Thursday, January 26, 2012

Floating in air

Ever heard of Gaga dance? No, nothing to do with the inescapable pop diva. It's a modern dance language created by Ohad Naharin with the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv. I saw them perform at BAM a few years ago and was captivated. While the dancers were clearly professionals with the poise and agility of trained dancers, the movements spoke in a language akin to the movements of non-dancers. It wasn't beautiful in conventional or even unconventional ways but there was something very appealing about it. It really seemed like dance in another language, unrelated to all the others, at once entirely novel and familiar. And it rippled with joy.

When I learned that gaga is also for non-professionals, indeed even for people with no dance experience at all, I wondered if it might be taught in New York some day... Well, now it is, at the Mark Morris Dance Center next to BAM no less - three subway stops from my house - every Wednesday night, 8-9. So I gave it a try!

In the big studio on the top floor, the mirrors covered, we were about a score of people - many seem to be dancers, not all. The instructor had a sound track which was she often turned off, and never loud enough to be more than background sound. I can't describe (or remember) all we did, but what particularly got me was the starting exercise, which I continued exploring the whole time. "Float is if in water," said the instructor. "Your arms might as well fall up as down." We found each part of our bodies, starting with the head, floating loose from the other. We moved like seaweed, sometimes a pulse from the head leading down, sometimes pushed by horizontal currents from several directions. When we'd reached our feet we started building back up, the feet now putting down roots, becoming "thick and juicy," filling out our emptied floating form part by part with a kind of effort, back up to our necks. And then she told us to pull the bones out, the way you pull the bones from a perfectly cooked chicken... Later we law still on the floor as a small animal started twitching in our pelvis, getting more agitated until our legs moved like spaghetti in boiling water, and, standing again, rolled invisible balls from the joints of our wrists up and down our arms, then into the hollow of our ribcages, and then a second ball was rolling, a third, a fourth.

This sounds insane, I'm sure. But more insane yet is that we did all those things, that they can be done. We actually floated. The balls rolled. It's nothing short of astonishing how your experience of your body (and so of everything else) can be changed so easily, becoming heavy, light, loose, tight, airy, juicy, full, empty. Mind can do that, with body, or body with mind. Dancers - and athletes, too - know this. But the rest of us trudge along as though the body is a fixed, stable, one-channel experience.

I'm going again next week. It's good to be modern dancing again!

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