An Israeli choreographer known for his incisive style, Ohad Naharin has transformed the landscape of contemporary dance in Israel, turning preconceived ideas about dance upside down.
His characteristic approach is to push the limits of dance, for he is open to everything that is human, to all cultures and art forms, to all manner of movement. Whimsical and rebellious, he is a much sought-after choreographer.
Born in 1952 on Kibbutz Mizra, Ohad Naharin began his dance training with the Batsheva Dance Company in 1974. During his first year with the company, visiting choreographer Martha Graham singled out Naharin for his talent and invited him to join her own company in New York. While in New York, Naharin studied on scholarship at the School of American Ballet, furthered his training at The Juilliard School, and polished his technique with master teachers Maggie Black and David Howard. He went on to perform internationally with Israel’s Bat-Dor Dance Company and Maurice Béjart’s Ballet du XXe Siècle in Brussels.
Naharin returned to New York in 1979, making his choreographic debut at the Kazuko Hirabayshi studio. That year, he formed the Ohad Naharin Dance Company with his wife, Mari Kajiwara, who died of cancer in 2001. From 1980 until 1990, Naharin’s company performed in New York and abroad to great critical acclaim. As his choreographic voice developed, he received commissions from world-renowned companies including Batsheva, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, and Nederlands Dans Theater.
Naharin was appointed Artistic Director of Batsheva Dance Company in 1990 and has served in this role except for the 2003-2004 season, when he held the title of House Choreographer. During his tenure with the company, Naharin has choreographed over 20 works for Batsheva and its junior division, Batsheva Ensemble. He has also restaged over 10 of his dances for the company and recombined excerpts from his repertory to create Decadance, a constantly evolving evening-length work.
Naharin trained in music throughout his youth, and he has often used his musical prowess to amplify his choreographic impact. He has collaborated with several notable musical artists to create scores for his dances, including Israeli rock group The Tractor’s Revenge (for Kyr, 1990), Avi Belleli and Dan Makov (for Anaphaza, 1993), Ivri Lider (for Z/na, 1995), and Grischa Lichtenberger (for Last Work, 2015). Under the pseudonym Maxim Waratt, Naharin composed music for MAX (2007) and edited and mixed the soundtracks for Mamootot (2003) and Hora (2009). Naharin also combined his talents for music and dance in Playback (2004), a solo evening which he directed and performed.
In addition to his work for the stage, Naharin has pioneered Gaga, an innovative movement language based on research into heightening sensation and imagination, becoming aware of form, finding new movement habits, and going beyond familiar limits. Gaga, which emphasizes the exploration of availability for movement, is now the primary training method for Batsheva’s dancers. Gaga has also attracted a wide following among dancers around the world and appealed to the general public in Israel, where open classes are offered regularly in Tel Aviv and other locations.
Naharin’s compelling choreographic craft and inventive, supremely textured movement vocabulary have made him a favorite guest artist in dance companies around the world. His works have been performed by prominent companies including Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballet Frankfurt, Lyon Opera Ballet, Compañía Nacional de Danza (Spain), Cullberg Ballet (Sweden), the Finnish National Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, Balé da Cidade de São Paulo, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet (New York), Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal.
Naharin’s work has also been featured in several films. In his 2007 documentary, Out of Focus, Director Tomer Heymann filmed the process of restaging Decadance with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. And in 2015, the Heymann Brothers released their comprehensive documentary about Naharin, Mr. Gaga, to critical and audience acclaim.
Over the course of his years in Batsheva, Naharin has won many awards and honors, among them Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government (1998), a Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa by the Weizmann Institute of Science (2004), the Israel Prize for dance (2005), a Jewish Culture Achievement Award by The Foundation for Jewish Culture (2008), a Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa by the Hebrew University (2008), the EMET Prize in the category of Arts and Culture (together with Yair Vardi, 2009), the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement (2009), an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the Juilliard School in New York (2013) , the Israel Ministry of Culture Award for Lifetime Achievement (2016), an Honorary Fellowship by Tel-Aviv University (2018) Honorary doctorate by Ben Gurion University of the Negev (2019) and many more.
A joyously off beat celebration of dance, imagined by choreographer Ohad Naharin and served up by Gauthier Dance. Watch out, things are about to get lively!