Mr. Gaga delves deeply into the life of a dance legend

Ohad Naharin is terrifying and compassionate at the same time

MR. GAGA (Tomer Heymann). 99 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 31). See listing. Rating: NNNN

Ohad Naharin is a towering and terrifying figure of contemporary dance. Towering for the obsessive choreographic vision he has for Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, which he has directed for 26 years. Terrifying for the prickly aloofness he often displays in public and the media.

In this riveting documentary, filmmaker Tomer Heymann juxtaposes movement phrases and scenes from Naharin’s best-loved works with the incidents from his life that might have influenced them: home movies from the choreographer’s early days on a kibbutz and as an entertainer in the Israeli army during the Yom Kippur War scenes from his time in NYC as a dancer with Martha Graham and awkwardly tender moments with his first wife, Mari Kajiwara (who died in 2001), his second wife, Batsheva dancer Eri Nakamura, and their young daughter.

Dance artists will especially appreciate the many glimpses of Naharin’s creative process, both in making work and while advocating for Gaga, the organic movement technique he developed that can also benefit non-dancers and those with limited mobility.

But this is a documentary that anyone who cares about art will respond to. Naharin is an intriguing subject – not always truthful or predictable, but utterly compassionate and principled in his own uneasy way. There’s a sense of humour in there somewhere as well.

Be sure to watch right to the end of the final montage – there’s a bit on the stairs that sums up the man and the movie perfectly.  

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