Choreographer: Boris Charmatz
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
French Choreographer Boris Charmatz creates highly ambitious and experimental dance performances across the world – from Sadler’s Wells to the New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Breaking out of traditional theatre spaces, he makes work that breaks all the rules. For 10000 Gestures his first work for Manchester, Charmatz set out to make a work where no movement is seen more than once, where traditional pattern and repetition is replaced by a chaotic and unsettling canvas of shape and movement, within which the viewer is challenged to find meaning.
In the vast emptiness of the old Mayfield station – a huge derelict warehouse on the edge of the city – the piece opens with a single dancer. Her red sequinned dress is like something from Dancing On Ice, anomalous with the shabby, vaguely threatening backdrop. She throws herself around on the shiny soft floor laid on top of the grubby concrete, panting, grunting, counting the moves. When she gets to two hundred or so a wave of twenty-two other dancers rush from the darkness. They are dressed like they found a huge grown-ups dressing up box somewhere – some are in black ninja suits, some in flamboyant ballroom dancing costumes, some barely in anything at all.
The piece totally hangs on its duality. What looks like total disorder is a tightly choreographed and brilliantly presented hour of movement. Watch one dancer and you miss the overall picture, watch the whole and you miss the minute, unique and beautiful actions of the individual. There’s a perverse satisfaction in the impossible desire to do both at once. In its seeming mayhem, 10000 Gestures mimics everything from the school playground to the nightmarish images of Hieronymus Bosch. The movements are familiar, funny, playful, sensual, tortured and obscene. They are sometimes expansive, sometimes almost indiscernible. Dancers sway and swoop, jerk and collide. They are demons, they fight demons. They are childlike, they are animal.
10000 Gestures is set to a soundtrack of Mozart’s wonderful requiem mass, punctured by the dancers voices – chanting, grunting, screaming, making animal sounds – and the found sounds from outside the space – roaring car engines, the squeal of the trams, train announcements. It all adds to the sense of the random and has a touch of Futurist Theatre about it. There’s a sense of threat, that anything could happen, never more apparent than when the dancers suddenly run into the seating blocks and clamber around between and over the seats, bringing their sweat, their sounds, and their strange otherworldliness with them.
10000 Gestures is exactly the kind of performance you expect from a major international festival of new work. A subversive and experimental piece of dance performance that challenges and delights in equal measure.
Runs until 15 July 2017 | Image: Tristram Kenton