Do you know who Ohad Naharin is? Whether you are familiar with this influential choreographer or not, whether you are a fan of ballet or not, he will draw you into his genius. “Never perform my work,” he says to his dancers. Naharin guides them to be the energy that expresses his vision.
Ohad Naharin is the Mr. Gaga of the documentary “Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance.” “Gravity is one of the great forces that makes dance happen,” he’d explain. His dancers respond to his coaching, even if following instructions means collapsing repeatedly onto the un-cushioned floor.
While his choreography often exhibits piston-driven intensity, it more often compacts vitality into brilliantly simple conceits. How would you like being the troupe member who must run-in-place on a conveyor belt throughout Naharin’s “Last Work”? As you watch more complex creativity center stage, it occurs to you that when Naharin integrates gimmick and grace, he knows how to serve his artistic vision well.
“Mr. Gaga” intertwines Naharin’s personal story with his professional story. In the 1950s he tasted an idyllic life as a young child on a kibbutz. He swallowed war-torn realities in his homeland, Israel. He had no formal dance training until he was 22. His first wife, an accomplished dancer, died of cancer. His current wife, also an accomplished dancer, bore his only child. In the film, that little girl steals a precious family scene during a practice session.
His personal style has registered a fair bit of notoriety, not the least being his (short-lived) resignation as the artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company. Apparently, having his dancers perform in their underwear, rather than in leotards, was a place for censors to try to draw the line.
Behind the term “Gaga,” Naharin’s dance language and teaching method resonates much more than that pert coinage. Don’t let the “Mr. Gaga” in the film title distract you. Just pass through that documentary doorway to a richly “True Story of Love and Dance.”