Works and Days

You Are Not A Fish: Winter Fellowship For International Travel, Reid Bondurant

Reed Winter Fellowship for International Travel recipient Reid Bondurant, senior biology major, traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel to explore an awareness-inspiring style of dance known as “Gaga”

There’s something new going on with my shoulder blades. I could swear they’ve changed in the time since I got on a plane to Israel a little more than a month ago, though I know they’re the same bones that I’ve been dancing with for years. I’ve been trying lately to articulate what, exactly, has changed for me that I now have this new awareness, and that several pieces of my anatomy have taken on new consequence in my life.  And the best way I can think to describe it is to introduce to you a word that has been said over and over to me recently, that is at once an instruction and a sensation, and ultimately encompasses how I plan to go through life from this moment forward: available.


This past semester at Reed was a hard one for me.  I began the quite intimidating process of writing a thesis.  With graduation sneaking ever closer, I began to feel behind on the necessary preparations I would need to make for my next steps out into the “real world.”  I constantly questioned what I wanted those steps to be and where I wanted them to take me.  For a variety of reasons I felt out of touch with the sense of well-being I am accustomed to carrying with me. I felt as if I wasn’t entirely present. And everything just kept moving too fast.  All of these things combined into a big blob of overwhelmingness.  So as I prepared to travel to Israel over winter break, I had a lot more on my mind than just dance.

A little about my project.  It began when I traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel, to attend a Gaga dance intensive at the Batsheva studios. A movement language developed by the artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company, Ohad Naharin, Gaga is a new way of gaining awareness through your body.  It is a way of exploring instinctive motion and of finding the pleasure in the effort behind the body’s movements.  There are also no mirrors in Gaga.  The Gaga dancer does not strive to create an image with their body or place themselves in space, but simply makes themselves available to move.  I went into this experience hoping for it to transform the way I move on an entirely new level.  I wanted the experience to change me, as a dancer, as a choreographer, and as a mover.

I arrived in Tel Aviv on a Saturday. Which, as it part of the Jewish Sabbath, meant that almost everything was closed and no public transportation was running.  Before this trip the only other country I had visited was Canada. So arriving in Israel, being thoroughly questioned by passport security, and setting out to navigate a shutdown city on my own was more than a little intimidating.  But I was also filled with such a sense of newness, excitement, and adventure that any fear I had was quickly left by the wayside.  That night, jetlagged and almost deliriously sleepy, I attended a performance by the Batsheva Ensemble, right next to the studio I would soon be taking classes in, and after the first five minutes of the first piece I knew I was in the exact right place.    

Monday morning came, and I arrived at the Batsheva studios to start my intensive.  After checking in I got changed and found a place on the floor of Varda studio.  Surrounding me were around eighty other dancers in the middle of their various pre-class stretching, socializing, or general lying on the floor rituals.  I saw someone across the room that looked oddly familiar to me. Talking to her later that day, we realized we were both coming from Portland.  She was a member of a Portland based dance company that I have gone to see many times through my dance classes at Reed and whose work I have absolutely loved and admired, which was why she looked so familiar to me.  I’m still so incredibly fascinated by that coincidence.  Sitting there in my little claimed area of floorspace and watching the many people around me while completing my own pre-class ritual, I again had that excited/new/adventure feeling that just filled me up and made me start smiling.  Soon, the most beautiful man I have ever seen began walking a path through the people on the floor on his way to the center of the room.  As each dancer noticed him in turn, conversations stopped and the room slowly got to their feet.  When he reached the center, standing in a small clearing with all of us facing in towards him, he simply started to move.  And the entire room, still quiet, fell into movement with him.


Thus began some of the most challenging, changing, and amazing nine days of my life.  I almost didn’t expect how much you think in Gaga.  It’s not that thinking wasn’t a part of my dancing previously. In most dance I think the mind is present to the body in some small way, even if you’re truly trying to let the majority of your experience be led by sensation or instinctive movement.  But I think there has always been a disconnect for me.  Like I start dancing and my thinking mind shifts into the background.  It’s still there, and is by no means turned off, but I don’t need it in the same way.  Sometimes I even try to actively ignore it.  But this doesn’t work in Gaga I’ve found. 

In its pursuit of awareness Gaga uses a lot of imagery.  Some of the instructions I’ve received have been, “feel as if there is magma flowing through your body,” “what does it feel like of there are balls rolling between your flesh and your bone?” “imagine you are spreading the surface of your skin onto the space around you,” and “make your sit bones available to move.” All of these things are at once very visceral, and yet require, for me at least, a surprising amount of mental energy and focus to actualize in my physical body.  It’s almost as if I take the front of my mind and run it down my torso, or along my arms, or into my fingers and mentally “feel” the way the instructions I have received, interpreted, and executed are affecting my physiology.  And the times I’ve felt the most aware, sometimes of a particular part of my body and sometimes of the entirety, have been after reaching a place of almost too much thinking.  Where it then moves past thinking and into something else.  And in this place I am acutely aware of all the places I can go.  And to me this is what it feels like to be available.         

When I was asked what I hoped to be the ideal outcome of this project, I replied that I hoped there would be a new place in my mind that I could step into.  Like a room where, once I enter, I can move and create movement in a new way with whatever new awareness I have.  And I think that’s happened.

But the disconnect between my body and mind goes two ways.  Just as I’ve felt like I don’t always listen to my thinking mind while dancing, I also feel like I often disconnect from my body when I’m in school, and busy, and stressed. 


During the last couple days of the intensive our Gaga classes were taught by Ohad Nahrin himself. In addition to actually creating the dance language that eighty people had traveled all the way to Israel to learn, he is also the artistic director of one of the best contemporary dance companies in the world.  And so, you know, he’s like The Guy.  And getting to take class with him felt like a bit of a big deal, and I don’t believe I was the only one experiencing a few giddy moments of awe.  But in those last couple days he gave instructions for us to connect to the animal that we are.  As dancers we are so often preoccupied with “showing” ourselves, with presenting our bodies as an image or a series of images to an audience.  But the point was that we are also animals, and animals aren’t showing anything, they’re just being. 

On the very last day we sat down in a group in order to talk about everything that we had done, what we had learned, and also as an opportunity to ask any questions we may have.  Ohad sat in a chair and we all spread out on the floor surrounding him.  It felt a bit like story time where we were all gathered to absorb whatever wisdom fell from this man’s lips.  Then one dancer asked a question that in some form had also been bouncing around my mind.  She asked about the idea of connecting to our animalistic, instinctual nature and how that almost seemed simplistic.  We had been receiving so much input in the form of rich imagery that required us to think and interpret and use our imagination, that the instruction to connect to the animal that we are almost seemed contradictory.  And Ohad answered with something that has stuck with me ever since, because it resonates with me so much that my skin hurts: the animal that we are is one who feels.  One who imagines, who creates.  It is not a fish.     

And so here is where I make the decision to use what I’ve gained from this experience to not only influence and enrich my dancing and the way I choreograph and create movement, but also to directly affect my desire to be more present every day and inhabit each moment to its utmost.  Not only do I want to be available to move, but I am choosing to make myself available to experience every day as I wish to. I am choosing to connect to my body and the thinking, feeling, creative animal it reminds me to be. 



Tags: winter fellowship, movement, israel, tel aviv, gaga, dance, winter fellowship for international travel, international travel