Charlotte Street Foundation identifies the needs and fuels the evolution of an ever-changing multidisciplinary arts ecosystem, acting as its primary provocateur. We cultivate the contemporary, the exceptional, and the unexpected in the practice of artists working in and engaging with the Kansas City Art Community
Every day, each of us takes in countless bits of media and stimuli that impact our processes, our projects, and our lives. Sometimes we seek out specific sources of inspiration and other times we happen upon them. Sometimes we immediately realize the significance of what we are taking in and other times we realize it only with hindsight’s wisdom. Most of the time we won’t come to fully understand the connections we have woven between the sources of inspiration with what we put into the world.
A group of current CSF residents have begun presenting about these sources of personal inspiration and, in doing so, are finding greater understanding between our work and ourselves. If you haven’t already, check out Logan’s inaugural post about this project.
For my first input/output presentation, I shared three related sources: Batsheva Dance Company, Gaga movement language, and Mr. Gaga, a documentary about Ohad Naharin.
Batsheva is an Israeli dance company founded in 1964 with Martha Graham serving as its first artistic leader. In 1990, Ohad Naharin began in his current role as artistic director. Naharin is known for making choreography with the dancers’ collaboration and then handing the piece over to the dancers completely. There are many reformulations of choreography that when placed in different contexts or danced by different people can change the narrative of the work. Project 5 (2008) originally featured five female dancers and in 2010 was reconstructed with five male dancers. In the scope of the dance genre – especially ballet – this is a deeply subversive act. However, in the scope of Batsheva, where the dancers take on the choreography as a collective and with attention to their individual relationships and interpretations of the movements, the meaning is not as tied to the idea that males are dancing parts that were originally choreographed for females, but the attention is drawn to how five new people are interpreting these movements and how that recontextualizes the meaning of the piece.
There have been many formulations of Echad Mi Yodea, originally created in 1990 as one of the first pieces Naharin choreographed for Batsheva. It is sometimes performed in a half-circle and sometimes with filling the stage with many more dancers in front-facing chairs. This piece uses repetition, uniformity, discord, and directionality, and the variable uses of the stage-space impact the audience’s experience.
This piece also illustrates the influence of the dancers on the choreography. The story goes that one of the dancers did not hear Naharin’s change in instructions and fell to the ground as had been done in a previous practice. The dancer’s (mis)interpretation of the movements was then applied within the whole work in a way that complicates and enhances the narrative.
The consideration of dance as a collection of movements made by individuals enhancing their own interpretations and bodies in working together toward sharing a narrative parallels the consideration of the audience as a collection of people viewing that narrative in an experience that is at once shared and distinctive. The connections and conflicts between individual and community are a recurring theme in Batsheva productions.
Naharin has created a movement language called “Gaga” that is used in the Batsheva dancers’ training as well as in workshops around the world. Many of the workshops (called “Gaga/people”) are open to anyone regardless of dance training or physical ability.
When Naharin was faced with a back injury that he was told would impede his ability to dance, he began to explore movement as a way to be “connected to physical healing sensations…to effort and pleasure”1. By considering the ways we extend ourselves every day, I began to think of movement not with a fixed idea of body and its limitations, but in how we can use our connections with our bodies to facilitate positive processes of healing and growth. We often stop ourselves short of potential because of misunderstandings of our capabilities or inclinations and Gaga seeks to rectify those misunderstandings through both increased attention within ourselves and release of our false or limited impressions.
Teachers guide the participants using a series of evocative instructions that build one on top of the other. Rather than copying a particular movement, each participant in the class actively explores these instructions, discovering how he or she can interpret the information and perform the task at hand.
What does my body or face do physically that helps me to be able to convey the truths of how I’m feeling to someone else? What do I notice in the transitions between movements that teaches me about the transitions between emotions? When do I first realize an emotion by its impact on my body? Gaga movement language is less about having an ideal technique all dancers should espouse and instead having an evolving understanding of the ways we express emotion, concept, and meaning.
I first learned of Batsheva, Naharin, and Gaga through a screening of Mr. Gaga last spring at the Tivoli. The documentary explores Naharin’s history and development of contemporary dance and movement practices.
Before reading further, please note that I’m going to describe a few specific moments from the documentary and their implications. If you are inclined to watch the film without this knowledge, stop here and head to Netflix or your favorite video provider. Then come back and tell me what you think.
In my own creative nonfiction work, I aim to confront and expose the plays of memory and construct that I make in order to share a narrative. Mr. Gaga provided me an example of how one can creatively craft a nonfiction narrative by playing off the audience expectation for biography and personal history.
One of the first appearances by Naharin in the film is his answering why he started to dance to an unheard and unseen questioner. His answer is about how his autistic twin brother would only engage with the family through dance. When his grandmother danced, he describes how his brother would light up from within.
This is the sort of origin story we appreciate and expect from people – especially people who are incredibly inspirational in their work and discipline. We are predisposed to believe that one of the premiere contemporary choreographers would have a compelling story to share about dance’s origination in his life.
Immediately, though perhaps noticed only in hindsight, there seems to be some conflicting information about this story. That Naharin didn’t start to perform until he was part of an entertainment troupe in the military. That he was in his early twenties before he started his dance training. While there could be ways to reconcile the origin story with these details, it created a narrative conflict for me and I remember I had an unsettled feeling that I couldn’t quite contextualize for most of the film.
Then, Naharin is interviewed again, this time seemingly within the context of the documentary. He talks about being at a press conference and being asked by a reporter why he began to dance. He responded with a “totally made up story that I told on the spot […because] sometimes a totally made up story is the best answer to a question that seems elusive to me”1. I am intrigued by the idea of using a creative nonfiction form like documentary to confront so directly the idea of how truth is constructed, manipulated, simplified.
With the group at input/output, we discussed the ways we invite misinformation into the world by asking questions without the time or contexts needed to really delve into the answers. We have preconceived notions that people like Naharin – great minds and creators – have a cohesive and inspiring answer to questions of their origins, paths, and destinations. We have preconceived notions that we should have these answers for ourselves.
With that, I encourage you all to come back on Monday to read Matthew Krawcheck’s post about his art and technology inspirations.
1Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance. Directed by Tomer Heymann. Performances by Ohad Naharin. Abramorama. 2015.