Emanuel Gat © Agathe Poupeney

'It's only in the studio that we realize what the flavour and texture will be'

Interview with Emanuel Gat by Veerle Corstens

Choreographer Emanuel Gat will be creating NEXT for ICK, but what this performance will look like is something he doesn't have a clear picture of yet. Gat enters the studio with an idea and comes out with a performance that's created largely by the dancers themselves.

As a child, Gat was always surfing and he considers it a sport that's all about dialogue: 'A wave is quite a dynamic entity. It moves with a speed and shape that you cannot influence. On your surfboard you'll have to work with the wave and channel the surprising energy of the water; this forces you to always be in the moment.' According to Gat choreography works much the same: he enters the studio with an idea and then rides with the input of his dancers. He is fascinated by how the bodies respond to his directions, but also to the music and to each other. Gat started out as a conservatory student, but switched to dance after just three months because he found the body to be the perfect instrument for expressing himself: 'It's the most direct medium, no need to translate, you are your ideas. This immediacy seems like a very convenient thing to me.'

© Alwin Poiana

Translating intimate information into dance

How that work in practice? Gat may ask his dancers to choose someone they know lots of things about and to write down all the intimate knowledge they have of this person. Then they must translate this information to movement. 'That allows me to see how the dancer moves. I never tell the dancers where exactly they should stand, or how they should move. I don't instruct them to use a particular style, most importantly their intention must be clear.' His choreography is ultimately the visualization of the decisions and the behaviour of the dancers: they respond and show what moves them.' Gat compares it to the baking of a pie: 'You can follow a recipe and yet the pie you bake will taste different every time. I give my dancers a recipe, but it's only in the studio that we realize what the flavour and texture will be.'

The power of standing still for a moment - literally

Gat didn't always operate this way; in his early years he worked out his choreography to a T before he engaged with dancers. But by now he has realized that his job is to pull a choreography from inside the dancers. It's much more interesting to watch how dancers respond to his questions than to spell out the answers to them: 'I don't need to review copies of myself.' So, he devises a system which he tries out on his dancers, as it were. His favourite approach is to start with a group of unfamiliar dancers to observe how they react to his method. It's only then that he knows if his idea works. 'You can compare it to a game play: if you take a ball to a group of children who never played football before, you will have little trouble explaining the game to them because the system of football is quite coherent. You can have better or lesser quality, but everyone can easily learn to play and have lots of fun. I try similarly to devise a choreographic system that's so coherent, that anyone could perform it.'

© Alwin Poiana

Of course he also gives directions like that the instances when a dancer holds still are at least as important as the dancing proper. 'Just think of a meaningful silence in a conversation or a rest in music; they highlight other parts and help to balance the choreography. When you go from stillness back to motion it has an enormous impact.'


Gat discovers what works together with his dancers and so the same choreography can be completely different with another group of dancers. He does take notes of what he has done and what directions he has given. That way he is able to conserve and reproduce his choreographies. However, he doesn't work with themes. 'Spectators will undoubtedly glean certain themes from my work, but the work itself is nearly passive. It's a bit like a sunset: everyone can watch the sunset and have a completely different response to it. And the sunset itself doesn't give a shit whether you delight in it, or not.'

NEXT will be performed at CaDance on Thursday, 7 February at HNT Theater a/h Spui. More info & tickets

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