Today we are pleased to share with readers an interview with Tomer Heymann – the man behind countless hours of footage of the well-known dance figure Ohad Naharin. Heymann is working to create a film about the choreographer (Titled, “Mr. Gaga”), and it has been a project to which he has truly devoted himself.
1. How did you first meet Ohad Naharin?
I met Ohad Naharin more than twenty years ago on one of my vacations from military service. My aunt was a director of the Batsheva Dance Company at the time and I got a ticket to see Naharin’s piece “Kir” (“Wall”). This was the first piece he staged in Israel after his return from the U.S. I had never seen any dance before in my life, so I didn’t know what to expect.
But from the moment I saw the dancers move, the movement, their bodies, I just couldn’t take my eyes off it. By the end of the show, my eyes were sore from staring. It was phenomenal. Since then I haven’t missed one of Ohad’s productions: I have seen 25 of Ohad’s pieces, and more than once. A few years later, I also fell in love with a dancer from Batsheva.
One time, when I was working as a waiter in a coffee shop, I found the courage to introduce myself to Naharin.
2. What made you decide to do this film?
Even before I’d become a filmmaker, I felt I had to be close to this man. I had to understand how he creates something that magnificent, that inspiring. As we became friends I never abandoned the idea of making a film about Ohad Naharin. But only after I had made a few films, did I feel able to approach him and ask. This turned into an obsession, I stalked him. And only 7 years ago did he finally agree to let me bring a camera to the studio.
3. Did you find that filming dance was a challenge? Why or why not?
Before agreeing to participate in “Mr. Gaga” Ohad had many times told me that he forbids the filming of dance, as it goes against the momentary and fleeting nature of dance. This is why it was very challenging for me to shoot and edit this film. Where do you cut when you are editing a wholesome creation, a dance piece? I hope that I have managed to capture these moments, to make a collection of these moments that evolves into something larger than just the sum of its parts and also tells a story.
4. Where has the filming taken you in terms of following Ohad and Batsheva?
I have followed the company to seven different countries and spent countless hours in the studio in Tel Aviv. I’ve witnessed some dancers “grow up” with the company and Naharin, starting in the ensemble as kids 18-19 years old and then coming to the company to become extraordinary dancers–and then move on to other places. For example Sharon Eyal, once a prodigy of the company, and present a lot in our footage, now is one of the leading choreographers in Israel and Europe. Danielle Agami, another talented dancer now has her own successful company in L.A.
Being with Batsheva and Ohad Naharin really became a part of my life. It is safe to say that I spent 1 to 2 days of every week in the past seven years with them, not counting the hours I spend in the editing room.
“Mr. Gaga” is a film that took me one step further as a filmmaker, as a director – in terms of the responsibility it demanded from me, the amount of people involved, the volume of materials to be processed, and in terms of the time and resources I am investing. Ohad is such an influential figure in his field, and this puts a lot responsibility on me to deliver a film that will match his stature.
5. In your view, what stands out about this man and this company?
What is so interesting about Ohad Naharin is that he is one of the rare choreographers who appeals to a very wide range of audiences; not just regular dance fans who are familiar with classical ballet. His language and art are universal; it goes deep into something primal in our emotional selves–to our bodily awareness of ourselves. And he also does this without becoming “pop” or compromising his art. On the contrary, Naharin always finds new ways to recreate, to redefine his language.
6. What has been the biggest challenge in this process so far?
There was a lot of resistance. It may seem like a very rosy picture from the outside: We are friends, we are intimate and I am making a film about Ohad Naharin over seven years. But the opposite is true. Ohad is a difficult and complicated man and he gave me a hard time. There was a lot of resistance. Sometimes he would just say “cut” – as if he were the director – he would just “cut” the communication, stop cooperating with me, exclude me from his space. But in these moments I knew we were only spiraling deeper in our relationship, reaching yet another new level of intimacy.
7. Can you talk about a special moment you experienced while filming?
One example–I knew that Ohad had a TREASURE chest in his home: An enormous collection of still images, recordings, rehearsals, performances, family footage; his work in New York with Martha Graham, work with Maurice Béjart, his first wife – the legendary Alvin Ailey dancer, Mari Kajiwara, many many things. I was obsessed with these materials for years; I knew that I had to get them into the film somehow.
And suddenly this year I felt that we had reached the point where I could ask for it. I just told Ohad: “Give me this!” And he just gave it to me, all of it, just like that. He just handed over his past into my hands.
8. What do you think people might be surprised to learn about Ohad Naharin?
Ohad harbors a very sensitive nature under his tough appearance. People might also be very surprised to discover Ohad’s sense of humor and the relationships he builds with the dancers.
9. What does the next phase of this project look like, and when are you hoping to finish it?
Right now we are processing the footage shot over the past year and adding it to the rough cut. It includes Ohad Naharin working on his latest creation “The Hole” with the Batsheva Dance Company. Interesting footage because there was a special octagon stage created for this piece in one of the studios of the Suzan Dallal center in Tel Aviv, with dancers also standing right behind the audience and even under the very ceiling. It’s really a 360 degrees experience for the audience; something very special. We also filmed Ohad working on his repertoire in Finland and we travelled with him to New York.
At the same time there is a team of 5 very experienced researchers that are looking for any piece of archival material there can be found about Ohad Naharin or the company. We are finding unbelievable footage and all of that needs to be incorporated into the film as well.
Should we succeed with our Kickstarter campaign we will be able to acquire this footage and to proceed with the post-production. We are planning to release the film in spring 2014, in conjunction with the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel and in the U.S.A.