Ohad Naharin
Photo by Ilya Melnikov

Ohad Naharin: “What is this something else?”

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Short Profile

Name: Ohad Naharin
DOB: 22 June 1952
Place of birth: Mizra, Israel
Occupation: Dance choreographer

Ohad Naharin was the mentor of Londiwe Khoza in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative 2016-2017.

Mr. Naharin, in your opinion as a dance choreographer, can everyone and anyone dance?

Everyone and anyone can dance, because dancing is not only about performing. Dance is not even about being together, you can dance alone. Dance is not about dancing to music, you can dance in silence. So of course everybody can dance — and not only can, should. There was a time before I had come up with my movement language, Gaga, when I was starting to discover things that really connect to what I’m looking for, which is the quality of movement, the flow of energy, the use of gravity, lightness, silliness. I don't think I even thought about form!

The kind of dance you teach seems almost uninterested in precise form or perfect technique.

Right, we are creating very in a very free way, finding groove, being in the moment. So it has a kind of meditative quality, but you also sweat while doing it. With dance technique, there is no such thing as perfect. That's a mistake; many times dancers look for perfection, instead of admitting that we're far from being perfect. We can still be magnificent, you know, you don't need to be perfect to be magnificent, and you can be so-called perfect and be very boring, especially when you come to ballet. You can see two dancers doing the same movement, and one of them turns you on, and one of them you're bored with. So it’s not the technique. There's something else there. And that's what I'm interested in, what is this something else?

“When I watch something that I can call sublime, it includes in it all the codes and rules, but it is also writing new codes that push this art form forward.”

And have you figured it out?

When I watch work that really moves me, when I watch something that I can call sublime, it includes in it all the codes and rules, but it is also writing new codes that push this particular art form forward. I think I will research the quality movement as long as I live. I'm getting old now so I'm becoming very interested in how to do more with less, how we can find something common between all of us, whether we are young, old, strong or not, coordinated or not, injured…

A dancer who worked with you once said that she feels like her identity as a dancer is constantly in flux; that she is always learning and evolving as an artist because of your teachings.

That makes sense because I think what really turns me on is discoveries, and to go beyond my familiar limits on a daily basis, to share it, to learn from the people I share it with. In some ways, I feel that nothing changed since I was five years old. And I like that.

What have you discovered recently about your own movement or abilities?

I realized that I need to use my pinky finger more often! I’ve seriously felt that I'm getting atrophy, I’m experiencing some numbness; the same thing for my feet, you know, the toes, the legs, we stop using them! So by applying awareness and activating our toes, for example, we can connect to healing the rest of our body, longevity, balance, things like that. So, recently I have been talking to my dancers about the use of these three fingers and toes: the pinky, ring, and middle ones. But it's also never just one thing, if I talk about the toes, at the same time I will also talk about the skin, and how we can use the sense of touch, how we can use the surface of our body to sense our form, how we can connect our skin to the distance of things.

What do you mean?

Well, it’s not just with our eyes that we sense the distance, we don't even use mirrors when we dance. The distance of things connects us to giving and receiving, and that creates a different quality of being or connecting to the moment. For example, you can be very quick and very explosive, without anticipating, without rushing.

A lot of what you’re saying sounds almost spiritual.

I would I like to think of it more as in the scope of sensations; our capacity for strong feelings. With those strong feelings, you can also can connect to something that some people will call spiritual. But maybe we need to think what is spiritual? For me, it can be very different than for what it means to you. So this is why I don’t talk about spirituality, and I’d rather like to talk about the scope of sensations and how they can give us room for huge feelings.

How does that manifest in the way you train your students? How can you teach them that?

Firstly, I separate my work with the dancers, and my work with people who just want to practice Gaga. My work as a choreographer is to help my dancers translate and interpret my work, and also to develop their body, their range, their ability to improvise and create movement that I could never imagine exists. For example, Rolex offered me an opportunity to meet Londiwe Khoza, a dancer from South Africa about six years ago through their mentor and protégé program; I chose her from a group of people and she came to Israel, participated for a year on a scholarship with our classes. Today, she is one of the most loved dancers in our company. But I also teach people who don't dance professionally or who don't dance at all, they just come to Gaga, they let their feelings come out when they move, they create, but they don't have dancing skills.

And your lessons are the same no matter who you’re teaching?

Yes, because when I think of movement, I don’t necessarily think about being on stage. At the heart of it, the essence of movement has to do with things like the flow of energy, how we deal with gravity, how we can connect to the virtue of lightness, the efficiency of movement, speed, explosive power, delicacy, longevity, balance… All these things that can apply to anyone, whether you're an Olympic champion, or you're in a wheelchair. But when I teach people that just want to do Gaga, it’s a lot more to do with their self-esteem, their happiness. I call it strengthening our engine. We can admit that life is difficult. If we have a stronger engine that can carry the weight, then the weight becomes lighter. When you make the problem lighter, it creates the ability to deal with it, even to laugh at it. And that creates better moments.