Londiwe Khoza’s artistic training in South Africa centered on ballet. Yet from a young age, she valued versatility, eagerly exploring disciplines from modern dance and hip-hop to acting and singing. Now she is broadening her horizons further by immersing herself in Gaga, the innovative movement language developed by her Rolex mentor, Ohad Naharin. Khoza is currently an apprentice with the junior ensemble of the renowned Batsheva Dance Company, where Naharin serves as artistic director and primary choreographer. On a rare day off, she traded the studios of Tel Aviv’s picturesque Suzanne Dellal Centre for a neighborhood café to tell Deborah Friedes Galili about the beginning of the mentoring year.
March was the first time you saw Batsheva Dance Company perform, in Ohad’s The Hole. What impression did it make on you?
I got to see both male and female casts back to back. It was incredible. I went back to the hotel and I needed an hour to debrief and put everything into perspective. Sometimes you need to be silent for half an hour so you can just let it all in, and that’s what happened in March.
That is also when you had your first class in Gaga, Ohad’s movement language and Batsheva’s daily training. What was your first Gaga experience like?
It was a bit strange because I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know what I was meant to be doing. I was so used to having a structure. Ohad said, “Just listen to your body.” I thought, “But I am.” It’s psychological sometimes. You need to empty your mind of your thoughts and actually just listen to your body. And that’s what was really hard.
Do you feel you are developing as a dancer through the daily Gaga classes?
I can feel things are changing. I have no idea if it’s enough change for someone else to see it, and I’m not entirely sure if I can pinpoint how. I’m becoming a little more comfortable with it now and feel I’m understanding it. On top of a physical challenge and an emotional challenge, it’s still psychological. It’s not erasing everything I’ve learned in the past but it’s creating another file and being able to merge the two.
Ohad says Gaga is not going against other techniques and can be used alongside other approaches. Where is this common ground – and where does Gaga differ from other forms of training?
Now I’m trying to teach my body how to do things another way because it’s so trained to be a specific way. And it’s muscle memory. You’re in a studio doing certain movements. Things get hard. You stop breathing. You hold tension in weird places but that’s how you’ve done it for so long and it’s worked. Now I need to learn how to let go of tension in certain places. It’s also being able to bridge the gap between what you do in rehearsal and what you do in class, and how you can bring all the elements that you’ve learned into choreography. That’s the next challenge.
Which of Ohad’s choreographic works are you learning in rehearsals? And where are you are bridging this gap you speak of?
We just did Deca Dance; we’re doing Kamuyot now. It’s the little things, like the relationship with the floor. Just standing and being charged. Being able to snap into movement whenever. Having complete relaxation in your chest and having that release in your joints. It sounds so simple but it’s like doing this sometimes [she pats her head and rubs her stomach at the same time].
Is being inside Ohad’s choreography onstage a different experience from performing ballet or in some other choreographer’s repertory?
It holds significance purely based on who he is. Having the opportunity to perform his work has been really amazing. You’ll always find people’s work that’s amazing and it blows your mind but it’s very rare that you’ll find the people that blow your mind. I feel privileged to be able to say in 20 years’ time, “I worked with Ohad and performed his work.”
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
I’m looking forward to the repertory we’re going to be doing. We’re starting to work on Virus and Mamootot. And I’m excited to be able to spend time with Ohad and explore and understand what it is I’m doing. It’s very rare that you get an opportunity like this, to be in an environment like this with someone like this, and be able to learn from him.