GAGA and Joan Acocella

Last night, my friends, Alyssa and Angie, and I went to the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet studios in west Chelsea to take a GAGA dance / movement class from an assistant of Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of the Israeli dance company, Batsheva. From now through April 27th, the company is in town performing their most recent piece, Decadance, at Cedar Lake’s studios, and during that time, they are teaching daily weekday classes in Naharin’s unique dance methodology, in which his dancers train daily. The cool thing is that they have classes for both professional dancers (during the day), and for non-pros like me in the evenings!

Okay, I have to say, this is one of the best dance classes I’ve ever taken. There was no technique taught at all; rather it was all about utilizing your senses, letting all movement be ultimately about pleasure, and really letting yourself go. First, we began simply by feeling our weight shift, one leg to the other. Then we felt our hands kneeding dough, then the sensation of making circles with our hands, then our feet, then our legs, then our whole body, including internal organs. We melted into the ground, turned our bodies into water, rubbed imaginary oil over ourselves soothingly, used our bodies as drums and our palms as drumsticks, fell to the floor, jumped up quickly, fell again, jumped up again, again and again till we should have been out of breath but somehow weren’t, lay down, pulled ourselves up again and again till our abdominals (or at least mine) should have ached but somehow didn’t, bounced around the floor, bouncing and bouncing as much and as quickly as possible, feeling like complete idiots and laughing madly at ourselves and each other. “Yes, laugh at yourself, feel silly,” the instructor said.

At one point — my favorite — she had us balance on one leg and kick out, back, and all around with the other. Of course, I have some balance problems from an earlier inner ear problem, so had to concentrate on holding my center properly while balanced solidly over the middle of my standing leg, feeling my full foot spread out to grab the the floor, then concentrated on doing the perfect developee with my other leg. Well, she could read my mind, I swear. “No!” she yelled at me, lose your balance, don’t be afraid, lose it, LOSE IT!” So, I stopped concentrating, and let my standing leg wobble all about, kicked the other out randomly, haphazardly in every direction paying no mind to control or line. And, amazingly, AMAZINGLY, I didn’t lose balance at all! My balance was even BETTER than in ballet class where I’m often holding onto the barre for dear life! I don’t know if it was a fluke, but something, something worked! She smiled at me at the end because I think I really made progress in letting myself go and not giving a crap about what I looked like.

Oh, and the other thing — NO MIRRORS!!! It made ALL the difference, I swear! For the first time ever in a dance class I was not hystericizing about how awful I looked — about how I was the skinny spaghetti girl who could not move her hips or whose … everything … looked too big and oversized in the leotard (does ANYONE over the age of 12 actually look good in one?). Matt once blogged about some choreographer issuing the directive, “Banish All Mirrors,” and I don’t know if it was Naharin (Matt has no search function set up on his blog, grrrrr…), but all I can say is the no mirrors thing here really helped me to feel the movement coming from within my body, to sense the space around me, and really help me to keep my balance and to move without over-analyzing and obsessing how I looked doing something. Anyway, if it’s not clear, I highly recommend this class to anyone in NYC! Classes are $12 and are ongoing through April 27th. Look them up here.

Then tonight, I went to hear one of my favorite dance writers, New Yorker dance critic Joan Acocella read from her new book, Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints, a wonderful-looking collection of essays on artists of all kinds from Baryshnikov and choreographer Jerome Robbins, to food writer M.F.K. Fisher, to authors Dorothy Parker (a favorite of mine), Susan Sontag (another fave), and Philip Roth, to visual artist Louise Bourgeois (whom I LOVE). I feel like I have all the same favorites as she. I’d never met her before or heard her read in person, and I didn’t know what to expect since she can be a pretty severe critic in her writing. But like most writers, she was a completely different person in real life from her writing voice. She was immensely personable and down to earth, funny, downright encyclopedic in her range of knowledge, very grateful for her fans, and very humble and embarrassed when one praised her, calling her Mark Morris book “Blakeian” and comparing her to film critic Pauline Kael. She read from her Baryshnikov essay because that one, she said, was the most popular. Of course this made me happy, since he is the one dancer profiled in the book. I wanted to ask her two questions: 1) if she felt there was anyone who was a contemporary Baryshnikov and if not, why; and 2) if she had any advice for an aspiring critic. But there was such a plethora of questions, and she was so generous in answering them all, we ran clear out of time before getting to me.

