Lincoln Center Festival

July 30, 2009

Lincoln Center Festival ’09

Shen Wei Dance Arts
Alice Tully Hall: July 9–11

Emanuel Gat Dance
Rose Theater: July 14, 16–17

Reviewed by Susan Yung

Photo: Gat’s
Silent Ballet. ©Stephanie Berger, Courtesy Lincoln Center


The Lincoln Center Festival’s slim dance offerings this season were festival regular Shen Wei Dance Arts and a return by Emanuel Gat Dance. Shen Wei’s company performed his Re– trilogy at the newly renovated Alice Tully Hall. The three sections were very distinct and only loosely tied. In Re–I, a mandala covered the stage. As the dancers shuffled cross-stage to Tibetan chants in Shen’s continuously flowing phrases, the distinct colors of the mandala blurred and blended together, perhaps a comment on the growing global intermixing of cultures. Downspots concentrated Jennifer Tipton’s ethereal lighting scheme in four compass points.

Next came Re–III, referencing China, a sharp contrast to the fluidity of Re–I. The 12 dancers marched on (to David Lang’s rhythmic music, realized by Todd Reynolds), military style, in three shifting columns. One in each line would break into dance. Eventually the lines formed a box, trapping one or two dancers within rigid confines, as a martial system might stifle—or support—creativity. The final section, Re–II (with bird sounds, John Tavener’s music, and traditional Cambodian songs), recalled a visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Video of the historic site was projected onto every surface. Women—topless, in white body paint—lay propped up, heads dropped eerily out of sight behind torsos. They echoed the projected gnarled tree roots  but also, perhaps unintentionally, genocide. Also a visual artist, Shen has an eye for a striking composition, but this segment felt heavy-handed, overly literal, and sensationalistic, particularly when a few older people entered, also unclothed. But it succeeded in illuminating how biased our exposure is toward youth and beauty.

Emanuel Gat’s company, founded in Israel but now based in France, performed in the Rose Theater. In Winter Variations, Gat expanded on a stunning older duet with Roy Assaf, Winter Voyage.  There is such empathy between Gat and Assaf that when they do the same movement, they seem to move as one. Even when the choreography is different for each—whether it’s pugilistic darting, crouching, or pivoting—it has the same muscular weightiness. Gat not only choreographed but also designed the simple, effective lighting, illuminating the front two-thirds of the stage and letting the dark upstage area become, in effect, off-stage. There, he and Assaf change into white T-shirts, visible only as specters.

The piece begins to a long, droning chord which turns out to be The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” When the melody and lyrics begin, the movement shifts from a series of unconnected gestures and poses to playful, fluid social dance, bursting the accumulated tension. The two walked on their knees, evoking a ritual, a sojourn, a disability. The music, including a melancholy Egyptian song as well as Strauss and Schubert, heightened the spatial drama between the two remarkable dancers.

Silent Ballet
negated the notion that Gat relies on music to dictate mood. This group work for nine (eight performed here), underscored the athletic side of dance, and in turn, the theatrical aspects of a sporting event. Breaking out of a line at the beginning, pairs and trios danced as the others stood observing, sometimes from downstage, situated between the audience and the action. The performers watched each other constantly to gauge the timing of their interactions precisely, like teammates. Occasionally, one dancer would become a human soccer ball passed among partners. A surprising amount of sound was generated from squeaking sneakers, footfalls, and exhalations. Gat again showed his gift for lighting, casting a white band across an ensemble tableau, then upending it by fully illuminating the stage. He has a way of taking the conventions of dance and theater, spinning them, and presenting them in fresh, intriguing ways.