RDT’s “By The Snake” not by the book.

Resized 2Admittedly, I thought of the Lady—Lady Gaga—when I first heard my colleagues, including Artistic Director Linda Smith, talk about a new commission by Gaga Movement Language artists Noa Zuk and Ohad Fishof. It’s been one year since the artistic staff met with the administrative staff and we decided to get brave (and tighten our belts) and just “Go Gaga.”

We put the new commission on the boards (and in the budget) and Presto! The train departed.

Now advance to the next stage in a grant writer’s life who works for a contemporary art company: putting language to high concepts. Why language? To get things funded you need to “tell the story” for the funder who doesn’t know Gaga from…well, Lady Gaga.

That was when Noa and Ohad first started communicating with me and the other staff from the other side of the world—Israel–and, later, from wherever else they were on the globe creating contemporary dance with the funny name. By email we figured out that there were two projects going on here: the gaga workshop at RDT’ annual Summerdance Intensive, and the creation of a new work on RDT itself, something called “By the Snake.”

By the what?

This is when grant writers start to panic—especially grant writers like me who last time they took a dance class (and wore a dance belt—bleh!)  was in college nearly 30 years ago. Then there was the language barrier of Hebrew and English. We were already trying to decipher the inklings of high concept art, and now trying to do it from Hebrew to English and back again.

This is what we found out last fall when we started in earnest to tell the story of gaga in Utah: There would be a 20 to 25-minute new piece set on RDT by Noa (the choreographer) and Ohad (the composer and dramaturge). It would be about social dance, wait… really “couples dancing” (which is not the only kind of social dance) and that it was going to be the third installment of an “investigation” in the utter fusion of sound and movement.

Huh?

Resized 4Good thing Noa was so patient with me. But there was more. This wasn’t going to be just an exercise in tango, or a foxtrot or a waltz, not simply a departure point for coming up with something ironic or decadent, with slight variations motivated by an atonal new sound score by Fishof. Indeed, Noa had more up her gaga sleeve.

She wanted to up-end social / couples dancing completely. After all, what could be more staid and formal, more gender-role driven that the “lead” and the “follower” in an ages-old waltz?  What about “compression,” “leverage” and “tension”—all those terms you may have learned about when you were trying to take yourself seriously as a ballroom dancer? How cemented are these dance forms by our notions of female and male roles? By social protocol—by moving in coordinated ways so that couples look, compatible, happy? What does this kind of rigid social performance tell us about ourselves? (And more importantly, what does it fail to tell us?) Isn’t couples dancing a sort of prelude to the end of a Disney fairy tale?

There will be no fairy tale in “By the Snake,” the title of which, one week into the Israelis’ residency here in Salt Lake, is still eluding all of us. But based on snippets I’ve seen in the studio, it’s not going to be a scorching, weird score with scorching weird movements either (come on, now, face it—modern dance can challenge the audiences’ senses at times). No, what I’ve seen has been rhythmic, and joyous, deeply sensual but not necessarily sexual—something categorically different. Different because of the gaga movement language and theory behind it and in the dancers’ bodies–a kind of centered-ness in tension with an illusion of floating that I haven’t seen before.

Resized 3In a word, exhilarating. Yes, the movement aspires to embody Fishof’s sound score, similar to what you might find in a Saturday morning cartoon—with broad, day-glo gestures and rotating joints that simultaneously pound into the sound and vice versa so that the effect from watching is to make you giddy.

This is new. At least to me—the guy who tries to write convincingly of something he’s never actually done. And, based on my interactions with the breathless dancers out in the hall re-hydrating during a break, it is thrilling.

“By the Snake” is definitely not by the book when it comes to re-imagining and re-constructing what couples dancing might mean in our post-feminist, post-globalized, post-post-modern world. This is heady, visceral, and energizing stuff. No wonder I’m having a challenge finding language to describe this new kind of movement. It has to be seen to appreciate it, and more to the point, embedded in one’s body to fully scope out the magic of Ohad Naharin’s contribution to dance and contemporary art which is happening right now in The Beehive State.

This is not your Lady Gaga’s gaga. Thank goodness.

~~~ written by David Pace

Follow along and support this project!  Visit our Indiegogo page by clicking HERE.

“By the Snake” will premiere at RDT’s season opener, Portal, Oct. 2-4, 2014 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City.