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Batsheva Dance Company

Going gaga for sensation-based movement

By Jonelle Seitz, Fri., March 16, 2012

Batsheva Dance Company in <i>Max</i>
Batsheva Dance Company in Max
Photo courtesy of Gadi Dagon

Imagine that your bones are floating inside the flesh.

Allow soft stuff to travel in your thick body.

Connect to a sense of plenty of time.

These directives are familiar to students of gaga, a "movement language" invented by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. A back injury was the impetus for Naharin's new way of approaching movement, which he developed over many years as a choreographer and director of Tel Aviv, Israel's Batsheva Dance Company, a post he has held since 1990. Gaga focuses on sensation-central locations, such as the lena (an energy source between the navel and the groin) and the luna or moons (the bases or balls of the fingers and toes) and pairs them with evocative prompts and imagery. Eventually, Naharin named the method after the simplest of utterances, and gaga usurped ballet classes as the daily warm-up for Batsheva's dancers. In Israel, the company has offered gaga classes to the public – both dancers and nondancers – since 2001, but elsewhere, awareness of gaga is just beginning. Currently, 30 students from around the globe are enrolled in the first ever gaga teacher training program; when they graduate, the number of gaga gurus worldwide will have doubled.

In a gaga class, everyone moves differently because the exercises are based on sensation, not form. If the dance studio has mirrors, they are covered so there's no way to check whether a movement "looks right." Participants are asked to "listen" or be receptive to sensation. Above all, gaga is explorative: The work of connecting with new sensations in the body is deep and never-ending. Once the class has started – and latecomers are not allowed, because the progression through sensation is essential – the dancers don't stop moving. If they need to rest, they "float." Floating is the default state in gaga, explains my friend Maree ReMalia, a student in the teacher-training program. It's a state of "total aliveness" in which the dancer feels buoyant and physically alert.

Batsheva dancers often have a hip, sexy look – like American Apparel models, only more radiant, intense, athletic, and real. The works in the company's repertory, many of which are by Naharin and were born out of gaga, require extreme physical exactitude and presence. Rehearsal, like class, begins with accessing the sensations needed to create movement. The aliveness of the gaga state, says ReMalia, evokes a readiness, an availability of each part of the body, big and small, for any type of movement.

This readiness will be on display March 20, when the company performs Naharin's 2007 Max at Bass Concert Hall; reviews of the work focus on its challenging juxtapositions. Later this month, the University of Texas dance students, who studied gaga with a Batsheva alum last fall, will perform Naharin's "Minus 16." And for those who want to find their own lena, the Batsheva company will host a free gaga class on March 19.


Batsheva Dance Company will perform Max on Tuesday, March 20, 8pm, at Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Dr. For more information, visit www.texasperformingarts.org.


Company members will teach a free gaga dance class on Monday, March 19, 6:30pm, at the Jewish Community Center of Austin gym, 7300 Hart Ln. Space is limited and registration is required; call 471-6376 or 735-8030 to register.


The University of Texas's Dance Repertory Theatre will perform "Minus 16" as part of Catalyst, March 23­–25. Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 2 & 8pm; and Sunday, 2pm, at the B. Iden Payne Theatre, 23rd and San Jacinto. For more information, visit www.texasperformingarts.org.

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