Dance Your Fears Away
Emanuel Gat offers a slice of 1980s pop joy
December 1–3, 2022
LOVETRAIN2020 looked like a lot of fun to dance. Emanuel Gat choreographed the work to songs by 1980s British band Tears For Fears (Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith). Hearing the songs now made me realize how ubiquitous they were—often powerful messages conveyed in highly catchy tunes. Gat doesn’t overcomplicate the infectious simplicity of these pop hooks; instead he runs with the effervescent danciness and haunting melodies.
Gat, Israeli and now based in France, also designed the lighting, a major element in building drama for the plotless movement. As the curtain rises, the house lights darken abruptly, but we see the lit upstage area through four tall vertical portals where dancers warm up. Fog infiltrates the space, adding to the sense of anticipation that accompanies the song “Ideas as Opiates.” As the lights brighten, we see Thomas Bradley’s baroque individualistic costumes—ruched skirts, embellished jackets, and other pieces that are added and subtracted throughout.
The movement for the fourteen dancers is an amalgam of styles and gestures, often stemming from a deep plié. Arms flap convincingly like wings; kicks punctuate phrases; a group section evokes a courtly dance, underscored by the lavish costumes. Several dancers cluster tightly and move as one—a many-legged creature—until one breaks away to move freely. In moments of darkness, dancers flit stealthily as bats at dusk. There’s the sense of controlled madness, that things could erupt at any moment, like a revolution waiting to be ignited.
The program notes that the piece was created with and performed by the cast, and this can be seen in the myriad styles of movement that vary from person to person and evolve through sections. One dancer punches the air like Mick Jagger; another slips through poses with a martial arts-like control. Handsprings, cartwheels, and spins mix with skips and runs. Yet another stands on one foot, the other leg tucked up like a flamingo. To “The Way You Are,” small groups bounce around the stage, shimmying shoulders and torsos, and tossing in lighthearted dance memes such as rotating a steering wheel. In “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” two gangs seem to gesture at one another across the stage, while a trio hovers in between, mediating. The groups fragment before coalescing into one large unit. I intuited snippets of hula and capoeira; one performer hurled himself in a near-horizontal spin, then rolled on the floor. And in dimness, a man stopped to really look at the audience—an oddly unnerving gesture.
“Sowing the Seeds of Love” closed the evening. This upbeat anthem includes the dance’s title: “and the love train rides from coast to coast,” and the performers accordingly move with joy. Small teams perform unique phrases, then all join together to walk on four limbs upstage. The flounced skirts required the dancers to hoist the extra fabric like brides. This adds to the overall sense of decadence—eighties excess, club culture, pre-awareness of climate change and pandemics and other dooms. It’s a reminder of the essential pleasures of dance, of the body’s expressive potential, of belonging to a tribe but also of being an individual.
I still vividly recall seeing Gat’s stunning The Rite of Spring (2004) for the first time. Shifting combinations of five dancers salsa on a vibrant red/orange area rug, weaving in and out, roiling with rhythmic, hypnotic precision. Light frames only the rug, and darkness saturates the rest of the stage. Dancers, like phantasms, emerge from the inky wings, re-pair, or dance solo with a ghost partner, a clever result of using an odd number of performers. As one of Gat’s first dances with his company, it presented some elements that can be found in LOVETRAIN2020—chiefly, the interplay of light and dark to reveal and obscure. But in the new work, Gat revels in using every inch of the stage, and gives the dancers license to move with total abandon. If only we could all let loose in this way.