This past week, Emanuel Gat Dance performed a New York premiere and a North American premiere at the Rose Theater as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Gat, the forty-year-old Israeli whose company is based in the south of France, uses striking lighting, pauses, and intelligent spatial awareness to convey meaning in two distinct works.
Winter Variations is an extension of the 2004 work Winter Voyage, both of which feature an ongoing artistic collaboration between Gat and Roy Assaf. To the opening sounds of an urban grind, the two stoic men take up the right side of a shadowy stage as their torsos undulate and limbs encircle their bodies. Although they occasionally perform the same movements and are clearly aware of each other’s presence, they hardly ever move in the same way at the same time, creating an intriguing doppelganger effect. As long pauses are interspersed with fluid motion, Gat and Assaf tangle and untangle their bodies while moving from right to left under a vertical strip of darkness. They play with rhythm and momentum to The Beatles’ “Day in the Life” before walking across the floor on their knees, separating and eventually coming together as the music shifts to an Egyptian song by Riad al Sunbati. The fifty-minute piece closes to a majestic score by Strauss as the dancers’ movement becomes more closely aligned and movement phrases from earlier in the piece reappear. Gat and Assaf move and look increasingly, remarkably alike.
Although there is an underlying sense of loneliness and tension between the men, Gat transcends gender politics and avoids relying on gestures or theatrics to convey emotion. Rather, Winter Variations suggests a duality most clearly through Gat’s lighting choices and use of space. Lighting, in fact, takes on a role of its own. The divide between light and dark – whether horizontal or vertical – creates personal and emotional boundaries. Additionally, partially obscured movement sparks curiosity, such as when the dancers take turns moving in the darkened upper half of the stage while the other is visible downstage. They shift back and forth, allowing the audience to watch the dancer in light while pondering what is being missed in the darkened part of the stage.
In its North American premiere, Silent Ballet featured eight dancers instead of the planned nine. Adjustments were so seamless that it was impossible to determine where the ninth dancer would have fit in. True to its title, the piece does not have a score, but the dancers’ heavy breathing and bodies slamming into the floor are clearly audible. The opening rapid chaos slowly morphs into an ordered ensemble. Clustered near the center of the stage, the dancers create poses like sculptures under shifting lighting, often pausing for long stretches of time until a dancer breaks away from the group. With no music or internal sense of rhythm among the dancers, the driving force for Silent Ballet is unclear. It looks like a movement study, and although it might be interesting to view from beginning to end as a rehearsal-to-stage process, the final product itself feels exclusive and uninspiring.
With its varied score, meaningful lighting, spatial sensitivity, and the gorgeous movement of Gat and Assaf, Winter Variations was the finer and more memorable work on the program.