Left: An eclectic score — Dean Martin
to mambo, techno to traditional Israeli
music — propels Naharin's Minus 16,
here featuring Ghrai Devore, left, and
Kirven J. Boyd.
Above: Ohad Naharin, born on a kibbutz
in 1952, is dedicating all Alvin Ailey
performances of his work Minus 16 to
his late wife and former Ailey dancer,
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs
Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin's Minus 16.
New York Jewish Week
n the 1970s, Ohad Naharin's career as
a dancer in Israel was just taking off
when he left for America to be with
his wife. Naharin was, at the time, one of
Batsheva Dance Company's most promis-
ing dancers, doted on by Martha Graham,
the iconic American choreographer who
helped train many performers in the bud-
ding Israeli company. But then he met
Mari Kajiwara, an American dancer with
the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
"We met in Israel," Naharin said in an
interview from Israel, where he has lived
since 1990, the year he became director
of Batsheva. "She was with Alvin [as his
assistant] when he came here to work
with an Israeli company. When I met her, I
moved back to New York to be with her."
But in a way, when the Alvin Ailey
American Dance Theater dances his
piece Minus 16 on Saturday, March 31, at
the Detroit Opera House, he will be back
onstage with Kajiwara again. She died of
cancer, in 2001, at the age of 50. And all
the Ailey's performances of Minus 16 are
dedicated to her memory.
"I would have done it in any event,"
Naharin said of working with the Ailey com-
pany, an African-American centered group
and perhaps the country's most popular
dance company, of any genre. "But to do it to
commemorate Mari is really special:'
The name Ohad Naharin is so synony-
mous with Israeli dance that few realize
the revered choreographer spent more
than a decade of his career in the United
States. In the mid-1970s, he studied at
Juilliard, and it was here that he worked as
a choreographer from 1978 to 1990 to be
It is not the first time Naharin has
staged a work with the Ailey company
— his piece Black Milk premiered with
Ailey in 2002. But with his wife now gone
almost a decade, he seems especially keen
on preserving the memory of her.
"When I approached him about doing
the work, he really wanted to dedicate it to
her," said Robert Battle, the company's new
director and only its third in its 53-year
history, after Ailey and Judith Jamieson.
"There's a duet in the work that's very
personal to Ohad," he added, noting that
the piece is made up of four older Naharin
works with music ranging from techno
and "Hava Nagila" to Vivaldi's Stabat
Mater; the Vivaldi music accompanies the
Battle first saw Minus 16 (1999) per-
formed by Batsheva a few years ago, and
he thought it would make a bold addition
to the Ailey repertory in his first season as
"It's an important statement for our
company as we take our next step into the
future," Battle said.
The piece features a brief segment of
audience participation, which Battle hopes
will signal to viewers that he wants the
company to be even more inviting. And
the piece is danced using Naharin's sig-
nature style, the Gaga method, which rep-
resents a major departure from the com-
pany's roots in African-American dance
and Lester Horton technique. Gaga asks
dancers to move in accordance with their
own internal sensations, rather than their
reactions to their reflections in a mirror.
To get Ailey dancers ready, Battle
brought in a former Batsheva dancer,
Danielle Agami, who worked extensively
with the dancers for more than a month.
Before Agami began the daily three-hour
sessions to practice the piece, she taught
a special 90-minute class on the Gaga
Naharin flew in from Israel to New York
to work with the dancers early on, and
he was back before the piece's New York
debut to put final touches on the piece.
He also stayed an extra few days after the
premiere to spend time with Kajiwara's
old colleagues at the Ailey company, some
of them still working there.
"When I met Mari, she was already a
dancer with the company for 10 years,"
Naharin explained. "She was very instru-
mental in the company's" early years.
Kajiwara, a Japanese-American, had
been Ailey's personal assistant until 1984,
when Ailey slowed down as he became
ill with AIDS. (He died in 1989.) But
Kajiwara had been a dancer with the com-
pany since 1970 and still had a long career
ahead of her. After Naharin moved to New
York, the two co-founded Naharin's own
traveling troupe, Ohad Naharin Dance
His career as a choreographer blos-
somed. But when Batsheva asked him to
be its artistic director, Kajiwara moved
with him to Israel and even joined the
company as a dancer and instructor.
Naharin said that the duet for Kajiwara
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presents performances at the Detroit Opera House 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday,
2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 29-April 1. There will be only one performance of Ohad Naharin's
Minus 16, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 31. For a detailed repertory, go to www.michiganopera.org
. A free conversation with
the artists begins one hour prior to each performance. Tickets begin at $29: (313) 237-SING; www.michiganopera.org .
46 March 22 * 2012
was actually added to Minus 16 for the
Ailey performance. He takes a liberal
approach to his works, allowing dancers
to improvise and even changing entire
segments himself. And though he has
included the duet in other Minus 16 per-
formances, this time is different.
"It seems right," he said, "especially
because we're doing it for Mari."
Naharin's philosophy toward dance also
is somewhat at odds with Ailey's. While
Ailey founded his company as a vehicle
to promote African-American culture,
Naharin believes dance should stress what
makes it universal to every culture — that
everybody can do it. Gaga is based in that
premise, Naharin says, since it requires
dancers to express what is private and
unique to themselves.
"Dance is much more universal in that
way," Naharin said, "and it's why I can com-
municate my dances with people all over
the world. Dance is about what unites us,
and that has to do with human values, skill,
passion and the power of imagination."
He rejects that idea that there is any-
thing particularly Israeli in his work. "The
country is too young," he says, "and its
people from too many places throughout
the diaspora for Israel to have any clear
"There's no such thing as an 'Israeli'
movement," he says, adding, "There is a
fine line between nationalistic feelings
and pride. Pride can be a very dangerous
thing. I care about loving to dance, not
being proud to dance."
Still, he understands why the Ailey
company might feel a need to represent
African-American culture. He lived in
America for many years, he explained, and
he knows how sensitive the racial divides
in this country still are.
"It's a very big issue in America, the
oppression, that history," he said. "I think
this is part of that healing process," he
added, referring to the Ailey company's
continued assertion of its African-
And yet, he continued, "in dance,
national, religious, ethnic and geographic
connotations have no importance. That is
the beauty of it." Lii