Emanuel Gat, L’Agora, Montpellier Danse – review

In Montpellier’s L’Agora dance space, Emanuel Gat asks his 10 dancers to pick one song each and find movement to reflect not the music but the lyrics. Scattered around the Cunningham Studio, they create their own choreographic phrases, oblivious to each other, as Gat, quasi-invisible in a dark corner, photographs them and projects the images in real time on a screen behind them. Later, while one dancer performs his sequence, the others tail him like felines, devising new steps on the spot in reaction to his.

The public rehearsal, the first for a new work to be unveiled in July, filled in some of the blanks in Gat’s work. His creations for the stage, while fluid, can feel disincarnate, the dancers so detached that the audience is required to search for answers between the lines. As the associate artist of this year’s Montpellier Danse festival, however, the Israeli-born choreographer had the opportunity to show three facets of his work over the opening weekend, with a new work and a photographic exhibition in addition to the studio session.

The creation that opened the festival, The Goldlandbergs, takes the notion of counterpoint to dizzying extremes. The two works that comprise the soundtrack, Glenn Gould’s radio documentary The Quiet in the Land and his interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, are themselves examples of contrapuntal construction; Gat moves from one to the other, offering dance that intertwines the dancers’ individual phrases like not-so-random melodic lines. Groups move across the stage as if reacting in chain to each other’s decisions; in duos or trios, dancers let the echo of a note resonate as a counterpart seizes the next one.

The result is complex but smooth, a highly controlled, evenly realised ebb and flow of movement. What is lacking is an edge, a grip to enable a connection with this one-hour work, though the dancers, men in briefs and women in volleyball gear, are superb: earthy yet supple, their presence tempers the dance’s aloofness.

Paradoxically, Gat’s work came to life instead in his very first photography exhibition, It’s people, how abstract can it get?, presented in a former chapel at L’Agora. In a pitch-dark space, 10 or so images of rehearsals for The Goldlandbergs are slowly, gradually illuminated; taken in a black studio with natural light, they show us performers who seem to emerge from the shadows, their features or the line of their neck and shoulders captured in clair-obscur with a delicacy reminiscent of Dutch Master painting. The exhibition culminates with a large composition that zooms in on a dancer’s torso and thighs, his ribs and muscles defined; hung where the altar would normally be, it emphasises the underlying connection with religious painting. An unexpected masterstroke of an exhibition, full of subdued emotion.

Emanuel Gat is supported by the BNP-Paribas Foundation, www.montpellierdanse.fr

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