It was movement that brought Ben Green and I together: We met during a Gaga intensive in NYC. If you’re not already familiar with Gaga or Ohad Naharin yet, make sure to visit this page. Also, Mr. Gaga, a movie about Ohad Naharin, is currently touring the globe; if you live in one of the cities it’s screening, go see it.
Part of the reason I’m so drawn to Green is that he’s an artist working in more than one media. For example, he made a dance film with Rebecca Steinberg and Hadassah Perry, “The Way We Were,” which combines film, movement, fashion, and poetry to create a beautiful piece of art. He’s also the creative force behind Behave Normally, a style blog and You Tube channel with close to 90K followers. He’s committed, passionate, and one of the most exciting artists I know.
Though busy touring internationally with the Batsheva Ensemble, Green was gracious enough to sit down for this interview all the way from Tel Aviv to discuss dance, performance, and art-making, as well as how his relationship to art has changed.
When did you begin dancing?
In a structured sense, since I was about 13, but I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t dancing. I remember making up dances in my living room as a kid; I was fascinated by the relationship of movement and music.
What has your experience been like as a professional dancer?
I would say I have been incredibly fortunate in my career so far, finding myself in environments that are both challenging and nurturing. Sometimes when we are young, I think we tend to let ourselves be mistreated or unsatisfied because “we are just starting,” and we aren’t able to grasp that as the dancer, young or old, experienced or not, we can be picky about the process we are a part of. I’m lucky to have been in environments I really believed in from the beginning.
How has Israel changed your art making process and/or performance work?
In Batsheva Ensemble we are learning and performing pre-existing repertoire and it’s challenging my brain and stamina in a way that is different from being in the process of making new work. Of course one of the most beautiful things about being a part of a company of Batsheva’s size is the large amount of performances we have.
I think working in Israel has me constantly aware of the gap between how we work in the studio and how we work onstage. I’m trying and am encouraged to find how to close the gap, and continue to use performance as research, just as I would in the studio.
Israel’s approach to dancers, especially in training, feels less robotic than in the States. I’ve notice a freedom, trust, and allowance for personal discovery in dancers here that is lacking in many fundamental approaches in the U.S.
Can you discuss Gaga and how it’s shaped you as a dancer / human?
Gaga is a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin that focuses on listening to the sensations and habits that exist already inside of our bodies, and I feel extremely connected to the way it allows me to research myself.
I wouldn’t say Gaga has changed me but allowed me to see and uncover things that already exist inside of me. I’m very fortunate to have an hour and fifteen minutes a day where I can really listen to myself.
With the natural speed of the world we exist in today, in my personal experience, I can become highly disconnected from my own sensations. Gaga has allowed me to tune into those sensations and connect pleasure to many emotional situations that reveal themselves in my life.
How do you use the body as a vehicle for discovery?
Movement is just another language used to convey an emotional experience or fantasy. There are many things your body is capable of that you are not exactly consciously aware of and Gaga in particular allows you to continually surprise yourself because of its non-structure. The most satisfying discoveries for me are when through movement I find how to articulate something I cannot accurately put into words.
As an artist, how does it feel to also be a performer? Do you prefer art-making or performing?
The common thread between performing and art-making is research. Depending on how you look at it, you could say you are always performing within daily life. Art-making allows you to build a construct to which you then have an experience. Performing and making are just two ways of having an experience. Right now I would say parallel to performing I am very, very fascinated with making, and I seize all opportunities I have to continue to build my choreographic voice and process.
Do you see yourself as an underrepresented voice in the art world?
I definitely feel like each person, depending on how much importance they put on what they do, can find themselves underrepresented among other artists.
I feel I have a responsibility as an American artist in particular to do my part in moving art in our country forward. The dance performances, coming from American choreographers, that I’m missing are ones with true substance and less emphasis on aesthetic.
In some ways, whether I am underrepresented or not, I feel it’s not so important. I would do the work I do today the same if there were more of a general public who found it important, but of course it’s something I think we need to address in order to continue sharing our work with a broader audience.
How has your relationship to dance / art changed over time?
It has become more of my life. Earlier in my life, I was a part of dance and art because it was something I enjoyed doing. As my relationship with art has grown over the years, I have become even more aware that I am participating because I need to say things through my medium.
I know you from the dance world, but also know you work in other mediums; can you talk about that process?
I am very fascinated by film. Often I find myself noticing the imagery and scenes that exist in everyday life, and I’m inspired to create obscure portraits of them through film. In dance sometimes there is a pressure to involve a certain amount of movement, before it becomes part of another genre, physical theatre, etc. When it comes to film, I find pleasure in the simple way you can direct the eye through a camera’s lens.
How do you spend your free time? Alone? with friends?
Well it being a hot summer here in Tel Aviv I am certainly enjoying living for the first time near the sea. I love conversations, so I’m often sharing them with all the fascinating people that fall into my life. I’ve also come to find spending time alone with myself is an integral part of my health and happiness.
I’ve been interested recently in the difference between being alone and being lonely. I’m still finding how the two truly relate to each other in my own experience, but I think it has something to do with accepting yourself as the only person who will always accompany you through all of the experiences in your life.
What are you currently watching, reading, etc.?
I’m neck deep in David Whyte’s Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. He has written various essays on words like compassion, grief, and destiny. I am continually inspired by his insight and perception.
Keep up with Ben Green on Twitter @itsbengreen.
Photos courtesy of Ben Green.