When I approached her to have her sign my book, I did ask her the second one though. Unfortunately her answer was one I didn’t really want to hear. “Oooh,” she moaned. “Oooh, dear, there are just no jobs, it’s just bad…” “Dance?” she asked. “Yeah,” I said. “Ooooh,” she moaned louder shaking her head. Apparently all arts criticism is bad off, but dance is particularly a no go. “I had to take non-writing jobs to support myself all the way up until eight years ago when I got the New Yorker job,” she confessed. “It’s just so hard to make a living.” Ugh. If there are no jobs for writers, who is there to promote dance?…

10 Comments

  1. Isn’t the batsheva technique class wonderful? Exploring the different tensions and releases that your body can create, sometimes simultaneously, without the distraction of your own reflection! Glad to hear you enjoyed it as much as I did. Where is the info for this piece thye are performing? I MUST SEE IT! P.S. how do I put up a search function? I would love to just don’t really know how :-)

  2. “Abolish mirrors; break your mirrors in all studios. They spoil the soul and prevent you from getting in touch with the elements and multidimensional movements and abstract thinking, and knowning where you are at all times without looking at yourself. Dance is about sensations, not about an image of yourself. Also I would like to tell dancers not to be too ambitious and to connect their dance to their joy, and connect their passion to their effort.”

    That is the quote from Naharin.

  3. One more comment and that’s it I swear :-)
    http://rantingdetails.blogspot.com/2006_07_01_archive.html
    That is the link where I have a review of Batsheva from the summer and thoughts on the class shortly below it. Hope that helps! Would love to figure out that search feature :-)

  4. Thanks so much for all this, Matt! I LOVE that quote; thanks for finding it and posting it here — I really discovered how true it was through the class! And thanks to the link to your review!

    I was just kidding about your search function :) I think my blogging software (wordpress) just automatically came with it, although I had someone set mine up so maybe he had to do something to enable that function. Maybe blogspot is different — I’ll look at some of the other blogspot blogs and see if they have it, but you probably just have to click on something in the ‘themes’ or ‘options’ section, if it’s called that in blogspot?

    They’re performing Decadence and running the classes through April 27th. You can go to Cedar Lake’s website (which I linked to) and click on that for tickets for both the performance and the classes. I think the professional classes are in the morning. I read an interview with him saying that he started the classes while trying to recover from a back injury, so I thought of you!

  5. Okay, I read it; it’s the post entitled “Joyful Movement” and is about Telophaza over the summer. I’m definitely going to go see Decadence now! Kind of funny looking at those old posts and all — David buying the Mac, the nutter at that concert in the park, etc. :)

  6. Haha, I was JUST looking at that post as well. Love that picture of david and I, it cracks me up. It’s crazy looking at old posts but reminds me of why I do the blogging; great way to document my experiences. My memory fails me so often that having a mapped outline of my life is a helpful reminder;-) It’s almost my year anniversary of blogging! AHHH!!!

  7. Haha — it IS a great way to document your experiences and so much fun to look back and see how you’ve changed. And it’s also a way to share with your experiences with others, like us :) (that’s why it’s better than a personal photo album or journal!)

    By the way, as I commented on your blog, you CAN do a search on your blog; it’s just on the top left corner instead on the right side like it is on wordpress, so I didn’t see it. Sorry to cause alarm!

  8. Do you think bloggers are picking up the slack in the field of dance ‘criticism’? Of course you can’t make any money blogging (or can you?)…

    One thing about blogging is, you can really get a ‘you-are-there’ feeling reading a blog that you can’t usually get from a ‘professional’ writer. A blogger can have a dance ‘review’ up and running within 90 minutes of the curtain calls. The pros usually don’t get their views out for a day or two. In the dance area this is not such a big deal but among opera bloggers there is something of a rush to have the first ‘scoop’.

  9. Yeah, I agree, Philip. I often enjoy reading bloggers more than professional reviewers — at least the ones in the newspapers — both because there is that personal element and because the newspaper reviews are so short they barely, if at all, penetrate the surface. I know the brevity is not the writer’s fault; they have really strict word limitations, especially the dance reviewers, unfortunately. Acocella said she was very fortunate to get her dream job since the New Yorker lets her write at greater length than the others. But then, that’s a weekly mag, so, like you say, it takes longer to get out.

    It’ll be interesting to see where blogging goes… I must have had this crushed look on my face when I walked out of there because the woman behind me in the book-signing line rushed up to me and said, “oh don’t worry, she probably doesn’t know about the internet,” ha ha ha!!!

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