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[DANCE REVIEW] Emanuel Gat at Jacob's Pillow


Doris Duke Studio Theatre
July 6-9, 2006

Winter Voyage (2004), music: Franz Schubert, Winterreise
The Rite of Spring (2004), music: Igor Stravinsky

review by Seth Rogovoy, critic-at-large, Berkshire Living magazine

In its first performance at Jacob's Pillow, this relatively new company -- only two years old, and undoubtedly new to almost everyone in the audience -- grabbed the audience and did not let go through a serious, almost grave evening of two perfectly programmed dances, both revisiting core pieces of music for dance and in so doing renewing the music, making us here it anew, and suggesting we see it in new and different ways in terms of dance.

Emanuel Gat's approach is minimalist: the company we saw included only five dancers including Gat himself, and the first piece only featured Gat and the company's other male dancer, Roy Assaf. Stage business is kept to a minimum, allowing form, lighting, music, and color to do most of the heavy lifting.

Or rather, allowing the dancing to speak loudly and clearly.

Winter Voyage, featuring Gat and Assaf dressed in gray, monk-like tunics, their heads shaven like Tibetan monks perhaps all the more to make them resemble each other in a dance in which their movements paralleled each other extensively. The dance began with the two men carving out the spatial axis upon which the dance would be played out: lanes of diagonals and horizontals, sometimes occupied by one dancer apiece or sometimes occupied by both in near-unison movements.

The dance sprung from a strong core at the hips, with movements branching out or flowing from arched or swayed hips and knees, and arms extending or flailing about from bendy torsos.

Their movements also flowed one into the other, so that individual gestures were like words that were part of sentences; in this manner the dance was almost semaphoric, with periods allowing brief pauses before the dancers continued on with their next statement.

The dance was mostly abstract and symbolic, although of what remains to be seen. There were suggestions of intimate bonds tying the two men together -- although it's not even clear these were two men -- they could have been different aspects of the same man, especially given the purposeful resemblance between Assaf and Gat and their frequent mimicking of each other's movements. The staging purposely stripped them of their individuality, forefronting the gestures as independent means of expression relating directly to the music, which we know to be foreboding songs about the nearness of death -- Schubert's included.

In the third song, one of the dancer's movements suddenly became slower and stilted, as if he suddenly lost motor and muscle coordination -- again, signifying impending doom (and also echoing a motif from last week's provocative grammar by Aszure Barton). Movement also suddenly began going backward, with steps and gestures played out in reverse, as if trying to outrun death, or reverse time.

On a program with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, another piece about imminent death, this made for a strong theme that extended throughout the evening.

One enters The Rite of Spring with foreknowledge, and it is a dance of suspense, the question hanging over the proceedings being, who's gonna get it? It was pretty clear it would be one of the three women, each uniquely beautiful and talented: Avital Mano, Doron Raz, and Alex Shmurak.

The five dancers were clad in black, which set them off starkly from a red rectangle center-stage that included a red oriental rug on which some of the action played out. This The Rite of Spring is like no other: Gat finds in the piece notions of child's play, albeit ominous child's play, where games of musical chairs spell doom or worse. The ritualistic nature of the performance is found in ethnic dancing, in this case, salsa dancing, and the mismatch of two men to three women allowed for marvelous partner-swapping and fluid tossing around of the odd-man (woman)-out.

The dance began with various formations and relationships being tried out for size, like auditions, before the music's rhythms inspired them toward the fluid salsa dancing. Fast and furious, the dance was followed by a nap, with all the dancers hitting the floor in sleep positions, from which one or more emerged as if in a dream state. More stylized ballroom dancing followed, always with hints of terror or violence egged on by the shriek's of Stravinsky's score (in a recording aptly enough conducted by our own Leonard Bernstein).

This was not easygoing stuff -- there wasn't much or any humor in Gat's work, and the eroticism, such as it was, was of a harsh, cold kind, tempered somewhat by the grace and beauty of the dancers themselves. But this was dance of incredible originality, clear articulation, robust physicality, and sophisticated intelligence.

It was just a taste of a choreographer and a company that cried out for more, more, more....

According to the group's website, the company has a dance featuring: "10 women, 45 minutes of music, 20 minutes of silence, 65 minutes of dance," featuring Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Requiem, K626."

Next year in Becket, Massachusetts?

--by Seth Rogovoy, critic-at-large, Berkshire Living magazine

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