Spring Dance Preview: Emanuel Gat's Club Mozart

Hallowed music gets the Gat treatment

Probably no piece of music has been choreographed as many times as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It's practically a rite of passage for dancemakers: Everyone feels the need to give it a go. For the Israeli choreographer Emanuel Gat, Rite provided him with his first reputation-making success. His approach? Salsa dancing.

New York audiences became acquainted with Gat during the Lincoln Center Festival of 2006, when he paired his Rite with a male duet that, while set to songs from Schubert's "Winterreise," largely ignored the text, the tempos, the beginnings and endings. Treating hallowed music this way seems to be a habit with him: On March 25, he returns, for a week at the Joyce this time, with K626, an evening-length dance to Mozart's "Requiem." Much of it looks more like something you'd see in a club than in a church.

Gat came to dance late, in his early twenties, and he came to it as a trained musician. But musical values are not all that draw him to these scores: "They're almost museum pieces," he told me, "behind the glass with guards. Everyone tells you, 'How dare you?' " Beyond the fun of defying such cultural guards, Gat is also attracted to what he calls "the extra value" in canonical scores, the layers of association the music has acquired over time. "The material vibrates," he says, "it's reactive. The point of reference is not one or two or three but 300."

In Gat's Rite, two men mechanically partner three women, and Stravinsky's stabbing rhythms, plus the ghost of the original sacrifice scenario, color the game of musical chairs with menace. Ultimately, however, Gat's inventions don't equal Stravinsky's: The music develops, and the dance doesn't. That's the risk that comes with the extra value, the borrowed grandeur. His duet to "Winterreise" is much more effective, partly because the stakes are lower—it isn't dance music; there have been far fewer precedents—and partly because Gat created the dance before he chose the music. The choreographic material is strong in itself—two large men with shaved heads moving in close canon—and instead of being overwhelmed by the Schubert, the dance has its own vibrations to add.

Despite his training, Gat is not a score-in-hand choreographer—he works intuitively. And so the moment in K626 when one woman cradles another, then slowly drops her, emerged, he says, from a physical experiment—"Hold her as long as you can"—rather than from the pietà image. The funeral mass supplies the association, as voices singing of God's wrath and mercy inflect Gat's motifs of stumbling, hopping on one leg, and lying supine and rising up. Gat also resists those associations, treating the score's jauntier rhythms as dance music, responding with group sections that could be easily transferred to MTV.

In his "Winterreise" duet, some of the most powerful moments take place in silence, and that holds true for K626, too. The final move in the former shows up in the latter. In the first, one person gently shoulders past the other, as if in a crowd. In the second, that action gets multiplied across an actual press of people, then reversed, as if getting to the front turned out not to be so desirable. Gat has a gift for such resonant images, without the crutch of a famous score. His next project uses no music at all.

Grupo Corpo
March 25-29

Brazilian contemporary dance troupes are eclectic by birthright, but this one, Brazil's most celebrated, makes defying category its raison d'être. It's typical of the approach taken by artistic director and choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras to program a work like Benguelê, which celebrates his country's mixed heritage, only to offset it with Breu, a darker vision of ignorant armies clashing at night. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100, bam.org

Victoria Marks
March 27-29

In 1994, when Neil Greenberg made his Not-About-AIDS-Dance, it had been preceded by dozens of pieces that were, and much more overtly. The same cannot be said of Marks's Not About Iraq, though the title promises a similarly understated approach. Her target is complacency, and the veteran choreographer is smart enough not to miss it by fault of a heavy hand. Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, 131 East 10th Street, 212-674-8194, danspaceproject.org

Stephen Petronio
April 1-6

A Stephen Petronio concert looks like a fashion show and sounds like almost nothing else in dance. His choice of musical collaborators is frequently inspired: for example, Rufus Wainwright composing for children's chorus. That dance, Bloom (2005), gets reprised this year along with two premieres: One follows the androgynous voice of Antony Hegarty into a zone of fluid gender; the other explores well-trodden Petronio territory—the raw juxtaposed against the sleek—with a new score by the electro-pop collaborative Fischerspooner. Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, 212-242-0800, joyce.org

Kirov Ballet
April 1-20

A Kirov visit is always an occasion. The first weeks of this engagement find two star ballerinas alternating in excerpts from the classics: Ulyana Lopatkina, tall and haughty, and Diana Vishneva, no less ravishing for being familiar here. Later on, the company indulges in its unfortunate enthusiasm for William Forsythe and revels in its newly found authority with George Balanchine by devoting evenings to each. City Center, 135 West 55th, 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org

Mandance Project
April 9-12

Since disbanding Ballet Tech a few years ago, Eliot Feld has been dubbing his projects "Mandance." This season, his most tantalizing offering is a solo for a woman: the volcanic Fang-Yi Sheu. Since she left the Martha Graham company to develop the dance scene in her native Taiwan, Sheu has been missed here. Feld casts her as Isis, presents another solo for her countryman Wu-Kang Chen, and hands over an entire program to Chen's Taiwanese ensemble, Horse. Call it Taiwandance. Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, 212-242-0800, joyce.org

Chris Yon
April 9-12

To describe Chris Yon, reviewers reach for comparisons outside his medium: Buster Keaton, Jackie Gleason, John Belushi. He doesn't look like a traditional dancer, and in a usually self-serious field, he's shockingly funny. As a budding choreographer, he's specialized in elaborate speculations taken to absurd lengths. Hugo, his highest profile showing to date, addresses itself to an audience 50,000 years from the present. Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street, 212-924-0077, dtw.org

Akram Khan
April 23-27

Fashionable multiculturalism has had much to do with the British-Bangladeshi choreographer's straight-to-the-top success, but he came by his fusion honestly—through biography—and his mix of European contemporary and traditional Kathak delivered genuinely new aesthetic thrills. His more recent, willful, and weaker United Nations efforts make one wary of bahok, a Tower of Babel project for dancers from five countries. But the bill also includes zero degrees, a powerful duet, not yet seen in New York, with another extraordinary mover, the Flemish-Moroccan dancer-choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. City Center, 135 West 55th Street, 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org

New York City Ballet
April 29–June 29

In years when there's no Balanchine anniversary to celebrate, there's probably one for Jerome Robbins. Number Two would have been 90 this year, so we get 10 all-Robbins programs, including some rarities: his original 1965 staging of Les Noces; his 1972 attempt at Robert Wilson avant-garde, Watermill; and his bravura 1983 collaboration with Twyla Tharp, Brahms/Handel. Also on tap is a new work by the fiercely talented Alexei Ratmansky, who's just quit the Bolshoi and was offered—but declined—Christopher Wheeldon's vacated seat as City Ballet's resident choreographer. New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, 212-721-6500, nycballet.org

Rachid Ouramdane
May 8-10

French-born and of Algerian descent, Ouramdane knows something about the confusions of identity. During his U.S. debut two years ago, he demonstrated an unusual skill in putting those confusions into theatrically compelling form. His new solo draws on diaries his father kept while serving in the French army in Algeria and Vietnam. Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street, 212-924-0077, dtw.org

American Ballet Theater
May 19–July 12

This is a busy year for Twyla Tharp: For Miami City Ballet, she's working with Elvis Costello; for ABT, she's collaborating with Danny Elfman. The as-yet-untitled work will be the film composer's first ballet, her 15th for this company alone. It's been a long while since she made a great one. Perhaps it's time. Regardless, there's still Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadère, and the rest of the small canon of story ballets for the troupe's stellar dancers to interpret each spring. Metropolitan Opera House, 212-362-6000, abt.org

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