Mr. Gaga

MR. GAGA, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, in English and He­brew with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 4 chiles

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In a re­hearsal caught in the doc­u­men­tary Mr. Gaga, Ohad Na­harin, artis­tic di­rec­tor of Is­rael’s Bat­sheva Dance Com­pany, asks a dancer to fin­ish a phrase of move­ment by fall­ing to the ground. She does so, and he in­ter­jects. “Maybe you need to cre­ate the rea­son for the fall.” She tries again. He in­ter­jects. “Way too much con­trol.” She tries again. “Just let it hap­pen. You’ve gone into your head too much.” Again she falls. “The soft­ness of your flesh will pro­tect you. Are you stressed?” The dancer an­swers, em­phat­i­cally, “No.” “So do it again.”

Mr. Gaga is par­tially an artist bi­og­ra­phy re­count­ing Na­harin’s care­free child­hood on a kib­butz, his time in the Is­raeli army, a dance ca­reer in New York, and his emer­gence, back in Is­rael, as one of the lead­ing chore­og­ra­phers of his age. More im­por­tant, how­ever, are scenes in re­hearsal, and the op­por­tu­ni­ties to lis­ten to his di­rec­tion. The sound of Na­harin’s voice — deep, thought­ful, prob­ing, is like that of a guru. To watch dancers in­vest­ing repet­i­tive, pedes­trian move­ments with the kind of in­ten­sity that be­lies rou­tine, tells more about the man be­hind the dance than any in­ter­views.

The film does in­clude talk­ing heads, but these come with the bit­ter­sweet qual­ity in­her­ent in watch­ing re­tired dancers re­call their primes. The re­al­ity of dance as a youth­ful art form also adds power to scenes of Na­harin, a fa­ther for the first time in his late fifties, deal­ing with his own tod­dler cry­ing at re­hearsal. Na­harin is, af­ter all, a nor­mal, flawed hu­man be­ing, and the film, ti­tled Mr. Gaga af­ter the move­ment lan­guage he in­vented for his own use, is a doc­u­ment of his very hu­man style of brilliance.

“I dance ev­ery day,” he says, “and I think ev­ery­one should.” Scenes in a huge con­fer­ence room, late in the film, fea­ture Na­harin on a plat­form, sur­rounded by hun­dreds of “reg­u­lar” peo­ple, all mov­ing ec­stat­i­cally. “I take phys­i­cal plea­sure from this ac­tiv­ity,” he says. “Danc­ing is to­tally a part of how I feel alive. I like watch­ing it. It turns me on.”

In 1998, at a gala celebration hon­or­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of Is­rael, Na­harin’s com­pany was slated to present a sec­tion from his Mi­nus 16, set to the Passover song “Echad Mi Yodea.” In the piece the dancers are seated on fold­ing chairs dressed in black suits and be­gin to un­dress, throw­ing their clothes in the air. A con­ser­va­tive back­lash prompted Na­harin to can­cel the per­for­mance. The events caused a na­tional di­a­logue about artis­tic free­dom ver­sus re­li­gious dogma, and made Na­harin a cul­tural hero.

Dance is a barely un­der­stood art form. Au­di­ences may re­spond to ar­ti­fice — the pointe shoes and tu­tus of ballet; they may en­joy be­ing in the pres­ence of beau­ti­ful bod­ies. But see­ing the ex­am­ples of Na­harin’s work through­out

Mr. Gaga of­fers a hint of other pos­si­bil­i­ties — that move­ment can be more than ef­fort­less and per­fect. Na­harin is fond of say­ing to his dancers be­fore a per­for­mance, “Don’t **** with me. My life de­pends on you.” His dance is hu­man, dif­fi­cult, cathar­tic, and emo­tional. Mr. Gaga is an op­por­tu­nity to wit­ness and taste this artist’s raw, phys­i­cal need, and the bril­liant way he has ex­ploded this urge into move­ment. — Michael Wade Simp­son

A chore­og­ra­pher pre­pares: Ohad Na­harin, right

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