Gaga about dancing

After two injuries, a former performer is now a teacher of a technique developed by the Batsheva Dance Company

Gaga is practiced by Batsheva dancers521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gaga is practiced by Batsheva dancers521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At the moment that she dislocated her shoulder, Norwegian dancer Natalia Vik could not have imagined the impact that the event would have on her life. That is, the positive impact it would have. As a performer, the injury had serious consequences. A sixmonth recovery period filled with surgery, followed by painful physiotherapy sessions felt, at the time, like a punishment. But, as Vik explains, it was an instance that set her future in motion.
Today, the 31-year-old Vik resides in Tel Aviv with her partner, Michael. She recently completed the Gaga Teacher Training Program (the movement technique of Ohad Naharin and the Batsheva Dance Company) and has recently begun to teach the method. She also performs as a freelance dancer with choreographers such as Olivia Bezalel and Yoni Sutchi, and with the Jerusalem Dance Theater. In her eyes, she explains over a glass of chilled water in central Tel Aviv, the injury was one of many chance occurrences that propelled her on her path.
“After my injury, I decided that I wanted to heal with Gaga,” she says. Healing is a major theme in Gaga.
Naharin first began his investigation of what turned into the Gaga language following a severe back injury.
His healing process became the groundwork for what is now an internationally practiced technique.
A Gaga class consists of guided improvisation enhanced by a number of images given by the teacher. Participants are encouraged to explore the different qualities of movement within the body by “connecting to pleasure,” imagining “balls of fire” within their limbs or by “feeling groovy.” There are two types of Gaga classes open daily to interested parties: Gaga dancers (for professionals) and Gaga people (for anyone else). The technique is practiced by the dancers of the Batsheva Dance Company and is a major component in the distinct movement language seen in the troupe’s performances.
“The first time I saw Batsheva,” says Vik, “was in 2007. I was a dance student in Copenhagen, and I think it was Easter. A friend of mine asked if I wanted to see a show. I knew nothing about Israel then, nothing about Batsheva, but I went. They performed Three and Mamootot. At the end of the show I was so blown away, I was crying. I was so touched by the way they moved.
I felt that I had found something that I didn’t know I was looking for.”
Inspired by what she saw on stage, Vik enrolled in the Gaga Intensive in Tel Aviv.
“That was in 2010. I was working for a small dance company in Denmark, and I had time off during the summer. The day I landed in Israel, I met Michael at a rooftop party,” she says, adding that perhaps it was fate. “The amazing thing about Gaga is that it really changed the whole way I think about dance. It’s like it gave me a tool box to use when I went back home. But over time, it slowly faded.”
When faced with her injury, Vik knew that it was time for a refresher course.
“I applied for a grant from the Norwegian government to come to Israel during that time to take Gaga classes, and I got it. I was in Israel for six weeks taking classes and meeting people,” she says.
Once her shoulder healed, Vik returned to Denmark, but not for long. Drawn back by Gaga, she enrolled once again in the Summer Intensive Program.
“When I came back, I ended up staying. I hadn’t planned it that way, but it happened. While I was doing the Intensive, someone told me that a teacher training program was going to be offered, and I knew I needed to do it,” she explains.
The program, which was offered only once for a three-semester period, acted as a magnet for Gaga lovers from around the world. Thirty participants began in late 2011, representing 14 countries.
“It was this big bomb of colors, languages and nationalities. It was a very beautiful and very hard journey,” she smiles.
During their nine-month program, the Gaga teachers-in-training were offered a window into the world of the images of Gaga.
“We would sit and discuss each part of the practice at length, whether it was ‘pulling the bones’ or ‘floating’ or any of the other terminology of Gaga. We really got to a deep understanding,” Vik says. “There was no syllabus, just the feelings of our teachers. When they felt we were ready for new material, they gave it to us.
It was all about natural timing, not planning.”
During the time she was taking the course, Vik was once again injured, this time in a bicycle accident.
“I broke my collarbone and had to have a metal plate inserted and then removed from the area. While I was injured, I continued to practice Gaga, just without lifting the arm above 90 degrees. My doctors couldn’t believe how quickly I recovered. They were baffled. But I knew that it was because of the movement. Because I move, I heal.”
Now, as a certified Gaga teacher, Vik plans to pass on her belief in the healing powers of Gaga to young dancers. She has already received a multitude of offers to teach abroad.
“I’d like to put the Gaga approach in the mind of young dancers. I’ve been unlucky with injuries, and I feel that this is a way to help oneself in those situations,” she says.