Jan 30, 2021 in DIS-TANZ-SOLO

Emanuel Gat Portrait

I started collaborating with Emanuel Gat in 2009, right after deciding to switch from being a rep company dancer to going freelance. I never expected to stay involved in the company’s projects for such a long time, but once you surrender to the juxtaposition of freedom and responsibility that exists in Emanuel’s work it’s really hard to turn back. I love that his work is all about communication and compromise, about putting your own body and movement in relation to what’s happening around you. The virtuosity that exists in Emanuel’s pieces emerges from a common effort, it’ a group virtuosity. As a dancer, you are not treated like a circus horse, but like an elemental part of the artistic process. Not merely when preparing a show in the studio, but rather on stage, where you’re constantly asked to analyze and make sense of what’s happening in order to make choreographic choices and push the work forward.

Arising from a recent joint creation period, I had the idea to talk to Emanuel about his thoughts on the physical (and mental) conditioning of his dancers, shared responsibilities on and off stage, and the advantages of horizontal learning.

When ideas take the place of craftsmanship, know-how and expertise, art goes out the window. Ideas are too frail, temporary, subjective, fluid and inconsistent to be able to serve as the core motivation for art making. They depend on specific contexts and are the result of endless conditioning, and therefore, are limited in their capacity to offer the open, uncharted space the artistic process requires. Craftsmanship on the other hand, is the gateway through which art can serve its purpose best, beyond concepts and agendas. Ideas tend to accumulate, they multiply and produce more and more ideas, which then fill the space and stifle the mind. They are the result of memory, past experience and future projection, all forms of conditioning, while what art needs most, are empty unconditioned spaces and minds. There is no art in ideas. (There might be ideas in art though…)

Emanuel Gat
"Choreographer's Notes" on emanuelgatdance.com

You’ve just finished a surprise residency at the Cité Musicale in Metz where you worked on a new creation titled ACT II & III. Could you tell us a bit more about the project and about how that residency came to be?

Following yet another cancelation of performances due to the current situation, I felt the need not to cancel the scheduled coming together of the group, and find a way to transform that period into rehearsal time. I thought it would be fragilizing for everyone not to meet and work for such a long period, and that there was an urgency, especially in this time, for everyone to engage in some sort of creative process, as an outlet to the intense emotional nature of this period.

I started thinking about this new piece a few days after the premiere of our recent creation, LOVETRAIN2020, knowing I didn’t want to wait too much before it happens, again, as a balancing act to the uncertain nature of the period we are going through.

The first trigger was actually the space - I knew I wanted to create a piece that takes place in the Cunningham studio at the Agora in Montpellier, and that I would want to build an exact replica of that space, including a reconstitution of the light situation and quality which are so specific to that studio.

The second element that came to me, was nudity. I always knew this would come at some point, and that there is something to be done with this fundamental state of being, so natural on the one hand, yet so complex to figure out outside of the context where we are used to meet it.

The third aspect that came to complete the other two, was the music. Once these three elements found their place, I knew I was ready to start and just needed a space and time frame to gather the team of dancers to start exploring what can be done with it all. What I didn’t know and didn’t really expect, is that the entire work would be fully developed in such a short time. I’m still not totally sure how or why that came about.

You are working with a pretty heterogenic bunch of dancers who all have their own unique way of moving and their own approach in making choreographic choices, yet you always manage to create a very close-knit group. What’s the secret?

I guess it’s about finding a certain balance between a coherent set of directives shared by everyone, but one that has a quality of being open for individual interpretation. The game is the same game for everyone, the rules and aims are similar, but how to approach it, stays very open and personal. It’s a fine balance between what the group tries to accomplish as a group, and how each one of the dancers sees his role and possible contribution. I would say that the WHAT is somehow a shared goal, while the HOW is totally open for individual interpretation

Are there any underlying physical requirements and abilities that you consider important to your work?

I would say it's more a matter of a certain disposition to engage in the process in a way that make sense. There's a need for the dancers to understand and accept the context. To understand and be ok with (and ideally be exited about) 'how it works'.

You don’t include dance classes in your work schedule, but you offer a daily yoga practice to your dancers. What is it that you like about yoga?

Mostly, that it doesn’t impose any one way of 'dancing’. It’s a tool for focusing and strengthening the body and mind, while it leaves each one free to later approach movement in the most personal manner, without it being 'contaminated' by someone else’s personal way of moving, musicality, or physical thinking. And lastly, that although its a very codified technique, it’s also very flexible in how each practitioner can adapt it to his own body, level, needs, specific state etc.

Do you see the morning practice as a preparation for your creative work or is it a mere practical / functional thing to get the dancers physically ready?

Both. It’s a way to get ready for the working day by heightening and warming up certain physical and mental aspects, making the dancer more available for the creative process. But at the same time, on the long run, I find it a very efficient practice in strengthening the body in a deep and efficient way, building a solid foundation able to cope with the strains and pressures that come with dancing.

You run a project based company, yet your try to provide your dancers with an unusual amount of security. How do you deal with injuries in your company?

I mainly try to figure out the right balance between what I see as the responsibility of each dancer to maintain his body and physical state (his work tool), and what I think is the responsibility of the company as a structure that can offer a certain safety net for the dancers, both on the daily side of things, but also on punctual situations such as injuries etc.

I guess this balance changes when the company works with permanent dancers, or when like us, freelancers who are not working regularly in the context of the company, work also on other projects with other companies or making they own work. It’s a tricky balance because each dancer has a different situation, different amount of experience, different character and needs etc. So it’s quite a dynamic thing, always changing and in need of reevaluation.

One of the most harmful phenomenas in the dance world, yet rather a very common one, is individuals who think their own specific way of moving should be turned into a generic technique, and be taught/imposed  as such to dancers. The damages, both physical and mental of this prevailing way of thinking about dance, are immeasurable. Imitation offers a very limited space for learning, and it’s a sure way to stifle any form of creativity in students/dancers. The worrying fact most dancers are attracted to those kind of ‘techniques’, has more to do with the general education system than dance in particular.

Emanuel Gat
"Choreographer's Notes" on emanuelgatdance.com

I guess like everyone else, dancers are very easily influenced by the latest styles or trends. When meeting new dancers, how do you encourage them to take their own decisions and trust their individuality?

I mostly just don’t give them any chance to escape the need to do it. The choreographic system they are thrown into, obliges them to do so, and then it’s a matter of how comfortable they feel in that place. It’s almost a sort of muscle, that can be very weak if it wasn’t used enough before, but with time and practice, gets stronger and stronger.

You’ve toyed with the idea of opening a school. Can you tell us more about these plans? What are the key conceptions you would like to pass on to a young generation of dancers?

It’s totally in the making… The one big hurdle to figure out now, is the physical space. The second this will be solved, the actual activity can start right away.

You’ve also mentioned that you would love to work with a group of older dancers. Can you tell us more about that interest?

It's not so much the age, as the fact that it's people who shared the process for a longer time, and are intimate with it but also with one another. I think this opens up creative possibilities that are impossible to reach with a younger group who constantly keeps changing.

Find out more about ACT II & III - THE UNEXPECTED RETURN OF HEAVEN AND EARTH and about all of Emanuel Gat Dance's other activities on emanuelgatdance.com.
Header photo: Self portrait by Emanuel Gat


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Gefördert durch die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Programm NEUSTART KULTUR, Hilfsprogramm DIS-TANZEN des Dachverband Tanz Deutschland.

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