The Gaga Movement Language Workshop comes to Philadelphia

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by Chrysta Brown for The Dance Journal

We’ve all heard it, maybe we’ve even said it. “Fake it until you make it.”  One dance industry professional advised my freshman college class to show up to every class, audition, job, and opportunity with the phrase “I’m happy to be here and easy to work with” painted in bright red (or pink, or nude, or glittered, or whatever color the role required) on our lips.    It is valuable advice. We are, after all, eager dancers who feast on the dance, and who are happy to be anywhere there is dancing, and that makes us easy to work with.  But one can only “fake it” for so long.  Somewhere between faking it and making it,  the person who fell in love with dance can get lost in the process.   We can become so consumed with conforming to who a director or choreographer needs us to be that we forget, or even stop caring about who we actually are.

One of my favorite essays is called “We Are Not What We Seem: The Politics and Pleasures of Community,” by Robin D.G. Kelley.   The piece examines the professional and social roles that African Americans occupied in America in the 1930’s.  The essay argued that the weekend rush to the dance halls did more than provide social amusement and entertainment.  It was a chance for those who trudged through the work week to reclaim their bodies with lively feet and expressive movement.   These dances, Kelley wrote, “enabled African Americans to take back their bodies for their own pleasure rather than another’s profit.”  This reclamation was a chance for those pressed into certain roles to break free and rediscover their identities.

I first became familiar with Ohad Naharin as a choreographer through “Decadance,” a celebration of Naharin’s 10 years with the Israeli company, Batsheva.  That night’s performance was  primal, evocative,  sometimes uncomfortable, but thoroughly captivating. There was, and continues to be, something in the movement language of the company that makes it accessible to dancers and non-dancers alike.  Apparently, that something has to do with  Gaga.

Idan Porges
Idan Porges

Gaga is the name given to the official movement language of Batsheva.  Almost like a spoken language, it has managed to infiltrate dance communities all over the world.  Gaga People, as the practitioners call themselves, regularly gather in New York, San Francisco, Europe, Asia, and, of course, Tel Aviv.   This March,  through the organization of Alexei Borovik Ballet, Gaga will find a community in Philadelphia. The Gaga Movement Language series will be taught by former Batsheva Dance Ensemble member, Idan Porges.  Porges is a dance professional, manager of the Gaga Teacher Training Program.  He is in Philadelphia at Swarthmore College as a Schustermann Visiting artist.

The most academic way to describe a Gaga class is to use the term “structured improvisation.”  But academic language and thinking can be limiting, especially when it comes to dance.  Naharin’s own description reads more like a manifesto.  “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.”

The class comes with instructions.  They are rules that, in addition to other directives, forbid the use of mirrors,  do not allow questions once the class has begun, and demand punctuality.  Above all, the technique encourages continuous exploration and play.  “Go to places where the pleasure in movement is awakened and not to places of pain,” the rules say.  “Maintain the connection to pleasure especially during effort.” During my first Gaga class the instructor began by telling us to “Take a minute to listen to your body and figure out what it wants.”

Gaga values honest self-expression, which means that the class experience differs from person to person and from day to day.  Like the class itself, the process begins with small movements, small alterations,  and small ideas and steps that build, grow, and develop.  These evolutions give the dancer the opportunity to reclaim and rediscover their dancing and living bodies.  “It is about my love for dance,” Naharin explained. “It is about my need to heal myself.”

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The Gaga Movement Language Workshop will be held at the Performance Garage (1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia, PA).  Class dates and times are: Monday, March 16,  10-11am;  Monday, March 23, 10-11am; and Saturday, March 28, 1-2pm.  For more information visit: http://alexeiborovik.com/gaga.html.

About Chrysta Brown

Pennsylvania native, Chrysta Brown, is a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts where she studied dance and writing. She graduated with honors from Southern Methodist University where she earned a BFA in Dance Performance, and a minor in Human Rights Education. She has worked professionally as a dancer, choreographer, and writer in Dallas, TX, Denver, CO, and Philadelphia, PA. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing, and working as a children’s ballet instructor.

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