This multi award winning documentary is gloriously photographed and gives us a rare insight in to the world of world renowned choreographer Ohad Naharin, aka Mr Gaga, now in his mid sixties, who has been Artistic Director of the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel since 1990.
There are snippets of many of Naharin’s works (from the early Tabula Rasa to Last Work in 2015) brilliantly performed, and we are left wanting more.
It took filmmaker Tomer Heymann (Paper Dolls and Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? ) eight years to develop and perfect this extraordinary film.
MR GAGA attempts to understand the connection between the life of the choreographer and his art; reveals Naharin’s life story and his sources of inspiration. The film also discusses Naharin’s childhood on Kibbutz Mizra with some exciting early footage.
MR GAGA finds a relationship between the horrors of what he saw while serving in an army entertainment troupe during the Yom Kippur War and militaristic elements in his own work, most notably in his work Sadeh 21.
We learn how Naharin is a twin and that dance was a way to communicate with his twin brother.
Naharin’s striking abstract work has similarities to that of Pina Bausch. The documentary, in style, is similar to the great German filmmmaker Wim Wenders’ film PINA.
After his term with the army entertainment troupe, Naharin’s mother encouraged him to keep dancing. Naharin continued to study dance seriously, and ended up working, at different times, with both Martha Graham and Maurice Bejart. The film features some amazing footage of Nureyev working with Graham.
At the time Naharin struggled a little with depression. He wanted to start creating work that he found more personally meaningful.
Naharin started doing just that whilst living in New York. He married Mari Kajiwara in 1978 and that gave him more focus. Sadly Kaiiwara passed away in 2001 from cancer but some breathtaking footage of her dazzling performances are shown.
Naharin is now married to Eri Nakamura, a Batsheva dancer with whom he has an enchanting small daughter who we see delightfully interrupting rehearsals.
At one point the film concentrates on an episode in which Naharin’s work faced censorship when organisers of Israel’s 50th anniversary celebrations insisted he clothe his dancers more modestly. We see how the work was withdrawn by Naharin in protest at this kind of censorship/ puerile mentality.
As a result of his bold stance Naharin became something of a cultural hero in Israel, coming to the attention of many Israelis who had no interest in dance but admired his resolve.
We follow Naharin rehearsing his Company and working on new pieces. We see how he can be a harsh taskmaster, chiding his dancers for their lack of emotional commitment. (The film’s opening sequence is one where he gets a dancer to repeatedly crumple and rehearse a fall until it is completed to his approval).
Naharin’s work blends unpredictable fractured movement, smattered bits of spoken text, social comment, and other challenging elements in an electric combination. It demands a seemingly boneless body but also one that has the ability of extreme control.
Riveting footage of performances are included – Naharin, at times, appears to conjure other worlds, and employs strong visual images. Examples are his use of the row in Tabula Rasa, the pas de deux for a man and a women representing human and beast , and in Anaphase. There is also the use of accordions in The Sinking of the Titanic and his concern for the environment in Pas de Pepsi.
The “Gaga” of the title defines the unique style and language of dance movement that Naharin invented, which is used by Batsheva as well as dance troupes and non-dancers around the world. Naharin proclaims that Gaga is accessible to the masses, and that dance has the power to heal. The nature and various applications of Gaga are somewhat briefly and confusingly explained even though there is a brief appearance by A-list Natalie Portman spruiking it.
MR GAGA leaves us with a portrait of very charismatic artist, rather distant and aloof, seldom solemn, but a touch arrogant.
This was a fascinating documentary. MR GAGA screened as part of this years’ Sydney Film Festival.
The standard image of charismatic Naharin is one that is rather distant and aloof, somewhat solemn and perhaps arrogant but this documentary gives us a rare, fascinating glimpse behind the curtain.
Mr GAGA screens as part of the Sydney Film Festival 12 and 13 June 12, 2016 Running time 100 mins. A Heyman Brothers Films production. (International sales: East Village Entertainment, New York.) Produced by Barak Heymann. Executive producer, Diana Holtzberg.