By ALASTAIR MACAULAY, MARCH 27, 2008
When words and music are addressed to God, it’s a rare choreographer who can accompany them with movement that looks anything other than piffling. Dance — by showing the ideal qualities of the human form and/or by making use of time and space — can reveal the sublime, but it usually looks thin when it tries to address the religious.
The Israeli choreographer Emanuel Gat thinks otherwise. In “K626,” which his company is presenting at the Joyce Theater, he is not just setting a Requiem; he’s tackling the most sublime of all composers: Mozart. It’s still a matter of debate whether even George Balanchine was successful more than once in choreographing to Mozart. (The once was “Divertimento No. 15.”) It’s certainly a matter of debate whether Mark Morris has been successful even once in choreographing to Mozart. And neither of them was tackling a Mozart Mass.
The Requiem (K. 626) — we are not told which recording Mr. Gat is playing for us — goes beyond “Don Giovanni” and “The Magic Flute” in tackling exaltation and desolation, pity and terror. The huge chiaroscuro of his vision is always apparent in the intricate layers of his detail.
Dancers with Emanuel Gat Dance performing the evening-length “K626,” set to Mozart’s Requiem, at the Joyce Theater. Credit Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
In music where angels fear to tread, Mr. Gat’s eight dancers — in halter-neck black attire, bare-armed — proceed with little, tight, wracked through-the-body ripples and shimmies. The currents of motion passing up and down the body, like the frequent use of fragmented gesture and percussive legwork, principally recall the choreography of Twyla Tharp and Trisha Brown, with the odd contraction, spasm and stamp thrown in.
The tightness is in the meter; Mr. Gat tends to have some body part moving to every last semi-quaver of the music (suddenly drawing to a staccato close at the end of a musical section). The contrast between this nonstop movement, persnickety and throttling, and the vaulting release of the music is miserable.
Mr. Gat also sees fit to choreograph in long patches of silence, to reflect the blanks that Mozart left unfinished at his death. Since the style and rhythm carry on just the same, it is hard to know what on earth (or in hell or heaven) Mr. Gat feels he is achieving here that he isn’t elsewhere.
But what is he hoping to convey anyway? Signs of half-baked expressionism do surface now and then, mainly in unspecific would-be dramas where individuals are isolated from the group.
When voices sing “Lacrymosa dies illa,” and strings play appoggiaturas (the traditional Baroque illustration for sobbing but here abstracted into awe-struck restraint), Mr. Gat has his dancers hoist and lower shoulders like seesaws and then step out onto the beat as if playing hopscotch. When the words are “Judex ergo cum sedebit,” and Mr. Gat makes a man rush round the stage flapping his elbows like a duck’s wings, I am old-fashioned enough to wonder, “What does this mean?” But not for long: “K626” is meaningless.
Emanuel Gat’s “K626” continues through Sunday at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street, Chelsea; (212) 242-0800, joyce.org.
A version of this review appears in print on , on Page E4 of the New York edition with the headline: Shimmy, Spasm, Stamp With Mozart’s Requiem.