Monday, July 15, 2013

For the Love of Dance

I used to love watching modern dance performances.  I saw most, if not all of Ohad Naharin earlier work, and there were hardly any new productions by the Bat Sheva Dance Company that I missed. Visiting the Susan Dellal center for modern dance in Tel Aviv was a treat. And the bonus was the opportunity to stroll through the beautiful nearby Neve Tzedek neighborhood. But that was then.

Maybe I have changed. Or maybe modern dance became too modern. Maybe it all started with Gaga, not Lady Gaga, but the Gaga language of Dance that was invested by Mr. Naharin:
Street Dancers in NY

Gaga is a new way of gaining knowledge and self-awareness through your body.  Gaga is a new way for learning and strengthening your body, 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.  Gaga elevates instinctive motion, links conscious and subconscious movement.  Gaga is an experience of freedom and pleasure. In a simple way, a pleasant place, comfortable close, accompanied by music, every person with himself and others.” Ohad Naharin

I didn't take any Gaga lessons, sorry. But then again, I am not a dancer, just a person who wants to enjoy watching people moving to the sound of music. It used to be simple, sensual, and experiential. It became too sophisticated - at least for me.

I have been to several modern dance shows over the past couple of years. Some were even choreographed by Ohad Naharin himself. But just like Tom Hanks in the movie Big – “I don’t get it.” The dancers are more capable than ever. They have amazing control over their body that would shame any Olympic champion. If you came to see the human body pushed beyond limits – that’s the place to be. But that’s not what I came for.

I found myself leaving the dance performance perplexed and frustrated. I feel as if they were trying to “say something”. That there was some underlying message I didn’t quite get. That if I could only speak ‘Gaga’ then it would have been all clear to me…

I tried Googling “understanding modern dance”. But couldn’t find any website, articles, or even blogs that helped me understand. I even posted a question on Quora, but got no answers. I surrendered to the thought that I am behind the times. That I am missing something that other show goers have. I started convincing myself that I should stick to what I understand, like theater performances where they speak an actual language, not Gaga.

But then I had an epiphany. It happened during my recent visit to New York. I was walking around Washington Square Park, when I came across a crowd that gathered around a few musicians. In the center of the circle were two young African Americans. They were moving to the sound of music, dancing with each other – and with themselves.

I stood in the circle for 10-15min, not noticing the time that passed. It was captivating. It was beautiful. It was rhythmic, surprising, funny, and even sexy. I don’t think they spoke ‘Gaga’. In fact I am pretty sure they never heard the term. There was no “hidden message” I needed to decipher. It was simply a matter of joy and beauty. It reminded me of the times I went to Modern Dance performance and left exhilarated.

Then the music stopped. One of the guys walked around with a hat in his hands. Some folks dropped in a dollar, others a quarter. I dropped $5 into the hat. And while doing that I “whispered – thanks for reminding me what dancing is all about”. I don’t think he heard me. I am not even sure I actually said it out loud. But I meant to.

I challenge all modern dance choreographers:  when you’re next in New York (and I know you will be), stop by Washington Square Park. Maybe you will run into some of these street dancers. And maybe they will remind you what dance should be about… I promise you’ll go gaga over the show!

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