By Dov Kornits

The best kind of filmmaking is always personal. For documentary filmmaker, Tomer Heymann, his latest film, Mr. Gaga (which explores Israel’s world famous dance choreographer, Ohad Naharin) is his most personal to date. “I’m not a dancer, and I don’t want to be a dancer…dancers are crazy people who do crazy things on stage,” Tomer tells us whilst in a taxi in Melbourne on his way to a screening of Mr. Gaga at the inaugural Hot Docs Film Festival in Australia. “Before I started to create the movie, and before I met Ohad and knew him deeply, dance belonged to dancers. It belonged to these professional people on the stage. And now, eight years later, the big revolution in my mind is that dance belongs to everyone. Dance doesn’t just belong to those who do it on stage. Dance belongs to the people when they go into the shower, when they go to a Gaga class, who go to yoga, and to children who break out in dance. This is where I say thank you very much to Mr. Ohad Naharin, who connected me to dance for a very personal perspective.”

It was Naharin who helped Heymann through a very dark period in his life. “I was really down and depressed in my life,” he reveals. “I was separated from my boyfriend, and I was lost. Nothing seemed to help me. I didn’t want to live anymore. And I remember walking to the studio to take a few Gaga classes for people, not for dancers, but for people like me and you: fat, skinny, tall, small, black, white, straight, gay…you name it. There were about forty people, and each of us looked different. No one was a professional dancer, and no one had a dance background. Most of the people who came to the studio were very shy, and ashamed about their body. And after I took the Gaga class a few times, the taste of life came back to my mouth and to my mind, and I even allowed myself to smile. I was still alone, and nothing had changed in my active life, but there was something about moving with the Gaga. There was something about working with a good teacher. I felt connected to myself and to my life again.”

Tomer Heymann
Tomer Heymann

Gaga is a dance language, and a way to express yourself through your body and movement. Ohad Naharin invented it, and practices it through classes with the public, and also through his position as head of Batsheva Dance Company. Heymann’s utterly compelling Mr. Gaga is not your typical dance movie, but rather a beautiful portrait of Naharin’s life, loves, and artistic pursuits.

When FilmInk first met Tomer Heymann, it was to introduce him before the screening of Mr. Gaga at The Sydney Film Festival in May. It was the day of the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub, which had deeply affected Heymann, and he spoke at length after the screening to a packed audience about how he had been a country boy who moved to the big smoke of Tel Aviv, and was encouraged by a relative to seek out a Batsheva production. He thought that dance was for old people or gays, so he had to be heavily coaxed before he finally went, and ultimately wept upon realising the power and art of the production. Now all these years later, outing himself in front of the packed cinema, Heymann cites Naharin as a life-changer.

A scene from Mr Gaga
A scene from Mr Gaga

“In the beginning, it was quite hard to convince him to be part of the project,” the filmmaker explains. “For him, as a choreographer and dancer, he really liked the idea that dance vanishes, and disappears. You see it, but you cannot hold it anymore…you can’t hold the movement. Ohad Naharin changes creation all the time. You might see him in Melbourne, and then the day after, he might have a performance in Sydney, and it can be a completely different show. He might cut some parts, and he might change female to male. The whole idea was that it’s always full of changes, and it’s never the same. Once you put it in the movie, it’s forever the same dance, and the same energy.”

Thankfully, Naharin chose a filmmaking collaborator capable of matching his sublime dance creations. “I have created over fifteen films, and all of them were quite long processes, but Mr. Gaga is a different level of creation for me,” says Tomer Heymann as his taxi trip and our conversation comes to a close. “When you create a documentary, it’s very clear to you where the drama is, and how to bring people to be emotional. When you create a movie about dance – which is a very abstract medium, and a very abstract art – the options are so open. I changed the script and the narrative…it was almost like making five different movies. 2010 was the first time that I promised to my brother [producer, Barak Heymann] that I was going to finish this movie. And then I’d say that it would be finished in 2011, and then 2012, 2013, and 2014. It was only in October 2015 that the movie was ready. In the last 20 years of my career, Mr. Gaga has been the most challenging project I’ve been involved with. At the same time, I learned so much as a filmmaker. I really feel that I have grown up through doing this movie. As a human being, I learned so much about myself, and as a filmmaker. But now my head is full of grey hair. I had black hair in 2007…it was completely black! I want to take Ohad to court to blame him for making my hair grey,” Tomer Heymann jokes about the subject of his film, once an enigma and now a good friend. “If you hear in the Israeli news that Ohad Naharin lost his case in court, you’ll have to understand why he is sitting in prison for a while.”

Mr. Gaga is released in cinemas on June 30.


Leave a Reply