»I view art as a work of translation«
Interview with Gal Naor


Gal Naor hasn’t sounded his voice on stage for 12 years now. He last used his voice before audiences in a show staged at the high school of arts he attended. In the many productions he has collaborated with since — as dancer/choreographer and actor/director — he lip­synched to the voices of others and used Sign Language.

»I was 18 the last time I spoke on stage and now, at 30, it’s time to go back to my own voice again,« he says during our conversation about his show Lights & Vessels set to debut at the ID Festival.

This statement, »back to my own voice«, certainly carries a metaphorical import as well, first because for the first time, Naor — stage name The Progressive Wave, a literal translation of his Hebrew name — overcomes his fear and puts on a solo piece; and secondly, because his voice, in this case, stands not only for mere sound (he is going to lip­synch to himself), but also for the show’s contents: for roughly an hour, Naor delivers a sort of personal, unique introductory talk on the Jewish science of the occult, the Kabbalah.

Gal Naor © the artist

Gal Naor © the artist


»My interest in the Kabbalah was first sparked as early as 12 years ago, but it was only after some quests in India and the Far East that I returned to it, and not too long ago, I felt it was time for my art to engage with the spirit too,« he explains. Contemporary art is more associated with criticism than it is with spirituality.

Aren’t you concerned lest the show is perceived to be ›New Age‹?

»I used to be apologetic about believing a higher power to exist, but I no longer feel this need to apologize. Still, I’m naturally careful as well. As a queer artist with many queer and gay friends, I must be judicious when it comes to religion. Religions have wrought a lot of destruction and gratuitous hatred on this world. The Kabbalah talks I hear are delivered by rabbis living a lifestyle light years remote from mine…

but there’s religion and there’s knowledge, and I treat the Kabbalah as a source of knowledge. For me, it always has to fall in line with the literal sense of the word Kabbalah: acceptance.

The essence of Kabbalah is this incredible, deeply­moving wisdom, but it’s been wrapped up in so much stuff, and it’s part of my mission to restore the relevance of this wisdom to secular Jews, as well as people who have nothing to do with Judaism.«

So it’s not about you embracing religion.

»If I were straight, I might have. But I’m so grateful that being gay, this option is not on the table. I really love this combination of being gay, living away from Israel, and engaging with Kabbalah and Judaism from an authentic place. This is gonna strike you as odd, but lately I’ve been putting Tefillin on.«

How did you learn how to put on Tefillin?

»I watched a YouTube tutorial… two years ago I brought my Bar-­Mitzvah Tefillin over from Israel, but it was only in the last couple of months that I started to put it to use. It’s all too easy starting your day off with Facebook, but there’s something more right about trying to find your centre.«


The show follows the pattern of a talk, complete with dance, Sign Language and visual happening, at its centre an experiments table with glassware containing a fluorescent liquid. These resonate the show’s title, Lights & Vessels, basic Kabbalistic concepts that Naor addresses in his text. Further down the road, he plans to elaborate these ideas and others, as part of a trilogy of shows, Science of Signs, a title that among other things, refers to his intensive engagement with Sign Language.

He learned it from his Deaf grandparents and later in university as well, and the language became a significant part of his work, as well as his day job as a Sign Language interpreter and tour guide for the Deaf and hard of hearing in Berlin. Interpretation/translation as a broader concept also partly accounts for some of the draw he feels to engage with Kabbalah on stage.

»Generally speaking, I view art as a work of translation. Ideas are a metaphysical thing translated into different physical dimensions by art. As a choreographer who is also an interpreter, I’m always interested in inhabiting the ›in between‹ ground of languages: between dance and theatre, ancient language and contemporary language, between mystical and scientific, religious and secular…

this mobility between cultural spheres is obviously a clearly marked characteristic of every act of translation. Every translator is bi­lingual, every bi­lingual person is bi­cultural, and as a result, the whole act of translation is invariably an act of social mediation as well. For me, the engagement with the Kabbalah dovetails with the question of what is the ›pure language‹, which doesn’t abide by any lingual system, nor is bound to any culture; a language that taps into the pure human experience, relying on no link to identity and nationality. In my show, I try to perform an abstraction of complex spiritual imports, accessibility­facilitation that’s also reflected in the presentation.«

Accessibility is a scarcely­used word in the context of art. There seems to be a more sophisticated air to complexity and non­communicability.

»The whole show constitutes an invitation or a proposal. It’s a call to use one’s imagination and it’s alright if some places remain vague. I use the word ›accessibility‹ first and foremost because the language of the Kabbalah is indeed coded, and I myself have still a lot of layers to explore there. The idea of accessibility is similar to that of translation: taking information from one language and putting it together in a new order so as to comply with the autonomous rules of another language.«

Lights & Vessels © Guy Landver

Lights & Vessels © Guy Landver

You cited being drawn to the ›in between‹ regions. Does it hold true for your attitude to immigration as well?

»As immigrants, ours is a stratified identity. We can spend a lifetime straddling different languages and cultures and still feel that we don’t entirely belong in either society. Not­belonging can also be down to choice. Nowadays we have more spaces to get around in, in every way: physically, consciousness­ wise, and emotionally. Immigration is a state of consciousness, a state that many people around the world choose as their way of life. All the more so in a city like Berlin. It could be that the experience of foreignness highlights or facilitates an inner connection of sorts. In general, ›otherness‹ is a concept that always informs my artistic actions under the surface, whether through Deafness or queerness. Being queer for me means evoking thought, provoking those who become too comfortable to challenge themselves to change and be changed. To be queer for me is to choose not to dwell in a single comfortable place, but rather to keep insisting on opening up the action spheres of our consciousness.«


Interview with Gal Naor (Lights & Vessels), prepared by Tal Alon (Editor of the Spitz Magazine Berlin)
You can also find the Hebrew version here: spitzmag.de


Lights & Vessels
Friday 21 Oct 2016, 21:30 — 22:30, Studio A
duration: 60 minutes

further shows Saturday 22:00 and Sunday 21:00

Tickets: 14/10 EUR

conception/choreography/performance: Gal Naor
co-artsitic direction/dramaturgy: Matan Zamir
stage/light/video design: Marc Jungreithmeier
original music composition: Ori Alboher
costume design: Don Aretino
production management: Ann-Christin Görtz
text transcription: Bennet Togler