Film Reviews

Review: ‘Mr. Gaga’

A terrific doc on Bathsheva and Naharin.

Photo credit Gadi Dagon. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.

Mr. Gaga
(Israel/Sweden/Netherlands/Germany, 100 min.)
Dir. Tomer Heymann

The Bathsheva Dance Company is one of the most renowned contemporary troupes in the world. Founded in Israel in 1964, it’s been led by Ohad Naharin since 1990. A tough, enigmatic presence, Naharin is a charismatic figure who has led Bathsheva to the heights of artistic success over the past quarter of a century. Veteran director Tomer Heymann has crafted a fine profile of Naharin in Mr. Gaga.

Using a host of archival footage, Heymann is able to show that Naharin is capable of driving his dancers to go beyond their natural capacity for physical expression. In an opening sequence, he pushes a dancer to trust her body to fall on to the floor in a natural but seemingly dangerous manner. That she does so and emerges unhurt displays right away what Naharin and his “gaga” dance vocabulary can achieve in modern dance.

Throughout Mr. Gaga, we see Naharin and his troupe as they create expressive dance pieces, which reflect on the realities of life in Israel. Sometimes political, often philosophical but always physically impressive, Bathsheva are clearly notable for Naharin’s precise and challenging choreography.

Mr. Gaga tells Naharin’s story from the kibbutz to being a soldier in the Yom Kippur War to realizing that he can only achieve his potential by moving to New York. There, he performed with the legendary Martha Graham and Maurice Bejart and met his wife Mari Kajiwara, a brilliant Alvin Ailey dancer. With Mari, Naharin developed Bathsheva and the gaga style. After her death in 2001, Naharin eventually formed a partnership with another dancer Eri Nakamura, with whom he has a daughter.

Refusing to perform when the Israeli government insisted that the troupe dance with leotards instead of underwear at a prestigious 50th anniversary of Israel celebration, Naharin and Bathsheva emerged as a far more renowned cultural organization. The fearless Ohad Naharin is now 65 but in fine physical and emotional shape. Heymann’s Mr. Gaga is a terrific doc on Bathsheva and Naharin. It’s not for everyone but lovers of contemporary dance will enjoy this well conceived doc.