Impressions of: "Mr Gaga" -- A Documentary on Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company

Impressions of: "Mr Gaga" -- A Documentary on Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company
Deirdre Towers/Follow @spiffmoves on Twitter

By Deirdre Towers/Follow @spiffmoves on Twitter
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Published on January 26, 2017
Ohad Naharin; Photo: Gadi Dagon

MR. GAGA will play in New York February 1-9 at the Film Society Lincoln Center and February 1-16 at Film Forum

There will also be a special screening at BAM Center on January 30, 2017. For more info, click here.


The award-winning Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin explains why he began to dance in MR. GAGA, the documentary made about him with feverish relish by Tomer Heymann. In the film we learn that Naharin's grandmother discovered that the artist's autistic twin brother would become engaged when she danced for him; so, when his grandmother died in a car accident, Naharin felt compelled to assume her role. Heymann shows the grandmother dancing and a very young Naharin dancing (alone), flitting about with scarfs and a flag, when the family still lived on a Kibbutz.
 
Later in the film, Naharin discredits the twin/grandmother story, claiming that he had fabricated it for an interviewer.
 
Director Tomer Heymann in a suit jacket and jeans sits on the steps of a porch that is lined with plants. The palm of his hands are pressed together.

Director Tomer Heymann; Photo: Mari Mur

Heymann, who has made fourteen films, found MR. GAGA the most difficult: agonizing over what frame should open and close the work; wondering how to convey the multiple layers of Naharin’s art along with the depth of confusion this choreographer often stirs up; and, sussing out how to capture the drama in a form as abstract as dance. Heymann wrestled with his three editors about the story of the autistic twin, finally deciding for its inclusion because the incident says a lot about the manipulative nature of the artist.

The director approached this documentary, made painstakingly over nine years, as a weaver of fine and rough threads. We see Naharin push his dancers to repeat a phrase, particularly a fall, until he sees their complete release. Dancer/Choreographer Reggie Wilson says that being one of Naharin's dancers in the 1980s was tough, yet everyone stuck it out because of a collective sense that they were mining something important. Naharin's first wife, Mari Kajiwara (1951-2001), to whom the movie is dedicated, understood what he was aiming for and could express it to his dancers.

A group of dancers hover over chairs. Shoes and clothers are strewn about. One dancer assumes a dramatic back end with her legs wide apart.

Batsheva Dance Company in Mr. Gaga; Photo: Gadi Dagon

As with so many documentaries, archival footage are the jewels of MR. GAGA. It is fascinating to witness the uncanny ease of Naharin, the untrained dancer, tumbling on his lawn or to see him later warbling in a New York tub, with his guitar going for a swim at the end of the song. We observe the 50th anniversary of the founding of Israel when his dancers refused to perform because of a costume dispute, and see Kajiwara, in Joyce Tristler’s solo Journey. Then there is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performing in Naharin’s compelling Minus 16, and the battling duet, Sixty a Minute, in which Naharin jams Kajiwara against a keyboard, then flips over the back of the piano.
 
Dancers lay on the stage on their backs with their right legs extended straight on the floor and their left foot is on the ground so that their knee stands up to the ceiling. One dancer stands in the background.
Batsheva Dance Company in Mr. Gaga; Photo: Gadi Dagon

Thoroughly memorable and intriguing, MR. GAGA begins his theatrical run at the Film Forum on February 1, 2017 (where it runs through Feb. 16th) as arranged by Distributor/Executive Producer Diana Holtzberg of East Village Entertainment, in conjunction with the U.S. tour of Batsheva Dance Company at BAM February 1-4, 2017.
 

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