Manchester Theatre Awards

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MIF: 10,000 Gestures

Boris Charmatz
MIF
Mayfield
13 July 2017 to 15 July 2017

The Mayfield venue, an old railway siding behind Piccadilly station, barely looks passable from the outside for anyone to enter without a hard hat. Inside, some basic raised seating, lighting rigs and a sprung reflective floor, transform this disused industrial space into a stage of incredible depth, the likes of which even the largest theatres couldn’t accommodate.

It’s a stark and brutal setting for Boris Charmatz’s new work for MIF Festival, 10000 Gestures.  Here among thick iron pillars, exposed brick work, steel shuttered doors and graffitied walls, 25 dancers roll, run, dive, pick their teeth and their genitals in a series of jarring moves that supposedly doesn’t see any one dancer repeat the same movement twice. I say supposedly because who is counting?

For the show, Charmatz says he prepared a gestural sequence of 400 gestures, conveyed differently by each of the dancers and the rest is improvised. Apart from three dancers in black chemical suits the others are dressed individually from tiny speedos to sparkling jester-type costumes. Voices appear to offer the audience a focus for this chaos, but then it quickly descends into a cacophony of wails and then screams.

I wonder if over the three performances any of the audience join in with the noise and if this indeed was Charmatz’s intention. I certainly wanted to scream and found it repressive to stay silent. In this respect, this chaotic and at times ugly performance moved me in a way that was hard to ignore.

For anyone who remains unmoved the dancers head into the audience to an increasingly loud Mozart’s Requiem. When a sweaty half-naked body lies across your lap or an exhausted dancer rests their head against yours (both of which happened to me) there’s no escape. During these interactions the vulnerability as well as the strength and vitality of the performers is striking.

10000 Gestures is an uncomfortable and unsettling experience. For many it was also clearly both memorable and exhilarating.

Reviewer: Carmel Thomason

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Comments

Comment by Robert Beale

I really found this a puzzle. For one thing, it doesn't do what it says on the tin. The moves don't appear to be all different, but often repetitive and often copied - not surprising if Charmatz invented 400 of them and left the other 9,600 to be improvised by the performers. And what was it all about? Just a group of people running around a big space, making funny noises and doing unrelated things to the music of Mozart's Requiem? I wondered whether it interpreted the music in some way - the Lacrimosa was accompanied by something very like the cries and writhings of the damned (at least in some hellish scenarios), and other sequences may have borne a reflection of the more comforting and hopeful words of the liturgical poem. The music's volume level rose and fell strangely, as did the 'extraneous' ambient noise - was that a technical malfunction or deliberate? And was it deliberate that they talked so loudly over the music of the Benedictus, as if to put Sussmayr's contribution to the music (he filled in where Mozart's ran out) in its second-order place? Perhaps I'm trying to see too much in a performance that was a triumph of technique over content.