"Mr. Gaga" tells the story of Ohad Naharin, renowned choreographer and artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company, an artistic genius who redefined the language of modern dance.
Ohad Naharin is regarded as one of the most important choreographers in the world. Meeting him at a critical turning point in his personal life, this spirited and insightful documentary will introduce you to a man with great artistic integrity and an extraordinary vision. Filmed over a period of eight years, director Tomer Heymann mixes intimate rehearsal footage with an extensive unseen archive and breathtaking dance sequences.
This story of an artistic genius who redefined the language of modern dance is guaranteed to leave you skipping.
"Highly recommended!" — New York Times
"Electric... Riveting... Choreographic brilliance... Striking performance footage... Excellent. A complex, compelling lead character... Handsome and charismatic, Naharin... arguably is a genius. The most exciting documentary for fans of edgier modern dance since PINA." — Variety
"If you are familiar with his mesmerizing work, nothing more need be said... If you're not, this feast of dance illustrates why others are." — Los Angeles Times
"Heymann captures the thrilling uniqueness of Naharin's work – as well as a vibrant portrait of his artistic process, in which dance functions as communication, survival, and healing. Sensitive, intelligent, and awe-inspiring." — Flavorwire
"Masterfully crafted by filmmaker Tomer Heymann, the documentary is weighty, surprising, affecting, darkly humorous..." — Film Journal
"A wonderful invitation to dance." — Elle
"Captivating portait, like a kaleidoscope." — Le Monde
"Moments of absolute grace." — Premiere
"Breathtaking!" — Galore
"Pioneering some of the most innovative work – and intriguing movement language – in contemporary dance during the past 20 years." — The Sydney Morning Herald
"A must-see movie!" — Jerusalem Post
"A breathtaking, powerful, and important film about the power of art to connect people wherever they are." — NRG
"An overwhelming aesthetic experience." — YNET
"Five stars! Magnificient. A wonderful portrait and a great film about dance and creation." — Toutelaculture
Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance (2015)
Directed by Tomer Heymann
With Ohad Naharin and the Batsheva Dance Company
Starring: Ohad Naharin, Tzofia Naharin, Natalie Portman, Or Schraiber, Zina Zinchenko
Producer: Barak Heymann
Executive producer: Diana Holtzberg
Cinematographer: Itai Raziel
Editors: Alon Greenberg, Ido Mochrik, Ron Omer
Artistic Advisors: Talli Vernia-Hatsor, Pia Forsgren, Roni AzgadSound designer: Alex Claude
Music: Ishai Adar
Countries: Israel, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands
Languages: English and Hebrew
Running Time: 100 minutes
Shooting formats: 8mm, 16 mm, high 8, beta, mini dv, HD
Screening format: DCP
Supported by Channel 8/Israel, New Israeli fund for TV and cinema, ZDF/ARTE, AVRO, SVT, Family Robert Weil Foundation, The Foundation for Jewish Culture, Israel Lottery Council for Culture and Art
– World Premiere, October 2015 BFI London Film Festival
– Audience Award, 2016 SXSW Film Festival
– International Documentary Award, 2016 Tempo Documentary Film Festival, Sweden
– Best Documentary Award, 2016 Sofia International film festival, Bulgaria
– Special Jury Award and Audience Choice Award, 2016 IDFF CRONOGRAF, Moldova
– Audience Award, 2016 Tirana International Documentary Film Festival, Albania
– Audience Award for Best Documentary, 2016 Aspen Film Festival
– Audience Award, 2016 Reykjavik International Film Festival, Iceland
– Public Award for Best Documentary, 2016 Sao Paolo International Film Festival, Brazil
– Special Mention, 2016 RIDM Montreal International Documentary Film Festival
– Third Place, Audience Choice, 2015 IDFA International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
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The Secret History of the Israeli Choreographer Ohad Naharin
By Brian Schaefer*
The New Yorker, February 1, 2017
Tomer Heymann's film "Mr. Gaga", which is about the work and life of the choreographer Ohad Naharin, is the most successful documentary in Israeli history
In the early nineties, Tomer Heymann, who had just completed his compulsory service in the Israeli military, became a waiter at Orna and Ella, a hot spot on Tel Aviv's Sheinkin Street. Every Saturday at 11 a.m., an attractive couple – a Japanese woman, an Israeli man – sat at the same table. She ordered olive-oil cake; he had the wild rice. They tipped generously. Heymann, who is from the small village of Kfar Yedidia, was new to the city. One day, a cousin invited him to a dance performance. "I thought, ‘Did I do something wrong or bad in my life that I need this punishment, to be invited to a dance show?’" he recalled recently. But he went to the performance, at the Suzanne Dellal Center, in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood. On the stage, dancers sat on chairs arranged in a semicircle, convulsing to a rock-and-roll version of a traditional Passover song. It was subversive, sexy, strange. "I was not ready for it", Heymann recalled. He went to see the show again, and then again.
