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.
by Gigi Berardi
The week before the SYTYCD 2013 Seattle performance, I had the opportunity to interview the competition’s winners: Fik-Shun Stegall and Amy Yakima. Equally exciting was an interview, too, with Tucker Knox.
I must admit that my questions were a little more personal perhaps than most – I had seen all the shows throughout the summer, from the regional auditions through to the televised finale. This helped mightily in my appreciation for virtually every aspect of the show (with the exception of the “judging,” and the whipping-off the stage of runners-up Aaron Turner and Jasmine Harper (were those really bouncers on Stage?)).
At any rate, the interviews were quite stimulating and the performance itself (November 19), fascinating. However, I must admit, there’s something about the up-front-and-personal camera angle (for the televised shows) that allows you to see every drop of sweat, every expression, which is oddly interesting.
Tucker Knox was virtually a professional dancer before auditioning for SYTYCD. He worked with River North Chicago Dance Company, leaving Nashville when he was 16 (before that he had trained as both gymnast and dancer). During his tenure in Chicago, he had pieces set on him as the artistic director (Mauro Astolfi) of Spellbound (from Rome, Italy), and many other choreographers were in residence in Chicago.
The 23-year old has had more than his fair share of catastrophes and personal triumphs, but nothing harder than a life-threatening automobile accident (he was not driving), which fractured his spine and broke his sternum and ribs. Says Knox, “I was 20 at the time and I had to remain in a body cast with full bed rest for months and months.”
That experience though, resulted in Travis Wall choreographing a duet, Medicine, for Knox and for former SYTYCD all-star Robert Roldan, who himself had suffered a near-catastrophic accident earlier). The fact that they were both still dancing was remarkable, and Wall profiled that will and skill in Medicine. Says Knox, “This was the hardest dance to dance, by far. It required total honesty. It just was very hard emotionally to let everyone see me that vulnerable – I wasn’t portraying a character, it was all about me and I felt very exposed.”
Mr. Knox aspires to work in a contemporary ballet company, such as the Nederlands Dans Theater — which, for my money, would be a perfect home for this exceptionally lithe, flexible, and emotive dancer. However acting, commercials, movies, television, also are part of his dreams, all that, as well as working as a back-up dancer for any recording artist.
Mr. Knox excels in the contemporary pieces, more than any other single dancer on the show “I just create and feel the story with my partner, and then we live it on stage”), yet finds dance forms a little foreign to him the most fun. Says Knox, “Hip hop is maybe not my best style, but it is the most fun — I just crank it out and it’s fun up there whatever we do. Also, ballroom for me feels surprisingly natural. Even though I may not perform it that well, it comes more easily than I thought it would.”
The modest Knox needs only look at a video or two to see how impressive his command of any style is.
Du-Shaunt “Fik-Shun” Stegall
Interviewing Fik-Shun Stegall, male winner of the SYTYCD 2013 competition, is an exercise in facing idealism head-on. Today, Fik-Shun looks forward to work in commercials and movies, and plenty of auditions in the coming year.
Every step of the way, from regional try-outs to the television grand finale, Fik-Shun has had an exceptionally positive attitude and outlook. Says Fik-Shun: “You just have to give it your all. You need to be aware of your body and what it can and can’t do, and be happy with that.”
Fik-Shun was injured only once on the show –- a twisted ankle, but he soldiered on. The pay-offs were too inviting to the 18-year old dancer –- a duet with tWitch (“an awesome person, everything comes so natural to him”), a bell-hop routine (Let’s Get It On, choreographed by Christopher Scott) with his season partner, Amy Yakima, that took top accolades.
For Fik-Shun, the show has been an amazing success, “more people know who I am now, and I think they appreciate that I just gave it my all.” The choreography, especially ballroom, was especially demanding each week (“I don’t do choreography”). Nevertheless, Fik-Shun mastered the effortlessness of ballroom and the emotional grittiness of contemporary, easily becoming America’s favorite dancer.
