October 22, 2018

Gaga Lady: An Israeli dancer finds her home in L.A.

Israeli dancer, choreographer and teacher Danielle Agami moved to Los Angeles from Seattle in 2012, and she has never been busier.

“I’m an addict to excitement,” she confessed in a phone interview from Salt Lake City, where she was in residency with Repertory Dance Theatre. In the course of just one week, she and eight dancers created a new 20-minute piece titled “Theatre,” preparing the choreography, costumes, lighting and sets.

The Utah performance came on the heels of a two-week stint that the dance company she founded, Ate9, spent there in July.

“I challenge myself and people around me, because otherwise I feel like something’s missing,” Agami, 31, said.

Ate9 is now in its fourth season. From Oct. 6-8, the group will perform the furniture-inspired “Queen George” at H.D. Buttercup in downtown L.A. The piece was previously performed last year as a duet at downtown’s Think Tank Gallery, though this time it will have new music and a new cast.

“It was quite rigid and measured,” Agami said of the first performance. “This time, we’re going to take it to the other side, and go a little more wild. I think the cast is ready to take charge more, and to experiment with the space and the audience.”

While the material is choreographed, Agami leaves some of the decision-making to the dancers. Giving her dancers the flexibility to determine where they want to be on stage, for example, “creates this emotional drama in space,” she said.

“Queen George” examines people’s secrets and our relationships with one another and with our homes. The dancers share the stage with handmade furniture by Israeli designer Amir Raveh, created using recycled materials found in Tel Aviv. The audience is also encouraged to interact with the furniture, and can purchase the pieces afterward.

“We create a playground for other people to be creative,” Agami said. “Not only the dancers, even how the audience can rethink our habits as people, imagining this piece of furniture in your living room, or these two dancers in your living room.” 

“Queen George” is named after Agami’s dog, George, who travels with her on most of her tours.

“He’s been all over the world. He flies and stays in the best hotels and gets his own seat on the plane, and eats the best food. He’s very much a queen,” she said with a laugh.

Agami is striking in appearance, with close-cropped hair and olive-colored skin. Her dance movements are extremely visceral, ranging from animalistic to machine-like, with a high degree of spontaneity.

Her choreography comes out of an improvised movement language known as Gaga. It was created by Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of the Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company, one of Israel’s most esteemed dance institutions. Naharin was recovering from a back injury 15 years ago when he created Gaga.

Agami joined Batsheva at age 17, after graduating from the high school of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. She had taken the required courses to go to medical school with plans to become a doctor but couldn’t bear to leave the dance world behind.

She danced with Batsheva from 2002 to 2009, and was the company’s rehearsal director for her final two years. She moved to New York and ran Gaga USA, an organization founded to promote the Gaga approach. She continues teaching weekly Gaga lessons at studios around town, including The Sweat Spot in Silver Lake, and views the classes as an integral part of her dance practice.

While Agami has performed in venues and with companies from all over the world, she has been focused on developing an experimental dance community in Los Angeles. Last year, her group performed a collection of seven short dances, collectively titled “Kelev Lavan” (White Dog), at the Los Angeles Music Center’s “Moves After Dark” program. She has also worked with Yuval Sharon’s L.A.-based opera company The Industry on several choreographed projects.

This past month, Ate9 was one of three dance groups that performed as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “L.A. Dances” at the Hollywood Bowl. The company performed “Me,” about human intimacy and how people desire connection while pushing one another away. It was set to the music of L.A.-based composer Daniel Wohl.

This coming March, Agami will premiere a new piece she is making in collaboration with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche.

In addition to her many projects, Agami was recently awarded the prestigious 2016 Princess Grace Award, which honors emerging artists in theater, dance and film. As part of the prize, Agami will create a commissioned work for Visceral Dance Chicago. It will be performed at the Harris Theater in Chicago next fall.

Agami still visits Israel every year and keeps in touch with her community there. Her sister just joined the Israeli army this past month. 

The dancers in Ate9 (there are now nine of them, not counting Agami) are all American, though Agami says they’re interested in learning about Israel, Batsheva, Gaga and her unique view of the world. She invites her dancers to gather in her home for Passover and Rosh Hashanah, and several of her dancers were inspired to visit Israel with her.

“After they come back, I always feel like, ‘Oh, they get me,’ ” she said with a laugh.

But moving between the cultures of Israel and the U.S. can be challenging.

“I’m a lot different when I’m here. It’s easy to think about it this way, that in Israel people call me Dani, and here they call me Danielle,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not the same person. But it will even out, I hope.”

“Queen George” will be performed Oct. 6-8 at H.D. Buttercup, 2118 E. Seventh Place. Ate9 will host a gala on Nov. 10 at the Alexandria, 501 S. Spring St. For more information, visit