After seeing the performance several times, Heymann, who had just bought a video camera, decided to film it. He sneaked backstage, hovering in the wings. "I was chutzpan" he said, meaning "shameless". While he was filming one evening, he saw the attractive man from Orna and Ella. "I said ‘Wow! What are you doing here?’" Ohad Naharin, the choreographer of the dances that Heymann had been watching, told him to turn off his camera and never to shoot his dances again.
During the next twenty years, Heymann became known, in Israel and abroad, as the director of documentaries examining the fissures of modern Israeli society. Meanwhile, Naharin, as the director of Israel's Batsheva Dance Company, became an internationally revered choreographer. The quirky, liquid "movement language" known as "Gaga", which he invented to deal with a dance injury, is now taught around the world. Heymann has remained a devotee of Naharin's work, admiring its sly political edge and the way it challenges the cult of Israeli machismo. (Naharin is an outspoken critic of the Israeli government.) But Naharin resisted the idea of having his creative process captured on film. ("It’s like consensually faking an orgasm", he has said.) In 2007, Heymann showed up, unannounced, in New York, where Naharin was teaching one of his dances to an American dance company. Their conversations that week resulted in a short film, and initiated the long process that would culminate in the feature-length "Mr. Gaga", which last year became, to everyone's surprise, the most successful documentary film in Israeli history. Today, "Mr. Gaga" begins a U.S. theatrical run, coinciding with performances by Batsheva at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In December, I visited Heymann's editing studio, in a dingy Bauhaus-inspired building overlooking the site of what will one day be a stop on Tel Aviv's long-awaited metro system. Clicking through frames from the thirteen hundred and seventy-two hours of footage he had gathered over eight years, Heymann, now forty-six, explained that he had always wanted to make an Israeli version of "Fame", and initially conceived the film as a portrait of aspiring young dancers in Batsheva's junior company. Later, he turned his focus to the main Batsheva company, but hit a dead end. Naharin was almost forty when he took over Batsheva, in 1990, but, Heymann noticed, the choreographer never spoke about his past. Heymann became obsessed with the question of who Naharin was before Batsheva, and what had shaped him. Naharin, who is reserved about his personal life, wasn't forthcoming with details.
Three years into filming, with the funds almost spent and his investors impatient, Heymann felt lost. "There were many times I came crying to Barak" – his brother, the co-founder of their production company – "and said, ‘I don't think I will have a movie’". Then, in 2010, something changed. Naharin, at fifty-seven, became a father for the first time. Heymann paid him a congratulatory visit, during which Naharin finally succumbed and handed over dozens of boxes of home videos that he had never mentioned before. Heymann likes to think that Naharin was changed by the experience of fatherhood – more willing, finally, to share his past. (When I mentioned this to Naharin, he laughed. "Tomer likes to create stories and drama", he said, insisting that the decision to hand over his archives was "much more trivial. It was about clearing space".)
It took Heymann half a million shekels (about a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars) to digitize the videos, and a year to watch all of them. He discovered footage of Naharin as a child frolicking on the kibbutz where he was born – his "Garden of Eden", as Naharin's father, in an interview in the film, calls it. Subsequent research lead Heymann to footage, from Italian television, of Naharin as a soldier in the Israeli Army's entertainment unit, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In "Mr. Gaga", Heymann juxtaposes these clips with shots from Naharin's recent dances to suggest that the kibbutz and the army are essential motifs in the choreographer's work, illustrating the tensions between the individual and the collective, the proximity of paradise and hell.
Heymann also found home videos from the nineteen-eighties of Naharin living in New York, where he trained at the School of American Ballet and Juilliard, danced for Martha Graham and Maurice Béjart, and fell in love with the beautiful Alvin Ailey dancer Mari Kajiwara, his future wife, who followed him to Israel and who died in 2001. It was in New York that Naharin began to make his own intense and darkly humorous work. "He was looking for himself", Heymann said. Through conversations with the dancers who worked with Naharin during that period, Heymann discovered a young choreographer who was impatient, intimidating, and confident, as well as sometimes silly and down to earth – a stark contrast to the cool detachment that Naharin now projects. "I thought, Wow, it's a different movie", Heymann said. "It's a different Ohad."
Naharin generally refuses to analyze his work, and is famously evasive in interviews and audience Q. & A.s. (Heymann conducted some interviews with Naharin in English to force him to use simpler language and to be more direct.) Naharin told me that he agreed to the film simply to indulge Heymann's passion. "It's a movie about him", he said, elliptically. Heymann, who does not appear in the film, doesn't disagree that the film is partly a document of his own obsession, but he also suspects that the catharsis of making the documentary goes both ways. In one of the film's early scenes, Naharin teaches a dancer how to fall by invoking one of the tenets of Gaga. "You need to find a way to let go", he tells her. In "Mr. Gaga", Heymann offers a portrait of an artist learning to do the same.
