Everywhere A Road to Take

Standard

 

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

– George Harrison, “Any Road,”

inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

 

Personally, this quote has always meant a great deal to me, not only because I inherited from my music-loving father his preference of George Harrison above the other Beatles, but also because it really speaks to me. It is more than just a song lyric, but a motto for life.

College spans four critical years of a young person’s life, a self-formational time filled with difficult questions and the often-stifling inability to answer them. At this juncture in my development into a “real person,” people constantly ask me what I plan to major in, what career I want to pursue, where I see myself post-graduation, etc. It seems like the need to plan is inescapable; I can’t even schedule my day without thinking about when and what I’ll eat. (Well, maybe that’s a personal struggle, but I digress…)

Point being, we live in a tomorrow-centric world, often causing us to forget about right now. Really, right now is all that matters because this moment holds infinite possibilities. Right now, I can choose to walk away from this entry and never look back—Screw it, I can say, (Saar Harari might even use stronger language for the concept of abandoning a plan) and forget all the plans I’ve ever made, whether to become an English major or to have grilled chicken for dinner.

Carpe momentum. Seize the moment. No plans, no predictions, no schedule. No pre-meditation, no artful anticipation, no built-up motivation. That is the spirit of Gaga.

I was drawn to Gaga for its adherence to this mantra of availability: letting whatever wants to happen in that moment happen and being open to anything. Much of the movement is generated through improvisation, in which the dancer does not follow the typical process of inventing a motion then figuring out how to adapt her body to move in that way. Instead, the movement comes from the internal engines and the body moves however the impulse inclines it.

Ohad Naharin describes how “the letting go, the yielding, is an important concept in Gaga. It is not about collapse or relaxing but about turning to where we block the flow of energy, where we are holding ourselves and do not allow our joints to be available for movement so that our movement becomes stiff instead of soft.”[1]

Gaga is all about eliminating limitations and “giving more” to the movement. Whenever we feel a blockage or a stiffness, we need to get back in touch with our engines, especially our lena, and move energy through that area, leaving it “available” for motion and the transfer of energy.

Saar Harari often reminds us to maintain our “ball movement availability.” We have to release all tension in our joints and places where body parts connect in order to facilitate any motion that wants to manifest itself there. This frees us to move in all directions, reaching into space and engaging with it.

Availability is essential because it allows communication, both within a dancer and with other dancers around her. Openness and freedom of motion within the body clear the channels that carry impulses throughout the body from the various engines.

Energy flows through the body and expands outward into the space around the dancer. This impulse can then travel to other dancers, facilitating the process of “giving and receiving,” which Saar Harari cites while we improvise in class. We have to be available to take the stimuli we receive from others’ movements and internalize them, at the same time as we give something to them as we move.

Availability, the possibility of doing anything in the moment, giving in to whatever wants to happen, gives Gaga its refreshing spontaneity. No one knows what will happen—what movement will spontaneously generate from the dancers’ bodies, either individually or considered together—so dancers are always attentive so as not to miss what is occurring among them.

Saar Harari tells us to “stay alive” and present in the space so we stay in tune with the energy flow. We cannot lose focus and daydream about the past or future because none of that matters. What matters is happening right now, and we need to be there to feel it and take it onward. We need to be available to take all roads, because any and all lead to where we want to go, if we let them guide us.

 

[1] Naharin, Ohad. A Toolbox for Dancers. Interview. Tanz Raum Berlin, October 2015.

 

Dancers, Start Your Engines

Standard

One of the most important aspects of Gaga is the pervasive, underlying drive. All movement originates from a point of power and emanates outward, causing a chain of reactive motions that leave the body and “echo” in space. This power center is the engine of a dancer’s body, from which it derives and channels its energy.

Ohad Naharin, the creator of Gaga, calls this engine the lena (LEY-na). He locates it at what is the true middle of most people’s bodies—“between the navel and the private,” as described by Saar Harari, the creative director of YDT’s spring project. He always tells us to form our motions “from the lena.” It initiates and leads where we go.

For several reasons, this seems like an odd concept for most people, even many dancers. Depending on the dancer’s body and training, she initiates motion from different places. For ballet dancers, the engine is the back, from which stem long, graceful lines and deep arching. This often causes an opening of the chest that gives a regal, floating quality to the body, but it can also give it a rigidity that seems cold, serious, and aloof.

We can take another example from hip hop dancers. Their engines often lie in the torso, especially the chest and pelvis. At first, the pelvis may seem similar to the lena, but they are not the same; the pelvis is the region around the hip bones, often including the pubic area. Motion that comes from the pelvis is first felt in the lower body and passes outward. Because hip hop often uses isolations, the initiator can change between steps. Even if a step is initiated by the pelvis, it soon transfers to another location because the active body part is the initiator of the movement. While these parts are working, there can be stillness in the others, and the movements in different parts of the body do not need to be connected or originate from one area. Motions reverberate (think of a body roll), a form a path that gives this style its dramatic effect. The focus and action shift continuously through the active parts. There is also a grounded-ness to this style that contrasts Gaga.

On the other hand, Gaga is supposed to display connectedness of motion. No matter what the motion is, it is caused by the lena, which is always “on;” even when we are not moving, the lena’s energy stays alive in our bodies, keeping them ready for whatever the lena leads us to next. All parts of the body, in order to move, need to receive energy from the lena. Because it is at the body’s center, energy flows outward in all directions at the same time.

There is no delayed reaction; an impulse from the lena moves all appendages together—the whole body moves with its force in a clear, concise path. There is “a buoyant, instinctual immediacy to the choreography by creating a direct conduit between the physical and the visceral: in a very palpable sense, it is movement that is as guided as much by the mind as it is by the muscles.”[1] In many ways, the lena is not strictly a physical entity, but an vessel of a dancer’s mind, which guides what the body should do based on where it is and what it has just done.

Because it is guided by the lena’s response to the mind, each motion has a force behind it. The reason or “story” behind the movement is not as important as the apparentness of drive. An audience can make up whatever story it wants about the movement; what is important is that they see a motivation for it within the dancer, which is the lena.

Because so much of its movement is improvised by each dancer individually, Gaga does not have a set of steps or motions that must be memorized and re-used in different sequences to form new pieces. Instead, Gaga provides a set of terms, like the lena, that help facilitate each dancer’s personal creative process. This vocabulary allows dancers to tune into their bodies’ sensations. Ohad Naharin describes this Gaga “toolbox” as “a process of listening to the body rather than telling it what to do; a self-analysis which responds and reacts to the echoes of movements as they travel through the human form.”[2] Dancers move according to the demands and commands of their engines, especially the lena. Movement is not arbitrary because it can be traced to specific sources, both within the body and outside of it.

The lena’s energy does not stop at the tips of a dancer’s fingers or toes, though. It keeps going outward, into the shared space, inspiring and informing other dancers. In this way, each dancer’s lena is connected to those of others, because their energies interact in space and go back through the dancers. Every person’s movement affects others’ in a sort of sharing of energy, power, and motivation.

 

[1] Boon, Maxim. “Batsheva’s Dance Will Literally Drive You Gaga.” Limelight. October 7, 2015. Limelight: Australia’s Classical Music and Arts Magazine. Online article.

[2] Ibid.