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Gaga as Politics: A Case Study of Contemporary Dance Training

  • Author(s): Quinlan, Meghan Ruth
  • Advisor(s): Kraut, Anthea
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation unpacks the politics embedded in the practice of Gaga, the movement language developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. In doing so, I disrupt the dominant mass-media discourse and few academic articles that describe Gaga in terms of personal freedom and other universalizing, depoliticizing rhetorics. I challenge this common understanding of Gaga by acknowledging several political layers of Gaga. First I explore the Gaga organization's rejection of the term “technique” to describe the practice, unpacking the Euro-American racial politics that are embedded in this term and arguing that Gaga/dancers classes do not completely elide these politics because the practice is structured as a meta-technique that depends on awareness of Europeanist form-based techniques. I then turn to the Israeli origins of the practice to argue that Gaga upholds several specifically Israeli ideals that are significant to acknowledge as the practice continues to circulate outside of Israel's borders. Finally, I turn to a global scope to explore the relationship between Gaga and neoliberalism, suggesting that Gaga predominantly upholds neoliberal values, but also subverts them by emphasizing the importance of pleasure and bodily affects.

These arguments about the political nature of Gaga are rooted in my ethnographic experiences. My Critical Dance Studies ethnographic approach recognizes a diversity of perspectives, and values the embodied experiences that often rupture the rhetoric used to describe and advertise Gaga. Three years of active participation in Gaga classes and workshops throughout the United States and attendance at two summer intensives held in Tel Aviv, Israel (2013 and 2015) lay the groundwork for my personal analysis of the practice. Interviews and surveys with active participants, teachers, and administrators of Gaga expand the scope of the project to consider international perspectives. I then apply theoretical inquiries from race studies, Israel/Palestine studies, globalization and neoliberal theory, and other academic discourses to unpack the politics that both my ethnographic subjects and I have encountered in the practice of Gaga. This case study furthers the academic discourse of Gaga, and also contributes to the broader scholarly studies of technique, contemporary dance training, neoliberalism, and the cultural politics of Israel/Palestine.

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