When you think of “Gaga,” the first thing to come to mind probably isn’t dance. In fact, it probably reminds you more of a sound that you made when you were an infant and less of the movement language that has become a phenomenon in the concert dance world. Originally developed by choreographic phenomenon Ohad Naharin for his works with Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, Israel, this form of movement discovery and exploration has taken the dance world by storm. For many dancers, it’s reminiscent of Isadora Duncan discovering modern dance. There was something so pure, so human about the way she bent and broke the rules of ballet to bring dance back to earth. Ballet was something traditionally performed for royal courts, whose movements reached towards the heavens and extended away from the body. Isadora brought that movement back to the body, into the soul and to the dirt beneath her feet in the hopes of connecting more with her own humanity and with those around her.
And that is what dance was always supposed to be – something for everyone. And that is who Gaga is for. No matter your experience or lack thereof in the dance studio, Gaga aims to connect you your physicality, to improve your awareness, stamina, flexibility and so much more in a welcoming environment. In larger cities like Chicago where dance and art are prevalent, Gaga classes are not hard to come by. But in a city whose concert dance scene is in its infancy, the opportunities are as rare as finding your car keys in a pitch black mansion – not impossible, but difficult!
That’s why DancerMusic had to catch up with Symbiosis Co-Founder Ryland Early and Chicago-based choreographer and teacher Anna Long about bringing Gaga to Denver. Here’s what Ryan and Anna told us:
We want to expand what people think of when it comes to dance and art and to change how they consume it.
Kristi: In a previous interview with your business partner, Braeden Barnes, we learned that Symbiosis aims “to create evening-length works where the majority of the influence is based in dance, but also brings in non-traditional dance audiences.” Can you expand on his description of your company and tell us why you chose Denver as your home base, and more about what Symbiosis offers to help audiences feel more welcome and included in the concert dance world?
Ryland: Denver is growing really rapidly and with that growth comes the opportunity for innovative ideas and organizations.
Braeden and I are tired of the concept of going to a performance or seeing an art show. We want everything to be an experience — to tie together multiple forms of art into a performance-based event.
I’m a homebody and it can be hard for me to put on real-life pants and go to a show, let alone see all types of art forms that I enjoy.
We want to expand what people think of when it comes to dance and art and to change how they consume it.
It always seemed to me that Gaga would be a perfect fit for these people who are passionate about using their bodies in new and different ways.
Kristi: Symbiosis will soon be hosting Gaga classes in Denver taught by Chicago based choreographer and dancer, Anna Long. How did you end up connecting with Anna and come to offer Gaga classes in Denver?
Ryland: Anna met my co-director Braeden at “New Dances”, a choreographic showcase in Chicago produced by DanceWorks Chicago and Thodos Dance Chicago. This performance was a few weeks before Braeden was coming out to Denver to finalize everything for Symbiosis’ debut show Imprints, so when they became friends on social media, Anna saw Braeden promoting our show and talking about going to Denver.
Soon they started talking about how Anna’s family was in Colorado and that she visits them a lot and that she was wanting to being Gaga classes to Denver, and hadn’t heard of them being offered here.
I did research to find what was available in Denver, and the last Gaga class I could find in the area took place in 2014. We felt that presenting Anna would only further our mission of inclusion.
Anna: Finding the right opportunity to teach a Gaga workshop in Denver has been a dream of mine since my parents moved to the area in 2015. Denver is so exciting because it’s such a new metropolis, compared to Chicago. It has so much clear potential for growth and diversity inside the dance community.
The impression that I get from visiting is that people in Denver are uniquely committed to integrating movement into their lifestyle in a wide variety of ways. Most people in Denver take great advantage of the opportunities to ski, hike, bike, run, do yoga, and climb with a spirit of adventure. It always seemed to me that Gaga would be a perfect fit for these people who are passionate about using their bodies in new and different ways.
We focus on generating movement from sensation, and in doing so become free from the restrictions of the endeavor to achieve a certain shape or look a certain way.
Kristi: For those readers who are unfamiliar with Gaga, can you give more insight into this language and the benefits of studying it?
Anna: Gaga is a movement language created by Ohad Naharin, the choreographer and former artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, Israel. It is currently Batsheva’s method of daily training; the company starts every day with a Gaga class. Gaga classes are also available for dancers all over the world who are interested in enriching their movement quality. Gaga people classes are available specifically for movers who aren’t necessarily interested in becoming professional dancers, but still desire to deepen their connection to the body.
In general, the class lasts from about 55-75 minutes. There are no set steps or shapes to execute or choreography to perform. Rather, the teacher leads the class to move throughout the entire session. We use movement as a tool for increasing our physical awareness, for improving flexibility and stamina, to expand the palette of available movement options, and for experiencing pleasure through movement. We focus on generating movement from sensation, and in doing so become free from the restrictions of the endeavor to achieve a certain shape or look a certain way. You are guided instead to focus on moving beyond your physical limitations and to take ownership of your unique artistry.
