By Linda C. Smith
Artistic | Executive Director
At the turn of the 20th century, many dancers worldwide were exploring ways to express the energy of a new era … one that was influenced by technology, the access to travel and the discovery of scientific principles that were to change our lives forever. Daring choreographers boldly rejected the status quo and were determined to create new movement languages.
That exploration continues through Gaga.
As a repertory company, Repertory Dance Theatre houses the work of over 150 different choreographers. Each requires a dancer to learn a different movement vocabulary. Today, RDT’s expanding lexicon now includes the Gaga movement language developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, Artistic Director of the Batsheva Dance Company based in Tel Aviv.
“Gaga is a new way of gaining knowledge and self-awareness through your body. Gaga provides a framework for discovering and strengthening your body and adding flexibility, stamina, and agility while lightening the senses and imagination. Gaga raises awareness of physical weaknesses, awakens numb areas, exposes physical fixations, and offers ways for their elimination. The work improves instinctive movement and connects conscious and unconscious movement, and it allows for an experience of freedom and pleasure in a simple way, in a pleasant space, in comfortable clothes, accompanied by music, each person with himself and others. We become more aware of our form. We connect to the sense of the endlessness of possibilities. 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. We can be calm and alert at once.” –Ohad Naharin
RDT has worked with Gaga in the past, so the language wasn’t new for us when, during the summer of 2016, we had the pleasure of working with dancer and choreographer Danielle Agami and her company Ate9. But as with writing, different authors use the same language very differently. Gaga is a tool Agami uses on a daily basis while choreographing her original repertory.
The experience for RDT dancers was again transforming.
Danielle Agami was born in Israel in 1984 and was a member of the Batsheva Dance Company from 2002-2010. She functioned as the company’s rehearsal director and is now one of only fifty Gaga teachers worldwide. In 2011, Agami relocated to New York City, then founded Ate9 Dance and chose Los Angeles as the company’s home. Agami describes Gaga as a movement language rather than a technique. She says, “Gaga trains us to be fully effective and efficient in our body movements as we communicate.” The Gaga experience connects our senses to a world of endless possibilities.
Anyone can take a Gaga class. Experienced dancers might take a class alongside someone who has never danced before. However, there is a protocol in class and a list of requirements that one is expected to follow.
Instructions on taking a Gaga Class
You must be on time to the class. No entry for latecomers: Attending the first minutes of the class is very important so you will be able to produce more from the session and take care of your body.
Everyone work barefoot, without shoes. Participants wear comfortable clothes that allow freedom of movement.
Never stop. The class is one session, with no pauses or exercises. It is a continuity of instructions one on top of the other, never a cancellation of the previous one but added to it, layer upon layer. Therefore, it is important not to stop in the middle of the session. If you get tired or want to work at another pace, you can always lower the volume, work 30 or 20 perecent, float, or rest, but without losing sensations that have already been awakened.
Warm up. A Gaga class begins with a slow warm up to awaken the body. During class students explore ways of moving designed to heighten sensitivity and build strength and flexibility. Throughout the class, students are in constant motion, crawling on the floor, walking, falling, circling the wrist, head rolling, arching and kicking through space. Movement that begins subtly often explodes into actions that have every part of the body gyrating–raw and controlled all at once.
Listening to the body. It is important that you take the instructions gently into your body while being aware of the body’s sensations, abilities, and limitations. Do not seek excessive effort on your first time–seek the quality of the movement, the sensation to which you are aiming, but with less intensity in the work. Go to places where the pleasure in movement is awakened and not to places of pain. Maintain the connection to pleasure especially during effort (effort being different than pain). If you have any limitation, restrictions, or physical pain–permanent or temporary–talk to the teacher before the class starts, and be aware of these factors throughout the session.
Awareness. Be aware. Get inspired by the teacher and by other people in the room. Be mindful of people around you, the space that they need, and the interaction if any.
Silence: During the session do not speak unless instructed to use your voice or words. If you have any questions, you are welcome to bring them up at the end of the session.
Dancers with Repertory Dance Theatre have responded to the Gaga classes with enthusiasm. And Gaga has affected the way they rehearse and perform.
In our next post, you can read, firsthand, what RDT dancers have learned from their Gaga experience.