Photo by Gati Dagon
How much can you pack in moment? That’s the question Israeli choreographer Emanuel Gat asked in his two dense works performed at the American Dance Festival. Themes of territory, borders, and containment enter Gat’s dances with a fierce power.
Winter Voyage, the chilly opening piece, places Gat and Roy Assaf in a kinetic koan. Clad in long, grey dresses, they look like men of some unnamed cloth, a bit monkish, and supremely wise. They alternate between walking with casual determination (as if they agreed to meet somewhere), and bursts of intricate body-hugging gestures. Their contained and precise hand rhythms resemble a kind of disembodied conversation. Gat sets up a powerful rhythm between the walking and the gestural bursts that are oddly offset by Franz Schubert’s melancholic Winterreise. Schubert’s spacious songs end up only deepening the tension. At the end, they stand still, side by side, like twins, in a peaceful moment. Perhaps the koan has come to a resting place. Nothing looks solved but I found myself grateful for this momentary relief.
Gat turns up the intensity in his second offering of the evening, The Rite of Spring. The piece opens with a warm light on an empty red carpet. One by one they accumulate on the carpet, making us wait in suspense for something to happen. Like a snapped rubber band they break out into a relentless detached salsa trance as if driven by some outside authority, coupling and uncoupling by the second in some grand tangle of partner exchange. The sheer complexity of the fluid switching boggles the eye. Moments when the dancers free themselves from the confines of the carpet and the driving rhythm air out the tight feeling. The whole time the red carpet serves as an attractor, luring the couples back into their no eye-contact auto-salsa. One dancer is always left unpartnered—adding to the cavalcade of momentum.
The salsa deconstructs unraveling into the obligatory sacrifice. Gat suggests a strange dialectic here: an anti-erotic salsa danced quite joylessly to Stravinsky’s famous tribute to earthbound fertility rituals. The juxtaposition stings.
Gat choreographs with a tight leash; there’s a holding back that is palpable. At times, his tightly wound tendencies serve to narrow our focus and hone in on the essential. There’s tremendous beauty in the delicacy of these compressed moments. At other times, an austere mood pervades. Gat’s shrinking of personal space renders his dances rife with turmoil but rich with complexity.