Art and life converge — and sparks fly — in “Mr. Gaga,” an intimate study of groundbreaking Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, inventor of the movement philosophy known as Gaga, which has evolved into a basis for training dancers and, in its less rigorous, more therapeutic applications, a form of exercise for non-dancers.
Documentarian Tomer Heymann followed Naharin around for eight years, for rehearsals, performances and interviews. Cinematographer Itai Raziel captures Naharin’s dances in ravishing detail: athletic, propulsive, minutely synchronized and performed by highly agile dancers. Heymann also plumbs the depths of Naharin the man. It’s not only his choreography that can get spiky.
Most of the dances in this 2015 film were created for Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company, which Naharin has led since 1990. Details are filled out with childhood home movies, archival dance footage and the recollections of others. We see Naharin as a freewheeling kibbutz kid, as an athletic teen and as a young, searching dancer in New York City.
Naharin went there to work with Martha Graham’s company and to study ballet. He also met Mari Kajiwara, a star with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater who later became his collaborator and wife, eventually moving back to Israel with him — not an easy choice for the native New Yorker.
Former dancers and teachers remark on the demanding, difficult, selfish, gifted and irresistible fellow that Naharin, now 64, has always been, defying norms (and, at least once, the Israeli government over an issue of costume censorship).
Gaga looks like fun, but the soul-revealing “Mr. Gaga” makes clear the sacrifice Naharin’s dedication has exacted from family and dancers alike.
Unrated. At Landmark’s West End Cinema. Contains occasional strong language, subtly sexual dance moves and brief theatrical gunfire. 102 minutes.