Choreography: Emmanuel Gat
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
This is an unusual opportunity to see a company like Emmanuel Gat Dance at the Lowry. An appearance supported by The Institut Français as part of FranceDanceUK, this is the company’s only UK appearance other than London’s Sadler’s Wells. Booked into the cosily-cavernous Lyric Theatre at The Lowry this uniqueness is clearly lost on the wider Manchester dance audience as there are considerably more empty seats than full.
Works was originally created as a collaboration between Le Ballet de Lyon and Gat’s own dancers, combining ten from each – Gat is Israeli but is based mostly in France. Two years on we are presented with a new version featuring just ten dancers from Emmanuel Gat Dance: but ten is still plenty for a non-classical company on a UK stage. The work itself is designed as a celebration of dancers: their uniqueness, fearlessness, virtuosity, articulacy and ability to create a sense of community and collaboration.
Works is a fast-paced succession of choreographic ideas and fragments that has the feeling of something prepared and yet remixed through the dancers’ choices to create a new version with each performance. When all ten dancers are performing together it initially seems a whirlwind of almost random movement – this is made more unreadable by the first section being performed to silence, which doesn’t give the audience the usual clues of pace or mood or colour or atmosphere. When the music does begin it is in the form of Jessye Norman singing Richard Strauss, which instantly gives it a sense of purpose and drama. As the seventy-minute piece progresses choreographic phrases reappear and reform and create stepping stones to guide the audience through to the end.
But Works does not feature all ten dancers throughout; subsequent sections feature a series of duets, trios and solo and other combinations. When dancers are not featured they sit quietly at the back of the stage: attentive and still somehow engaged. There is real quality and charisma in Gat’s company, who are strikingly and individually costumed in a glorious mash-up of leggings, dresses, kilts, shorts other separates: for example Thomas Bradley is in a short peach chiffon dress, Michael Loehr is just in short white shorts, Karolina Szymura wears a nude lace bodysuit; Robert Bridger is in simple shirt and trousers. The impression is considered and eccentric, costumed but also sort of effortless.
However, the middle section of the piece suffers from lack of pace and momentum, a sense of inertia builds possibly because overall the work lacks any narrative impetus. The movement is beautiful but there is a sense that you have no idea what you are watching or why. This is certainly intensified by the musical choices – that shuffle from Bach to Gat’s own music via Awir Leon and Irving Berlin. The music is intriguing but stubbornly refuses to quite build to any excitement. That the final section is so uplifting – all ten dancers thrillingly fluid and spirited – is largely because Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’ is doing some of the lifting with its relentless passion, innovation and authenticity.
Ultimately, Works is a box of many things: there is breathtaking beauty in the dancers and their effortless energy and flawless technique, so casually flung around the stage with a real sense of joy. Musically there is some kind of journey, although not always a comfortable one. The stark informality of the presentation is defiantly modern, although the lighting could have done more to change and create atmosphere and mood – in fact the lighting changes and simple choices were such that this was clearly a choice, not a failure. The purity and simplicity and integrity of those ten dancers were the staging and the narrative. One needs to pull back on one’s own theatrical expectations for staged dance to really see Works through the different lens Gat intends. If this was a sited performance you would instantly read it as incredible. In a theatre there is a disconnect between your expectations and the stripped-back performance that is the real drama.
Reviewed 9 November 2019 | Image: Contributed