I am in a dance studio with white curtains pulled across all the mirrors. I stand with ten other individuals, the dancers of Tanzcompagnie Oldenburg, who share my inquisitive expression. We wear comfortable clothing and socks on our feet. We stand in a circle, slightly swaying to the music faintly playing in the distance.
One woman stands inside of our circle. Rebecca Hytting is both intensely present and somewhere far away as she finds ways to explore her own sinewy body’s liquid movement possibilities. Her soft, calm voice leads us through verbal cues as she suggests which body parts might find a physical connection, or what dynamic element we might try to explore.
I begin to experience what it feels like to uncurl a finger, to rotate a shoulder, to feel every part of my foot against the floor. I am fixated on how far I can twist my spine in one direction while my gaze pursues another. And, how does it feel to add an awareness to my pelvis, and then connect it to the points in my feet that I located before? My body is made up of skin, bones, muscles, blood, life, and energy. I am a three-dimensional canvas, and the movement possibilities are limitless. For these seventy-five minutes, I am constantly searching. This is my first introduction to Gaga.
In order to give me a better understanding about the Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s unique Gaga technique, Rebecca sits down with me to describe her personal journey with dance, and tell me a bit more about her experience with Gaga. The prospect of an interview is a litte unfamiliar to her; she is used to dance as her form of self-expression. She is simultaneously protective, generous, and honest. We sit at a picnic table outside of the Oldenburg Staatstheater. Her hair is pulled away from her impish face, and she hugs her knees to her chest.
Was contemporary dance always your focus?
I grew up in Sweden. I always liked to dance, but it was more of a hobby when I was young. I didn’t consider it an option as a career. As a teenager I focused more on school. But then when I graduated, I decided that I wanted to be a dancer. So, I went to the Balettakademien, Stockholm. We had classes in all different styles: ballet, modern, contemporary, improv. The students in my group were my age, but were from all different backgrounds. Some were even hip-hop dancers. So I had a lot of exposure to different dance techniques that I thought were interesting. But yes, I was always drawn to contemporary.
What kind of freelance work did you do after you graduated?
I did a lot of small projects with different people all over. We did a lot of improvisation, particularly with one woman who inspired me a lot. It was different than the improv I had done in school, and I found it very exciting. I don’t know why exactly it was different. It wasn’t connected with that school atmosphere, or accomplishing an assigned task. I could focus on finding original movement inside of my own body, and that work was really interesting.
How did you meet Ohad Naharin?
He came to Sweden to do a collaboration between Riksteatern and his company Batsheva, and I was a part of it. I thought the work was really fascinating. After the project was over I asked him if I could join his ensemble. So I moved to Tel Aviv and joined Batsheva Dance Company.
How would you describe the Gaga style?
I would say it is a form of research through movement that allows you to connect to sensation in the body. For me it opened up a whole new page in how I looked at movement. You can build on it every day, and each time it’s different. The research is just for you and how you understand yourself. It isn’t for anyone else. That’s why it can be applied to any work you do as a dancer. The dancer chooses how to use it. Maybe it’s just in the mind, a new way of thinking. But that kind of body and mind awareness changes you, so that you never stop working.
Everyone has been asking me, why is it called Gaga?
Yea, I don’t know. It’s something that babies say. I think Ohad talks about it in his videos. I don’t think you can really analyze it though. It’s just a word, not a secret.
Is there any criteria for the music that you use when you teach Gaga?
I play music that I like. If it makes me feel inspired to move, maybe it will give more pleasure to the class. There are no music requirements in a Gaga class, as long as the body can focus on listening.
So, you left Batsheva to work with Sharon Eyal?
Yes, Sharon was also a dancer in Batsheva, and she choreographed pieces for the company. I went to work with her and her collaborator, Gai Behar in their project called L-E-V. Now I dance in their works, and I tour with them to help Sharon staging her work for other dancers. Right now we are here working with Tanzcompagnie Oldenburg on their re-premier of Plafona.
I guess you must travel a lot. Where is home now?
Yes, I love to travel, but Tel Aviv is definitely still home. I live there with my husband. I love having my life there; going out to eat good food, and drinking coffee. Oh, and the beaches! I need to be somewhere where I can be relaxing in flip flops.
And the future?
I hope I will still be working with dance in some way. I think that the future of contemporary dance isn’t so much about youth or technical skill, although those can still be engaging too. But it’s really about showing something interesting. And you can’t define what that is, because it’s always different. Sure, being older might bring a deeper story. But it’s so personal, and so individual. You just know when you see it.
When we said goodbye, I felt a little bit uneasy. Maybe my questions revealed that I missed the point of Gaga entirely. But the next morning in my last class with Rebecca, I understood. The beauty of this style is that it is entirely about the individual sensory experience, which simply cannot be described in words. The remarkable thing was that I had the opportunity to be exposed to, and explore, this research. I ended the workshop with a better understanding of my body’s movement capabilities, and a deeper respect for the others around me exploring their own investigation. I became inspired to go further down my path. That, for me, is Gaga.
To learn more about the Gaga style and upcoming open classes/ workshops around the world, please visit http://gagapeople.com/english/. Also hear Ohad Naharin speaking about Gaga in this short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGPG1QL1vJc.
(first posted on 22 May, 2014)