Aspiring dancers going Gaga

Paul Knobloch is teaching a new movement language and, no, it has nothing to do with a certain pop star, Michelle Potter writes.

Canberra's Paul Knobloch is a dancer without borders. He currently performs with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, which has its home base in San Francisco and which Knobloch joined in February 2012. Before that he was a member of Bejart Ballet Lausanne. He has also had stints with the English National Ballet in London and has worked in Australia with West Australian Ballet and the Australian Ballet. But he returns to Canberra, where he was born and where he received his initial dance training, on a regular basis.

Knobloch likes to work with students at his former dance school, Canberra Dance Development Centre in the suburb of Spence. He says he wants to give back to an emerging generation of dancers some of what he was given as an aspiring young artist.

Dancer Paul Knobloch will run a dance program called Gaga!
Dancer Paul Knobloch will run a dance program called Gaga! 

Knobloch has a lot to offer and his latest, week-long workshop program, which begins in Spence on July 15, is called Direct from America II. The program includes all areas one might expect in a dance workshop program - classes in choreography, classical ballet, contemporary, pas de deux - but Knobloch will also offer classes in Gaga.

The movement language known as Gaga was developed by Ohad Naharin, inspired and admired director of the Israeli group, Batsheva Dance Company. The name seems a curious one. Anything to do with a certain pop singer?

In fact, it refers to the baby gibberish ''ga-ga'', and, when asked why he called his new dance language Gaga, Naharin explains: ''I called it Gaga because I was tired of saying 'my language of movement'. I understood that it was worthy of a name and I wanted to detach it from me. I didn't want it to be Ohad Naharin's language of movement.''

The Gaga movement language is used by the professional dancers of the Batsheva company as part of their day-to-day training and Naharin stresses that Gaga doesn't go against ballet or ruin a dancer's technique. It improves technique and supports the language dancers already know. It is a way of gaining knowledge and self-awareness through the body.

It is also used now as a training method for students as well as professionals. Knobloch says that dancers are led through a class by being given key words, phrases and imagery to help them create movement and develop improvisation skills.

Some dancers have given examples of the kinds of phrases that have been used to generate movement in a Gaga class. They include phrases such as ''feel like your skin is tightening around you and you have to keep stretching it back out like a T-shirt fresh out of the dryer'' or ''decorate your inner space with arcs and circles''. Knobloch says that for the entire class dancers never stop moving and that at some point they have to let go of thought and let the dancing body take over.

As well as having value for dancers, classes expand possibilities for a choreographer, and Knobloch has always spoken of his wish to expand his dance horizons through choreography.

''The Gaga classes I take allow me to awaken my inner voice as a dance-maker, and spark a freedom of movement that I haven't felt since my childhood,'' he says. ''The quote 'Dance as though no-one is watching' comes to mind.''

Gaga has been hugely popular across Europe and is now spreading throughout the US, from San Francisco to New York. It is not yet taught in Australia so Knobloch is bringing a first to Canberra.

''I hope by sharing my knowledge of Gaga that students in the Canberra community can be inspired by this unique learning practice,'' he says.

As for Knobloch's performing career with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, he has had a busy half year with a collaboration between King's company and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. In particular, they have been performing works that grew from a residency for the two companies at the University of California at Irvine.

He also talks enthusiastically about a collaboration with Grammy Award-winning double bassist Edgar Meyer. The work, called Meyer, has Meyer and two string players performing on stage and Knobloch recalls that at one point he found himself dancing a solo just centimetres from Meyer's 100-year-old double bass. Despite this somewhat daunting experience, Knobloch counts dancing in this work as ''like nothing I had experienced before''.

Knobloch is a generous artist and he always brings a wealth of international experience with him each time he comes back to Canberra. But this time he has something quite special to offer with his ''Introducing Gaga'' workshop.

And as an added attraction, Knobloch will present the award for outstanding performance by a female dancer at the Australian Dance Awards, to be held on August 5 at the Canberra Theatre Centre.

Workshop program Direct from America II, Canberra Dance Development Centre, Spence. July 15-19. Bookings: 6259 1550.