A bl­iz­zard of move­ments that are never the same twice

The Guardian - - JOURNAL THE CRITICS - Ju­dith Mack­rell

Dance 10,000 Ges­tures May­field De­pot, Manch­ester

Boris Char­matz’s 10,000 Ges­tures can be ex­hil­a­rat­ing, en­er­vat­ing and over­whelm­ing in equal mea­sures. In the space of an hour, the French chore­og­ra­pher pushes the ti­tle of his new work to the ex­treme, bom­bard­ing his au­di­ence with a chaos of move­ment so rapid and ran­dom it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to ab­sorb.

Char­matz’s idea is to test the lim­its of how we see and re­mem­ber a work of dance. We’re al­lowed tiny mo­ments of rep­e­ti­tion; a per­former hop­ping ec­cen­tri­cally across the floor might take a half-dozen lop­sided bounds. But we never wit­ness a move­ment idea re­cur and we don’t see any­thing re­sem­bling chore­o­graphic style. Char­matz in­ter­prets ges­ture as ev­ery­thing from a pre­cisely ex­e­cuted clas­si­cal pirou­ette to a capoeira kick to the idle scratch­ing of a but­tock, and as a re­sult, he lets a whole world of hu­man move­ment on to his stage.

The work starts with a breath­lessly dis­con­nected se­quence of spin­ning, fall­ing, semaphor­ing moves per­formed by a woman in a se­quin cheer­leader’s out­fit. As the other mot­ley cos­tumed dancers flood the stage, we start to iden­tify fleet­ing cat­e­gories in their bl­iz­zard of move­ment: phys­i­cal vari­a­tions on jump­ing or slid­ing, ex­pres­sive vari­a­tions on vi­o­lence or sex.

Th­ese are min­i­mal sign­posts, how­ever, and af­ter about 15 min­utes it looks as though Char­matz’s ex­per­i­ment might start to pall. Yet he is an as­tute man of the the­atre, and the sec­ond half be­comes mes­meris­ing as he starts to utilise the awe­some scale of the old May­field train de­pot in Manch­ester, some­times crowd­ing his dancers up close to us, other times send­ing them out to the edges so that they be­come wa­ver­ing and in­dis­tinct.

He is just as adroit with emo­tional scale. Much of the work is ac­com­pa­nied by Mozart’s Re­quiem. The mu­sic is some­times just back­ground noise to the dancers’ busy ac­tiv­i­ties, but at times it swells to its full ex­pres­sive beauty. Dur­ing one sec­tion the dancers are howl­ing, jab­bing and rock­ing in pain, but a change in the light­ing makes the floor turn sil­very and the dancers seem to float gen­tly on a par­a­disi­a­cal lake.

Far from sim­ply play­ing with the ephemeral na­ture of dance, Char­matz ends up med­i­tat­ing on life and death.

Photo: Tris­tram Ken­ton

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