To see Amy Yakima dance is to see both a highly technical dancer, as well as a strikingly emotional one. Besides being America’s favorite female dancer, she might also be the most humble. Next year, she plans to audition, but also is very committed to starting a dance school and teaching children.
Really, this from the competition’s winner? A dance school at the age of 19? Says Yakima: “I guess I just want to do everything because my body wont keep up forever, a dance school makes sense.”
Being on the show was a life-changing event for the young dancer. Says Yakima: “Being on the show changed the way I dance, it opened me up to what I wanted to become.”
Whatever that is, it looks like she’s almost there – a powerful gymnast, a courageous hip hop artist, a melt-your-heart contemporary wonder, as in the duet, “Wicked Game,” choreographed and danced by the matchless Travis Wall, she is both workhorse and powerhouse. A stunningly beautiful dancer, with amazing capacity, her work remains one of the strongest memories of SYTYCD Season 10.
Her parents are physicians, as well as her staunchest supporters (her dad even danced on stage when she was first auditioning on SYTYCD), it’s no wonder Yakima remains injury-free, “I know how to take care of myself.”
Moral support also is strong, although Yakima admits that the voting was very stressful, “Really, we are all so driven. But the favoritism, the voting is so difficult – it comes down to our different personalities, to a certain look, what people like, and don’t. How different we look. Then we realize we are all on TV, and this is the way reality TV works.”
Right, but the dancer is still interminably cheerful.
“I know I’m cheery,” says Yakima. “But it’s the way I was brought up. In dance, you just have to get used to rejection, and not take it personally. It’s the only way you can dance.”
Gigi Berardi holds a MA in dance from UCLA. Her academic background and performing experience allow her to combine her interests in the natural and social sciences with her passion for dance, as both critic and writer. Over 150 articles and reviews by Ms. Berardi have appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance International, the Los Angeles Times, the Anchorage Daily News, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald, and scientific journals such as BioScience, Human Organization, and Ethics, Place, and Environment. Her total work numbers over 400 print and media pieces.
Her public radio features (for KSKA, Anchorage) have been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Dance Critics Association, and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as Book Review editor for The Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. A professor at Western Washington University, she received the university’s Diversity Achievement Award in 2004. Her fifth book, Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance, is in its second printing. Her current book project is titled A Cultivated Life.
Today we have a guest post. Please join me in welcoming Stephanie Wolf to 4dancers. Stephanie and I met on Twitter when we were talking about a particular quote. I asked if she would expand on it a bit from her perspective, and she kindly agreed to make the time..
“Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life.” – Irving Stone
At the age of 14, I knew I wanted to be a dancer. From that moment forward, my life changed forever.
Stone speaks of art as a calling, not as a choice in life. In his novel The Agony and the Ecstasy, he fictionalizes the trials and tribulations of the great sculptor and painter Michelangelo, using him as a vessel to convey this very sentiment. People possessing an artist’s soul and not simply an aptitude for art, will pour everything he or she has into it.
Passion is a beautiful thing, but be careful of its power. It can become all consuming. Driven by my own passion for dance, it was impossible to separate the professional from the personal. It was all intertwined, unclear where one ended and the other began.
For over twenty years, my dedication to ballet cost me many aspects of my life. Long rehearsals, runs of performances, and hours on the tour bus sometimes left me crabby and too tired to be social. Most often, those closest to me were also in the profession, and we could commiserate together about our aches and professional heartaches. I had many close and wonderful friends, but my romantic ventures were often tempered by my obsession with ballet.2
by Emily Kate Long
My last Finding Balance post discussed balance and alignment in the physical sense. I talked about how misalignments in the body can bring about sensory dissonance. In this post, I’ll look a different kind of alignment and dissonance: when our expectations of ourselves don’t line up with our work. Today I want to share some items that are not dance-specific, but very readily apply to the setting, meeting, and letting go of our expectations.
