BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC, MARCH 7–10, 2012
Israel’s celebrated Batsheva Dance Company will perform Hora, a work by the ensemble’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin, from March 7–10 at BAM. Evan Namerow recently spoke with Naharin by phone about his approach to choreography, what he expects of audiences, Gaga (the movement style he created that emphasizes channeling pleasure), and the importance of playfulness.
Evan Namerow (Rail): During a post-performance talk at the Joyce Theater in 2010, an audience member said he thought the company lacked individuality when dancing Project 5 (2005). You responded, “I cannot teach you to see.” Can you elaborate on that?
Ohad Naharin: It means I give my audience a lot of credit. I’m not trying to spoon-feed. Watching my work is about seeing structure, texture, dynamics, the mix of content and form. It’s about letting go of a point of reference in order to have a fresh experience. It’s about seeing the mathematics, and identifying when someone is exaggerating or creating an understatement. It’s about realizing when someone is laughing at himself—not necessarily by making a joke, but through an awareness of how silly it can all be. It’s about listening to the different levels. So I request a lot from the audience.
Rail: Your work has a lot of humor. Where does that come from?
Naharin: It comes from lightness. It’s less about jokes and more about being tickled. Laughing at myself is something I remind myself to do daily.
Rail: Your dancers never look self-conscious on stage. How do you keep them immersed in their performances?
Naharin: It has to do with the research we do in Gaga—finding pleasure—and exploring the scope of sensations and the sublimation of our demons and sensuality. These things occupy us, and we can investigate in the studio. We’re barely aware the audience is watching—it’s like a Peeping Tom. We don’t dance to show ourselves. We are viewers as much as the audience is.
Rail: Your work is performed by several other companies—among them Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet—and next month students at the Juilliard School will perform Secus (2005). Will you be working with the students?
Naharin: I’ll be there for only a few days. More than 15 years ago, I decided not to create new works outside my company, so they’ll be learning an existing work. It’s a much shorter process to help dancers interpret an existing piece.
Rail: Tell me more about Hora.
Naharin: Hora is about itself, but it suggests several points of reference. It refers to music you’ve heard before. It’s about not letting the points of reference prevent us from having a fresh experience. I purposefully created many climaxes, and the climaxes have a weird rhythm. It’s not an idea or story that holds it—it’s a tension. The dancers are on stage the whole time. They don’t leave the space.
Rail: You composed the music for Max (2007) under the name Maxim Waratt and also did the sound design for Hora under that name. Is the person who composes music separate from Ohad the choreographer?
Naharin: For me, Maxim Waratt really exists. He has different aesthetics and needs. A lot of what I do is about games and has to do with codes and rules, and Maxim Waratt is a part of this game. The game doesn’t mean everything is taken lightly. I actually take my game very seriously. The playfulness gives me perspective on how seriously we take ourselves, and reminds me to take what we do seriously, but not ourselves. This makes it easier for me to relate to Maxim Waratt. It’s real.
Rail: Your company has performed at BAM several times. Has BAM served as a home away from home?
Naharin: It’s even bigger than that, because I have a very special relationship with New York. I lived there for 12 years and started my creation of work there. Coming to BAM is very meaningful to me. It’s a welcoming environment. But I don’t take it for granted. Every time we go there, it could be the last time. It’s very fragile, but a beautiful relationship.
Rail: You developed Gaga while recovering from a back injury, and your dancers practice it daily. Is it difficult to watch dancers perform your work when they haven’t trained with you and aren’t familiar with Gaga?
Naharin: It’s challenging, but not because they haven’t done my work. Talent, skills, imagination, and passion—with these qualities, it’s great to work with them whether they have done Gaga or not. There are wonderful dancers everywhere.
Rail: In my experiences studying Gaga in Israel and New York, I sensed an accumulation and building of movement as a class progressed. I also see this in many of your pieces. Is that intentional or does it naturally unfold?
Naharin: It has to do with modular tasks. Sometimes I like accumulation, but it’s more the mathematics of it. There is constantly availability in our bodies to do other things, and this is something that I teach the dancers with words. I use a lot of words, but it’s about translating them into action, into movement.
Rail: While teaching Gaga, have you ever witnessed something in one of your dancers or students that seemed revelatory?
Naharin: Discovery in Gaga is happening on a daily basis, and it’s part of a dialogue I have with the dancers. The people I work with often give me the solution I can’t find by myself. At the heart of Gaga is delicacy: Even if we punch, we punch with delicate hands. Delicacy is the opposite of numbness. It’s the opposite of vulgar. And it’s endless.