Danielle Agami

Caption: Ate9, EXHIBIT b, 2015. Performance view, April 2015, Los Angeles Dance Festival. Photo: Denise Leitner.

In 2010, after five years of performing with the Batsheva Dance Company, Danielle Agami left her native Israel and made her way to New York, where she introduced American students to “Gaga,” an improvised form of dance created by Batsheva artistic director Ohad Naharin. Two years later, she changed gears once again, this time making her way west, where she formed the Los Angeles–based dance company Ate9. Below, Agami discusses her choreographic process and ethos, including an embrace of both struggle and awkwardness, all of which may find its way into Ate9’s collaboration with the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on September 8, 2016.

I LIKE TO MAKE DECISIONS QUICKLY. I’ll start a story and then drop it, then start one again. This gives a boost of energy to my brain, and it creates dynamism in the work that keeps both my dancers and my audience engaged. You can have all the good ideas but it doesn’t matter if you don’t actually do something.

We need to gamble way more than we do—in dance and in life. With time and age we gamble less and less—less with our money, less with our hearts, because we’ve known pain. With improvisation you seek out pleasure, and with that comes discovery. And often what you discover is what you don’t know. There is a great freedom in feeling that you don’t know everything. I keep a very nice percentage of not knowing in my life.

With my students and my dancers, I try to keep the body and mind fresh so we have the ability to look at ourselves from outside. We train ourselves to know our habits—to recognize them and say: I don’t have to be subject to these. We learn to break our habits.

You can try to change. Even that trying is a workout for your brain, for your heart. Often our habits change us. They sit on us. But what if we changed our habits? It’s part of my motto to push ourselves, and to keep pushing and pushing. We don’t want to feel stagnant. You do an experiment and maybe that experiment fails. But you get more information from it.

If you look at our projects—where we perform and how often we perform—every month there is a new production, every month there’s something different that is happening, in different spaces and in different ways. That’s the rhythm that I wish for my dancers. That’s how fresh I want it to be. You get bored from anything that you do a lot, you know?

Ate9 Dance Company, 2016.

A lot of my work features struggle. Struggle is constant and everywhere—we will always need to deal with something. But if we aim to have 50 percent struggle and 50 percent pleasure, then we can handle the struggle better. So I use struggle as a theme—struggle as a goal, struggle as comfort, struggle with humor—to just have it. Own your struggle, don’t push it away and be afraid of it. I think struggle creates beauty and that nothing is created without a struggle.

I also like to work with awkwardness, embarrassment, and weakness. These are things we must visit, ideally on a daily basis. We all go through times of awkwardness, and I am not afraid of that—not in movement, not in relationship with my dancers, and not in relationship with my audience. It’s OK to have an awkward moment.

We’re working on many new projects in the coming months—with the furniture company HD Buttercup at their new store in downtown Los Angeles, with the Chicago-based drummer Glenn Kotche, and with the LA Philharmonic, which is an exciting commission—it’s a very different stage and a very different setup than we’re used to.

And I feel hungry to do more. My brain is producing a new idea every week. It doesn’t feel like ambition, I’m just very fertile. I feel pregnant all the time. And it gives me something to protect. It makes me care. Ate9 feels like an ongoing pregnancy. I never said that before! Maybe that’s why I don’t have children.