Israeli Choreographer's Internal Combustion Engine Bound to Explode

Dance heavyweight Emanuel Gat's new show explores art as the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity rather than the release of momentary ejection of adrenaline.

There was a good reason for the impressive turnout at Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Center to see “The Goldlandbergs,” by Emanuel Gat, one of Israel’s best choreographers. He brought it to Israel after an absence of several years: He left in 2007 for the south of France, where he was invited to bring his self-named dance company. Today he is considered an international choreographer, who creates for some of the world’s leading dance companies.

“The Goldlandbergs” is based on a worldview attributed to pianist Glenn Gould when he played Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” according to which, “The justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”

The passage appears in the program for the work and on Gat’s website. And indeed, Gat’s period in Europe, and the joint creative process with European dancers, as opposed to Israeli ones, yielded solutions, energy and characters that have reduced to the minimum the Dionysian energy that Gould describes as “shallow and externalized.”

According to the website, the work offers an “intimate glimpse at the complex nature of human relations,” which the choreographer examines with a group of eight dancers.

The movement language consists of pieces of thought in motion, short, torn phrases, words, letters; here a shoulder is moved, there an arm is thrown and stops in its tracks. The movement, which is primarily of the limbs, is soft, delicate, almost meditative at times. Everything takes place along the same line of subtle energy, devoid of all emotion and excitement.

The sentences of movement are short and economical, declaimed and then abandoned. Between them the dancers walk through the space, meeting other family members by chance. They accidentally touch and disengage, moving on. This creates duets and trios that are delicate, processed and refined, shiny in their exceedingly delicate beauty, most of them like islands in a flowing environment. The stage teems with activity, but of the type that doesn’t want to make a clear and binding sound, but rather seems to be searching for “wonder and serenity.”

In this counterpoint of events, which resemble a watercolor in pastel shades, the viewer’s eye can interpret and wander onward, beyond what the eye can see.

The choreography, together with the concept behind it, are reminiscent of Merce Cunningham, though the movement language is different, of course. The movement seeks the company of quiet. The quality of the dancers’ movements is wonderful, precise and lucid.

But the modality of movement alone is not enough for Gat, who brings in additional channels to create a multilayered work. For example, the lighting modality has its own dance. Gat divides the stage into longitudinal strips, the dancers in each of which are illuminated with a different intensity − but all of it delicate, with the appearance of an independent modality that opens up options for additional interpretations.

Another channel, split in two, is music and text: excerpts from “Goldberg Variations,” played by Gould; and “The Quiet in the Land”, a radio documentary created by Gould in 1977, about the Mennonite community at Red River, Manitoba in northern Canada.

This text addresses important issues such as alienation, materialism, faith, modernization, technology, theology, philosophy and social conscience. But whereas the modalities of light and of movement are ascetic, the text disturbs the balance. Although presented as neutral, devoid of any dynamism or criticism, it is overly invasive and upsets the proportionality among the modalities.

The familiar Gat is more apparent in the few group passages woven through the dance. When a group of dancers suddenly finds itself in a small area that forces them to crowd together, with each dancer continuing to move with their own statement, one feels they are getting a glimpse at the innards of a Swiss watch with its abundant tiny, precise movements. This moving bloc could in theory have moved across the stage in a straight line to the other side, but it has a brief life span and it falls apart. There is no winding progress made by the vibrating mass of the dancers, something we’ve seen in Gat’s work in the past.

Gat is apparently in the process of discovering new possibilities and building on what he has already tried successfully. It could be that from his perspective this stage is meant to satisfy his curiosity, to examine somewhat rationally the issue of proportionality between modalities and to expand the possibilities for interpretation. Unfortunately, the result seems distant and alienating, and makes us long for the Gat we once knew.

The Emanuel Gat Dance Company, “The Goldlandbergs”; Soundtrack: “The Quiet in the Land,” prepared and written by pianist Glenn Gould; Additional Music: J.S.Bach, Goldberg Variations. Piano, Glenn Gould; Stage and light design created in collaboration with Samson Milcent.

Courtesy Emanuel Gat