* Brian Schaefer is an arts and culture writer in New York.
|Photo by Gadi Dagon|
Ohad Naharin is a choreographer, the Artistic Director of Batsheva Dance Company, and creator of the Gaga movement language.
Naharin was born in 1952 in Mizra, Israel. His mother is a choreographer, dance teacher, and Feldenkrais instructor, and his father was an actor and psychologist. He joined Batsheva Dance Company in 1974 despite having little formal training. During his first year, guest choreographer Martha Graham invited him to join her own company in New York. Between 1975 and 1976, Naharin studied at the School of American Ballet, The Juilliard School, and with Maggie Black and David Howard. He then joined Maurice Béjart's Ballet du XXe Siecle in Brussels for one season.
Naharin returned to New York in 1979 and made his choreographic debut at the Kazuko Hirabayshi studio the following year. From 1980 until 1990, Naharin presented works in New York and abroad, including pieces for Batsheva Dance Company, the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, and Nederlands Dans Theater. At the same time, he worked with his first wife, Mari Kajiwara, and a group of dancers in New York. Naharin and Kajiwara continued to work together until she died from cancer in 2001.
In 1990, Naharin was appointed Artistic Director of Batsheva Dance Company, and in the same year, he established the company's junior division, Batsheva – the Young Ensemble. He has since created over thirty works for both companies.
In addition to his stagework, Naharin also developed GAGA, an innovative movement language based on research into heightening sensation and imagination, becoming aware of form, finding new movement habits, and going beyond familiar limits. GAGA is the daily training of Batsheva's dancers and has spread globally among both dancers and non-dancers.
Naharin trained in music throughout his childhood and continues to infuse his work with a unique musicality. He collaborated with the Israeli rock group, The Tractor's Revenge (Kyr, 1990), Avi Balleli and Dan Makov (Anaphaza, 1993), Ivri Lider (Z/na, 1995), and Grischa Lichtenberger (Last Work, 2015). Under the pseudonym Maxim Waratt, he composed music for MAX (2007) and edited and mixed the soundtracks for Mamootot (2003), Hora (2009), Sadeh21 (2011), The Hole (2013), Last Work (2015) and Venezuela (2017).
Naharin's work has also been featured in several films. In his 2007 documentary, Out of Focus, Director Tomer Heymann filmed the process of restaging Decadance with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. And in 2015, the Heymann Brothers released their comprehensive documentary about Naharin, "Mr. Gaga", to critical and audience acclaim.
A citizen of both Israel and the United States, Naharin currently lives in Israel with his wife, dancer and costume designer Eri Nakamura, and their daughter, Noga.
Gaga movement language developed by Ohad Naharin
Gaga is a new way of gaining knowledge and self-awareness through your body. Gaga provides a framework for discovering and strengthening your body and adding flexibility, stamina, and agility while lightening the senses and imagination. Gaga raises awareness of physical weaknesses, awakens numb areas, exposes physical fixations, and offers ways for their elimination. The work improves instinctive movement and connects conscious and unconscious movement, and it allows for an experience of freedom and pleasure in a simple way, in a pleasant space, in comfortable clothes, accompanied by music, each person with himself and others.
"We become more aware of our form. We connect to the sense of the endlessness of possibilities. We explore multi-dimensional movement; we enjoy the burning sensation in our muscles, we are ready to snap, we are aware of our explosive power and sometimes we use it. We change our movement habits by finding new ones. We go beyond our familiar limits. We can be calm and alert at once." — Ohad Naharin
"Ohad is one of the most alive people I've ever known. His work pushes us all – himself, the dancers, the audience – to the limits of what we are, and then beyond." — Nicole Krauss, Author of The History of Love
"Ohad Naharin is one of the most original and confounding choreographers of our time." — Sid Smith, Chicago Tribune
"One of the most fascinating dancemakers on the planet." — Roslyn Sulcas, New York Times
"Ohad Naharin has specialized in works that can be understood, if not necessarily comprehended." — Anna Kisselgoff, New York Times
"Pioneering some of the most innovative work – and intriguing movement language – in contemporary dance during the past 20 years." — The Sydney Morning Herald
"Naharin's choreography seems to be an infinite dance prism or artistry, commentary and sheer necessity of dancing amok. Naharin is a singular dance voice with a lot to say." — Lewis Whittington, Ballet Magazine
"Naharin is placed in a rarefied group of the world's foremost modern-dance choreographers." — Nigel Redden, Director of Lincoln Centre Festival and Spoleto Festival U.S.A.
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