At 25, Omri Drumlevich has danced his way to a long artistic resume that includes five years of performing, creating choreography, and teaching with the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel.
As he puttered around the kitchen of his small Princeton apartment, preparing drinks and a nosh — before talking about his short gig teaching dance performance and choreography to Princeton University students — he revealed that Yom Kippur is his favorite Jewish holiday.
For the last few years, Yom Kippur has been for him a day of self-reflection rather than formal religious worship. It is that same inner focus that carries over to his love for Gaga, a movement language and technique developed by Batsheva’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin.
Drumlevich fell into dance “kind of by accident,” he said, although he admitted that he sought out every stage opportunity in his childhood home, Kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem. At age 11, while dancing with his mother at a wedding, her friend told her she should have her son audition for a youth folk-dancing company. Turning to him, she asked, “Do you want to go?” and his quick response, “Sure, why not” — his first step into the world of dance.
This fall he is at Princeton University as part of the Israel Institute’s Visiting Israeli Artists Program, which places filmmakers, choreographers, musicians, writers, and visual artists in residencies at leading North American universities and cultural organizations. The aim of the program, Drumlevich said, “is to show that in Israel there is more than a conflict; there is a life, there is a whole world.”
Much of his teaching on campus will focus on Gaga, a movement language that starts from the body (not to be confused with the game by the same name that is an Israeli version of dodgeball). “We don’t have routines and get corrected; we learn about the elements of movement,” Drumlevich said.
Gaga requires a different way of thinking about the body that, he said, makes it “more elastic in terms of shape, form, interpretation, fantasy, and energy,” like taking “a chunk of clay and doing what you want with it.” For example, rather than thinking of the chest as a single, whole body part, he said, “We make the chest be made out of more pieces, so you can move inside your flesh.”
In a Gaga class, the instructor gives the improvising dancers a series of multilayered tasks and images. “The purpose is to connect people to their bodies and make them listen to their bodies. It is about connecting to your passion to move, connecting to your inner animal, your groove, your fantasy, passion.”
Gaga, he added, “is never about a performance or showing it to someone; it is more of a research of yourself through your body.” He added that observers are not allowed at a Gaga class.
“Gaga is also very meditative. It is more than a practical workout; it affects you emotionally and mentally,” said Drumlevich. “It is a combination of going to the gym, to a party, to your therapist, sitting by yourself and meditating, drawing, and listening to music.”
Drumlevich’s father is a sabra whose European parents were Holocaust survivors; his mother, who was born in Morocco, came to Israel at age 2.
Drumlevich described his childhood as “magical” and “amazing.” On a kibbutz, he said, “you get to experience a micro-version of a world; it’s all within the borders of the kibbutz so it is easier to absorb and to learn from.”
Although he was accepted to the main company of the folk dance troupe, his inexperience and long, skinny body made him different from the other dancers. He didn’t quite fit in, he said, but “I didn’t care because I really fell in love with it. I was so happy, I would come home and dance at home till the middle of the night.”
Two months later, when the troupe was performing at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Drumlevich had an “Aha!” moment, saying to himself: “This is where I’m going to study,” and even though the likelihood of admission was low, he was accepted into the prestigious school.
He joined a Batsheva program for high school students, then moved to the ensemble, and in 2012 to the Batsheva Dance Company.
For his army service, he was accepted as an “outstanding dancer,” requiring him to work six hours a day for the army, devoting the rest of his time to his career. Seeing this as “a compromise on both ends,” he still felt he could make a meaningful contribution to the IDF.
Drumlevich left Batsheva in January to focus more on his own creations and learning, including preproduction work on a surrealistic feature film he wrote and directed; personal writing; and creating a work for the stage that combines dance and performance.
Perhaps it was his immersion in Gaga that encouraged him to take a break from professional dance and develop his own creative talents. “Gaga is about breaking a lot of boxes, thinking outside the box,” he said. “It is about finding out what is hidden that you didn’t unlock it yet and finding a way to unlock it consistently.”
The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Dance at Princeton University presents its annual dance festival Dec. 1-3. Students will perform works by professional choreographers, including Omri Drumlevich. $17; $12 in advance, $8 students. Performances take place at Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theater Center, Princeton.