Review: Emanuel Gat Dance in Silent Ballet/Winter Voyaqe/Through the Centre at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 19 & 20 Sep 08
Reviewed by Rachel Nouchi - Friday 26 September 2008

In an adventurous move, Sadler’s Wells has thrown open the curtains to new contemporary talent rarely seen on the London, or UK stage. Sadler’s Wells Debut allows audiences to sample what may become the next big thing in contemporary dance for as little as £10 a ticket. Israeli born, French resident, Emanuel Gat, and his powerfully strong troupe of eight dancers, a mix of Israeli and French origin, were the first to be presented.

In an evening of three mixed works, the choreographer’s raw talent and originality is unquestionable. He imbues sheer physical energy into each and every dancer as they squirm, twist and jerk their way across the stage in an unfathomable secret language that may mean something or absolutely nothing more than technical experimentation.

In the first work, (ironically entitled Silent Ballet, given that silence was broken intermittently with a soundtrack of screeching factory noise) the somber-clad dancers move across the stage with speed, like eight flaying electrical wires that quickly turn into tightly knotted contractions. Here, the whining industrial sounds do nothing more than create an eerie timelessness, or perhaps lend a clue to help us read the scene. Are the dancers cogs in a wheel, parts of a machine, or strings in an orchestra being plucked and played?

Winter Voyage, a contemporary male duet, played by Gat himself and his partner, Roy Assaf, was by far the most meditative and unified work of the evening. The two dancers, dressed in simple, swishing tunics, cut to the knee, sway in a series of disciplined movements mirroring and rippling from one to the other. This is tightly crafted and elegant choreography, where the two bodies ripple, bend and flex, in sharp contrast to the mechanical shaking and jerks predominant in the other pieces. Long and slowly swinging arms bend at the elbow in unison to reveal secret hand signals, precise and disciplined, like ancient Buddhist sculptures coming to life. Set to three songs from Schubert’s Winterreise, the score was a welcome break from the post apocalyptical droning of Silent Ballet, though movements, again, don’t work with the music, but serve to infuse the performance with a spiritual essence.

Gat, who was a conductor before turning dancer/choreographer says: “I see all of my work more as a question mark than a direct comment… I don’t like to illustrate the music. You have to have the freedom of a conversation with it rather than to obey it.” And this certainly followed through in the choreography of all three pieces, which paid little respect to harmonies or discord in a post-modern mash of musical choice. It was as if the dancers were so wrapped up with the esoteric signs and symbols of Gat’s dense choreography that the music was an afterthought rather than movement as a response to, or expression of, sound. Some may find this liberating, others frustrating in the sense that everything remains intentionally discordant.

In Through the Centre, the final piece of the evening, the dancers finally cast aside the puritanical constraints of the earlier works. All eight fizzled across the stage in a swash of rainbow pinks, blues and greens, backed by the acid jazz music from Squarepusher. Yet the choreography, while remaining admirable for the high-speed energy of the dancers, amounting to a breathless 35 minutes, retained many of the same inexplicable characteristics of the earlier works. Cog-like contractions and quirky, offbeat rhythms, sit ill at ease with solo passages and group ensembles, some locked in position for a minute or two, with the shape strongly lit before dissolving again into bodies representing mechanical fragments.

If you are looking for a night of lavish indulgence in craft, then Emanuel Gat is not for you. All his artistic choices lean towards the sparse and inward looking. And yet, if you let yourself be swept into his odd universe, the evening, particularly Winter Voyage and Through the Centre, is a strangely compelling one that keeps your eyes fixed on the dancers, not on your watch.

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