to her safe place, the studio. The language was the French vocabulary of ballet, but the metaphor was a powerful one--the real and human connection of movement.
Twelve years ago, some other children, not more than five years old, toddled around their living rooms, confused why their parents were glued to the television, ashen-faced, or picking up the telephone with tense, hushed voices.
Twelve years later--today--the worlds of the girl and these children collided. In the no-long-children's eyes, she sees a bit of same teenage innocence she possessed. They inspire her and remind her why it's okay to still believe in the goodness in the world, to live every second. The beauty is there, in our steps and in our voices. "I want to walk into the sun and be unapologetic," they say. I believe we will.
More than a week later, I say shalom again, where we have since had one more week of sweating, grooving, and floating as part of the Gaga intensive. It was an experience I won't forget, and it was amazing to work with Ohad Naharin and amazing Batsheva masters.
Much of the week was a bit challenging for me personally because I was sick some of the time--I contracted either food poisoning or a stomach virus of some kind that caused on/off pains from Sunday-Wednesday. I'm writing this/sparing unpleasant details not to be dramatic but because of what it revealed about my dancing. This was a new realm for me--working through through injury is not unfamiliar to me (for better or for worse), as well as dancing when simply feeling "under the weather". This was a bit different than these usual ailments. But I found surprisingly that if I had the strength to actually push really hard, the ache usually eased up for a bit. Don't get me wrong, there were times I admit I was lazy in class. But if I had the guts to push, I felt like the heat and subsequent sweat was a healing power. By the last two days I was feeling better. It was a big bummer (to use really intellectual vocabulary) that it had to happen during the workshop--but now I feel like I can push through anything. :)
It was incredible to have the opportunity to have Ohad, specifically, so many times, and to hear his reactions in our final discussion. Behind a disposition that once intimidated me (or still does a bit actually), he is a very humble man who concerns himself not with the fame of his work or the acclaim of his company, but rather with spreading the joy of movement to all people. In our final discussion, someone asked him about the fame of Gaga and Batsheva, and he said that it does not matter much to him--all that matters is that his dancers and students are doing something out of joy and making art that feels right.
Another interesting thing is that I found out he calls Gaga a "movement language," not a technique. After two weeks of studying this, I understand that it really is a language that you can use to enhance your vocabulary and influence your own...dialect of movement.
It was also amazing how many dancers came from around the world—the
number of languages I heard spoken (real ones, that is, amongst the Gaga language :) ), the number of people who flock to Tel Aviv
for dance (and definitely not all, or maybe even not even most are Jewish!)—is incredible. The complex weavings of Israeli historical and religious significance is just a secondary aspect for which the main purpose for the pilgrimage is dance. I met some special people with whom I hope to be in touch.
I’ve been thinking a lot of what I can take from this
workshop.I feel like this time around
studying Gaga, I have gained even more knowledge that is applicable to dance
technique and my teaching style.When I
studied in Tel Aviv in 2008, it was an incredible experience, but I realize in
hindsight it was truly only an introduction to Gaga.Now that I have participated in an in-depth
workshop that applies the technique to Batsheva repertoire, I realize its scope
of influence, and how technique seems more free and flexibility is more
available.As I move on to student
teaching in just a couple weeks, I hope that the Gaga language will help me
speak about dance in a way that will excite young dancers.Something I’ve always loved about Gaga and
has drawn me to it since the beginning is its life, joy, and movement-affirming
qualities.Our teachers at this workshop—maybe
Ohad more than anyone else—see movement as an ultimate blessing and healing
power.I hope I can take this joy and
transmit it in my passion for teaching.
I admit, I have a hard time describing Gaga, especially to non-dancers. How can I describe this physical, energetic, effortful but feel-good form without sounding obscure and abstract? At the risk of confusing my audience even more, I will describe it as such: a movement technique developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin that uses improvisation as a tool for heightening body awareness, expanding range and strength, and opening to more possibilities for texture and artistic aesthetic. The teacher provides images (the idea of floating in water is central to Gaga) to achieve these goals, and the dancers find what they call "form" (i.e. ballet technique/positions) amidst the free movement. Batsheva uses Gaga as their primary training technique in the way that most other companies use ballet or modern.
Over the past week I have delved even more deeply into Gaga in this workshop in Tel Aviv, where we have Gaga-Dancers classes (more dancer-specific as opposed to Gaga People classes that are also offered to the general public) and apply the ideas to Batsheva repertoire. When I was here in 2008, I was taking mainly Gaga People classes (they had not yet fully developed Gaga Dancers, at least for drop-in classes), and have only had a few dancer-specific classes with repertoire. This has been a really awesome time to delve deeper into the technique and learn how to apply it to my other dancing and teaching. Some of the main ideas I've taken so far are finding length in my spine by feeling energy running through its whole length and finding the separation from ribs and belly button (easing the lordosis I normally have in my lower back), finding that a strong, thick texture can coexist with softness, keeping port de bras moving and floating as opposed to being a stuck position, and "hiding the beginnings," an idea where you are always available to explode into sudden movement without needing a preparation. I am also working on the idea of "letting go," which I think is about finding a compromise between loose and held muscles, especially abdominals. There is a way to find power and move from your center (the "lena," they call it) but without gripping, and in fact, there needs to be a softness there in order to find the above-mentioned feeling of letting go. Some of it is theoretical and still abstract, but over the last week I have been learning more about these fundamentals and understanding them more with each class.
A main technique I train with at home is Ronn Stewart's MoPed technqiue, which is also based in improvisation and is partially influenced by Gaga. I am immensely excited to go home at find these elements in Moped and also see how they will influence the way I see ballet, modern, and other forms.
Oh and no. Lady Gaga has nothing to do with it. Never has, never will.
On a more fun note, a bunch of us in the intensive and other people in the dance/gaga community saw a performance of short works with a subsequent dance party afterwards. The night was called Summer Portraits, and is apparently timed with the Gaga workshop, and coordinated by Batsheva and other Tel Aviv dance-scene people. It was a fantastic night of light works, and the dance party afterwards was fantastic. It was kindof wild to be grooving with Batsheva people, but after a bit it seemed natural. All of us just gaga-ing around the dance floor....it was a great party and fun moving with all these artsy, open, fun-loving people!
And with that...Shabbat Shalom from Tel Aviv! :) Next week starts tomorrow!
I'm realizing that nothing has ever been easy for me. Nothing has been handed to me. Academically and professionally I have gone through more rejection than acceptance and have had more reneged than kept promises. Does that make me stronger? Does it make me more brave? Willing to take to take risks? Ability to be flexible, a team player, a fighter to the end? Under the clouds of no's and maybes it's hard to see clearly, but I think the answers are yes, yes....an undeniable yes.