The Secret History of Israeli Choreographer Ohad Naharin

Tomer Heymann’s film “Mr. Gaga,“ which is about the work and life of the choreographer Ohad Naharin, is the most successful documentary in Israeli history- and was created, according to Tomer, because he had always wanted to make an Israeli version of “Fame.”

In the early nineties, Tomer Heymann, who had just completed his compulsory service in the Israeli military, became a waiter at Orna and Ella, a hot spot on Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin Street. Every Saturday at 11 a.m., an attractive couple—a Japanese woman, an Israeli man—sat at the same table. She ordered olive-oil cake; he had the wild rice. They tipped generously. Heymann, who is from the small village of Kfar Yedidia, was new to the city. One day, a cousin invited him to a dance performance. “I thought, ‘Did I do something wrong or bad in my life that I need this punishment, to be invited to a dance show?’ “ he recalled recently. But he went to the performance, at the Suzanne Dellal Center, in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood. On the stage, dancers sat on chairs arranged in a semicircle, convulsing to a rock-and-roll version of a traditional Passover song. It was subversive, sexy, strange. “I was not ready for it,” Heymann recalled. He went to see the show again, and then again.

After seeing the performance several times, Heymann, who had just bought a video camera, decided to film it. He sneaked backstage, hovering in the wings. “I was chutzpan,” he said, meaning “shameless.” While he was filming one evening, he saw the attractive man from Orna and Ella. “I said, ‘Wow! What are you doing here?’ “ Ohad Naharin, the choreographer of the dances that Heymann had been watching, told him to turn off his camera and never to shoot his dances again.

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