For me, Gaga has completely transformed my body as a dancer through broadening my awareness of how my body works, and by opening my eyes to the nearly endless possibilities of what my body is able to perform.
For people who are new to Gaga, the best way to learn more is to experience a class (or a few classes) for yourself. The really beautiful thing about Gaga is it means so many different things to the people who practice it. I feel like I still discover new benefits of Gaga after years of practice myself. For me, Gaga has completely transformed my body as a dancer through broadening my awareness of how my body works, and by opening my eyes to the nearly endless possibilities of what my body is able to perform. Developing the skills to really listen to my body has helped me navigate exertion, injury, and even writer’s block. Gaga also reminds me to seek pleasure inside movement, and even to look for pleasure inside great effort. Gaga also provides me with a creative anchor in my choreographic and creative process. Taking and teaching class unlocks how my imagination is connected to my physicality more than any other practice.
Many dancers are attracted to Gaga not only because it prepares them to work with choreographers paving the way forward in the dance world, but also because they find it fulfilling in ways that ballet and other disciplines fail to satisfy.
Kristi: Gaga has evolved and turned into a form of movement that has gone far beyond the studio and stage and is now offered for people of all backgrounds and abilities. Why is it important that American audiences begin to understand and participate in Gaga?
Anna: I believe most American dancers are very familiar either with Gaga or with the works of artists who practice or teach Gaga, like Ohad Naharin, Sharon Eyal, and Danielle Agami to name just a few. Gaga is becoming an integral part of the contemporary dance world as a desirable training method, and the influence of choreographers connected to Gaga is spreading worldwide. Many dancers are attracted to Gaga not only because it prepares them to work with choreographers paving the way forward in the dance world, but also because they find it fulfilling in ways that ballet and other disciplines fail to satisfy. It gives me great joy to lead dancers to expand their creativity, to discover the height of their power as well as the height of their delicacy, and to uncover fresh enthusiasm for the art form.
…I think the best way for all audiences to learn to appreciate dance is to experience dance for themselves, and I think Gaga people is the perfect arena for people to do so.
However, in my experience as a teacher over the past 6 years, bringing Gaga to people has always been a harder sell in the US than in Israel. I think most people in the US don’t consider themselves educated enough in the lexicon of dance to participate as a viewer, let alone to step foot inside a classroom, and I really want to eradicate that notion from people’s minds. Dance is for everyone!
The other obstacle is that people in the US don’t really know about Gaga yet even though there are resources available. In Tel Aviv, it seems like everyone knows Gaga. It is like a community event. It’s part of the culture and part of the spirit of community joy. You don’t just need the right teacher for a Gaga people class, you also need the right community. It’s harder for everyone, myself included, to step into something scary that they have never done before. I really hope to build the trust of the communities that I serve as a teacher so that they can take that leap of faith and try Gaga with me.
It’s important to take the leap because I think the best way for all audiences to learn to appreciate dance is to experience dance for themselves, and I think Gaga people is the perfect arena for people to do so. Whether you have been a longtime dance viewer, or you used to take ballet as a kid and want to get back in a dance class, or even if you have no experience at all, Gaga people can bring people of all experience levels to discover the amazing tools for movement at their disposal.
We hope to eventually bring Anna back to teach Gaga people, which will help bridge the gap between the audience members and the dancers.
Kristi: As you continue to develop programming and your vision of Symbiosis, what do you ultimately hope to be able to offer the audiences in Denver, and to the dance community at large?
Ryland: I hope presenting these classes helps unite the Denver and greater Colorado dance scene while helping to establish Symbiosis as a common ground for all types of dancers. We hope to eventually bring Anna back to teach Gaga people, which will help bridge the gap between the audience members and the dancers.
Braeden and I are currently developing ideas for our show for next summer. Titled Disconnected, this show will explore how technology and social media are changing us and our daily lives.
Symbiosis will host its series of Gaga classes with Anna Long December 27 & 28 in Denver at Michelle Latimer Dance Academy
(8925 E Union Ave, Greenwood Village CO 80111). Classes are $20 each and open to dancers ages 16 and up. To sign up, email Ryland at email@example.com. Find more information on their Facebook Event Page.
Looking for Gaga classes in Chicago? Anna teaches Gaga/Dancers every Friday at 10:30 AM at Visceral Dance Center (2820 N Elston Ave). Sign up for classes via MindBody. For more information on Anna and her current projects and performances, visit www.thisisannalong.com.
Dates for the upcoming Symbiosis production of Disconnected will be announced soon. Visit SymbiosisArts.org for updates, or follow @symbiosisarts on Facebook and Instagram.