Film

Uneven Doc ‘Mr. Gaga’ Tackles Choreography Better Than Theory

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More dance, please. Writer/director Tomer Heymann’s uneven doc Mr. Gaga offers a character study of Israeli dance choreographer Ohad Naharin, but the scope and power of Naharin’s art only becomes clear when the dancers illustrate rather than comment on his distinctively twitchy, animalistic “gaga” style of movement.

Archival footage of the Batsheva Dance Company rehearsing and performing signature Naharin pieces like The Hole, an ode to growing up in a commune-like kibbutz, tells us more about Naharin’s idiosyncratically primal approach than the frustratingly abbreviated talking-head interviews. Many of these might leave you wondering what Naharin means when he says his dancing captures “the essence of everything in nothing” or how “gaga” dancing requires that performers “listen to the body, and then determine what it wants to do.”

Unfortunately, Heymann rarely punctuates interview segments with dance, so scenes in which Naharin waxes philosophical about his process outnumber clips of him challenging his troupe to gracefully collapse or to move their arms like they’re “driving a nail through the floor.”

Heymann tries but never succeeds in establishing a connection between Naharin’s theories and his personal life. First he highlights compelling stories about Naharin’s late wife/muse Mari Kajiwara, but then changes focus to his subject’s tantalizingly abstract theories on “gaga” dancing (“It’s about what group of muscles you use when you let go”). Mr. Gaga consequently never coheres into a meaningful commentary on Maharin, an artist whose vital work defies easy categorization.

Mr. Gaga

Written and directed by Tomer Heymann

Abramorama

Opens February 1, Film Forum and Film Society of Lincoln Center