Tag Archives: LA dance scene

The Body is Beautiful. Get Used to It.

The Body Is Beautiful. Get Used to It.

This has been one of our catchphrases this season—you’ve likely seen it on flyers, our website, and, if you’re regularly walking around UCLA, dotted on light poles across the campus. (More on our other two catchphrases in forthcoming entries)

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It’s a sort of rallying cry that we have applied specifically to enhance and encompass this year’s dance performances. But, when you sit with it for a minute it’s also a unifying sentiment that can be applied to life in general.

And this sentiment kept cropping up in my mind again and again as we interacted with the artists and artistry of Batsheva Dance Company. Our first dance performances of the weekend centered around this extraordinary group of artists as they celebrated 50 years in existence.

For much of that time (since 1990) Ohad Naharin has been the artistic director and many times over the course of multiple interactions with students and audiences while Batsheva was in residence  with us, he made me think about that phrase.

As I listened to him speak and encountered his work and the artists he works with, it was clear that Ohad essentially embodies the aforementioned rallying cry.

At every opportunity, Ohad talked about why there are no mirrors in the studios or rehearsal rooms in Batsheva’s home complex in Tel Aviv, and why the company covers up mirrors wherever they travel.

Mirrors are great for some things, Ohad said, speaking to a room of UCLA World Arts and Cultures students, they’re essentially important for your dentist to use for example, he said with a chuckle.

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But they serve no purpose for dance, he said. He trains his dancers to develop a powerful perception and ownership of their own bodies in space and time, and instead of checking their form in a mirror, they instead are seeing their fellow dancers more wholly.

A few days later, speaking to the crowd who would soon be viewing Sadeh21 in Royce Hall and who had just experienced a new work from former Batsheva dancer and now L.A.-based choreographer/performer Danielle Agami, he reiterated this statement, even more strongly.

“Mirrors are destroying our souls and really slowing us down as artists,” he said. “This is not an opinion, it is a fact.”

Ohad also responded to a question from a student about what kind of “body style” he looks for in dancers.

He said he does not look for any certain body style. “Body style cannot tell you about a person’s creativity, their passion, their generousity…body style is not important.”

This elicited applause, in the form of students snapping their fingers, which piqued Ohad.

“Why did you do that? Why do you snap your fingers?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“It means we’re agreeing with you, ” one student replied.

Ohad then revealed that he asks that students or participants do not clap at the end of a Gaga class, instead, if they’re feeling inclined to celebrate the moment with sound he has them snap their fingers.

Gaga, the incredibly free and freeing movement style that Ohad developed as a training tool for dancers and which he has subsequently extended to invite participants from every walk of life all over the world.

I participated in a Gaga workshop for the public, led by one of the current Batsheva dancers, the incredible Bobbi Smith,  who, it became clear as the practice progressed, is a being of pure light and love. (If you saw the performance of Sadeh21, she was the red-leotard-clad dancer who executed an extended headstand while writhing and twisting her legs above her in perfect control.)

As I moved among the varied people gathered in the Royce Hall rehearsal room, mirrors covered by black velvet curtains, as we all moved with our own kind of abandon, following Bobbi’s simple instructions that led us to investigate movement in parts of our bodies in ways we might not otherwise instigate, I thought of our unifying sentiment:

The Body is Beautiful. Get Used to It.

No one is allowed to passively watch or photograph a Gaga session. If you want to be there, you must participate.

The Body is Beautiful. Get Used to It.

As I looked around the room of strangers, some dancers, some not, some performers, some not, I feel like we were all embodying that rallying cry.

Several of the dancers from the aforementioned Ate9 Dance Company were part of that session. It was interesting to move among them in this way, after being a silent observer of their craft and skill the night before on the Royce Terrace.

Sometimes wild and frenetic, other times ruminative, other times sharply punctuated, other times chattering non sequiters, or simply picking up chairs and handing them to unsuspecting watchers  Danielle Agami’s dancers moved through the crowd. We moved with them, as a sort of serpentine organism seeking to turn its head toward the light.

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The Body is Beautiful. Get Used to It.

It was a really special moment. The Batsheva dancers, just before they were about to take the stage themselves, perched atop a brick structure on the terrace, watching the dancers shapes and movement continually shape and re-shape the audience itself.

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Other people have spoken more eloquently about the Batsheva performance  of Sadeh21 itself. It left me personally very moved and feeling like, this company, this moment in time, this expeirence was the perfect way to set the tone for our sentiment about dance and the body.

We’ll be exploring this concept and more throughout the season as we begin work with the incredible Deborah Hay, on a project titled “Re-writing the language of dance.” With Deborah’s help we will work across broad artistic and community territories to explore the Los Angeles dance ecology and develop strategies for increased involvement and synergy.

All of this begins in two weeks, with a special event titled “Reorganizing Ourselves,” a conversation in three parts about perception, consciousness and the connection between art and science with Deborah,  Berkeley professor of philosophy Alva Noe and dance curator dance curator Michèle Steinwald.

We’re curious and excited to see what reveals itself as we reach out more cohesively than ever before to our local dance community. We want to know what people are thinking about the body, what role movement and art as exhibited bodies in motion is playing in our immediate arts culture, and how we can harness the potential of contemporary dance to push our culture ever forward.

The body, is in fact beautiful. The sooner we all get used to it, and perhaps revel in it, and support those who celebrate it…the better.