Labors of love come with high expectations, and high expectations demand a high workload. Dancers know this. Anyone who pursues art for a living knows this. The rewards can be huge, so the work is not easy. The first treasure I have to share is a list of ten rules for students, teachers, and life by Sister Mary Corita Kent, an artist and educator who gained reknown in the 1960s and 1970s. Merce Cunningham kept a copy of these rules in his studio. They are well worth hanging. Here’s the full list, from Kent’s Learning by Heart:
- Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while
- General duties of a student: pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students
- General duties of a teacher: pull everything out of your students
- Consider everything an experiment
- Be self-disciplined—this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
- Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail, only make
- The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all f the time who eventually catch on to things.
- Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
- Be happy whenever you can manage it. It’s lighter than you think.
- “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” John Cage
Hints: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything—it might come in handy later.
This list sums up just about everything needed to pursue excellence. What I really love about it is the emphasis on allowing room for errors and questions, and leaving no stone unturned.
As a complement to Kent’s list, and to illustrate a challenge I and many other dancers face, I also want to share Sheri LeBlanc’s essay, “The Perfectionist Dilemma.” In it, LeBlanc sensitively teases apart excellence pursuit and perfectionism, which, as she puts it, are similar only as far as the results each can produce. One gives us a healthy relationship with our efforts and achievements, while the other sets up for feelings of failure and inadequacy, no matter what we achieve. Expecting perfection from ourselves or from anyone around us automatically misaligns expectation with outcome.
What we have so far are guidelines for the pursuit of excellence, and thoughts on the damaging effects of perfectionism. My third offering is a tool to help us let go of our attachments to any unreasonable expectations we may have of ourselves. If our creative work is inherently experimental, as Sister Corita’s list suggests, it requires us to throw out unsuccessful outcomes continually. If it is to be enjoyable, it requires us to experience our successes as fully as we can. A talk by Matthew Brensilver on clinging and letting go from Zencast gives a ton of insight on letting go of beliefs, identities, and the need to be right. It’s a forty-minute, free podcast that I highly recommend. To summarize wouldn’t do it justice, but the angle he takes is the Buddhist teaching that all things and states of being are impermanent, so all can be let go when they don’t align with the present moment. I feel that approach is apt for dance, a living art.
The final item I want to share is an episode of Radiolab (another podcast) that provides a thoughtful and humorous look at misalignment of expectations in history. “Musical Language” takes a look at what happens between the ears and the brain when we hear unfamiliar or dissonant noises. I’m including it here because it features, at around 26 minutes in, the legendary riot at the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The whole episode has to do with how the brain orders unfamiliar sounds and looks for patterns. I think there’s a parallel here for the way we try to make sense of our bodies and physical capabilities each day, or seek patterns to learn new movement. It’s also pretty funny to listen to, if you need a short science break to liven up your day.
Readers, I hope these four treats provide some new perspective on the subject of measuring up to expectations. They are thoughtful, entertaining, playful, stark, challenging—words that also describe the artist’s work.
Assistant Editor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice, and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. She has spent summers studying at Ballet Chicago, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Miami City Ballet, and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/Vail Valley Dance Intensive, where she served as Program Assistant. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed principal roles in Courtney Lyon’s Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. She is also on the faculty of Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and repertoire classes.0
He photographs dancers in the studio and in performance, for promotional materials, portraits and press, and he often collaborates with his wife, Nel Shelby, and her Manhattan-based dance film and video editing company Nel Shelby Productions (nelshelby.com). Together, they have documented dance at performances from New York City to Vail International Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan Photography also covers the finest wedding venues in the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, in Massachusetts and the Berkshires, and frequently travels to destination weddings.
His photographs appear in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Knot, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, and Munaluchi Bridal, among other esteemed publications and popular dance and wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his dance photography has been exhibited at The National Museum of Dance and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
His Natural Light Studio (http://www.christopherduggan.com/portfolio/natural-light-studio-jacobs-pillow-photography/) at Jacob’s Pillow is his most ambitious photography project to date – check out his blog to see more portraits of dance artists in his pop-up photo studio on the Pillow grounds.0