Emanuel Gat: Works review – moving, mysterious dance is a delight

Sadler’s Wells, London
Relationships between the Israeli choreographer’s idiosyncratic dancers play out on stage in a surreal and touching show

There’s a man in a dress, another wearing a kilt and bright yellow socks, and something to do with breakfast is going on. One dancer holds the mic: “Whirling dervish inside the cereal bowl,” he says, as they turn in a tight circle. Then he murmurs a line about spam and eggs, accompanied by little hand gestures. Whether these words have spawned the dance, or are surreal interpretations of it, who knows. But there is always rigorous method – however mysterious – in the inner workings of Emanuel Gat’s dance.

The Israeli choreographer, based in France, has been making work for 25 years in a way you might call algorithmic, setting up tasks and parameters, then letting the dancers play out the resulting patterns. But instead of cold maths, the effect is fresh and alive, with the dancers essentially creating a new performance each time they go on stage. You can hear them shouting out reference numbers: “Five ...” one will say. “Go!” Before launching into new phrases that shift and splice with unseen logic.

What’s so engaging is seeing actual relationships between people play out on stage. The dancers watch each other, tracking movements, waiting for cues, checking in as if to say, “Are you with me?” “Now this ...?” It’s strangely touching, and clearly delights the dancers, too, who frequently break into smiles.

Works is an adaptation of a piece Gat created with Le Ballet de Lyon, originally six sections each with a different format and different music, but the lines are more blurred in this version for the excellent and idiosyncratic dancers of his own company. The movement is unpindownable – without affectation, or any particular technique, it feels like a natural extension of the performers.

Gat designs his own lighting, and composes some of his soundtrack, but well-chosen music is instrumental in turning an absorbing exercise into grand drama. Jessye Norman singing Richard Strauss or Nina Simone’s Sinnerman completely infuse the mood of the stage and colour its relationships, the dancers pausing to soak up its effect – Gat knows the power of stillness, too.

• At Sadler’s Wells, London, on 12 November.

Contributor

Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

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