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During the last century, contemporary choreographers began to challenge the traditional bond between music and dance. Israeli Emanuel Gat is certainly one of them. Two of his striking dances— at Jacob’s Pillow last week, now part of the Lincoln Center Festival—interweave only loosely with their accompanying scores. His Winter Voyage is set to three songs from Schubert’s Winterreise, his Rite of Spring to . . . do I have to tell you? And Gat has selected magisterial recordings: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with pianist Gerald Moore, for the Schubert, and Leonard Bernstein goosing the London Symphony Orchestra into raging power in Stravinsky’s masterpiece.
The results of Gat’s musical approach are sometimes affecting, sometimes disturbing. In Winter Voyage, Schubert’s ravishing songs about memory, grief, and approaching death—separated by long silences—seem to stand for inner voices that the performers, Roy Assaf and Gat, both listen to and race against. The two men have shaven heads and wear long, sleeveless gray gowns over darker trousers. They begin by rushing and stopping, as if seeking the way, but travel most of the time in unison or very close canon. Their movements are strong, supple, and direct; they may ripple a hand but they’re athletes, evading nothing.
At times, their speedy passages challenge the music’s lyrical flow, refuse to heed its endings; sometimes they wait, letting Fischer-Dieskau’s heartbreaking voice swirl around them. Yet the music colors all that they do and probes for meanings. Are they comrades in an endeavor? Lovers? At the end, as once before, they stand close together and look at us—or maybe at the road ahead—as if to say, “This is who we are. Accept it.”
Gat had chutzpah to create a dance to Stravinsky’s Rite that doesn’t acknowledge its pounding, complex, yet primal rhythms and plays evasively with its theme of sacrifice and rebirth. For him, the music may represent the unstated feelings of the performers, but often it seems like another life—more violent, more dangerous—existing outside the Duke Studio Theatre and the rug at its center.
On the rust-colored rectangle with a smaller bright red rectangle inside it, Assaf and Gat dance with Avital Mano, Doron Raz, and Alex Shmurak—three women in black dresses. That there might eventually be a sacrifice is barely hinted at. But Gat’s surprising motif of salsa dancing, with its grave, fluid exchanges of partners, subtly involves setting one woman apart, however briefly. As the men turn the women under their arms, wrapping them close, spinning them out, they move from one to another; the unpartnered woman numbly continues to mimic the others until a man reclaims her.
Gat plays on this theme, enlarging it in space, making it slightly wilder. He also sets the dancers free to step out individually, although they never seem either free or individual. One sequence evokes a chilling thought about the world beyond the dancefloor. Gathered on the rug, the five performers slowly squat, kneel, recline, and lie facedown. It’s like seeing an execution in slow motion with freeze frames.
Stravinsky wrote his score for Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 ballet as a series of rituals leading to a climactic sacrificial dance. Within its inexorable build, there’s a lot of variety. Gat plays against this, almost as if his rituals could stave off a violent climax, although occasionally the two men sequester a woman, or a woman is left briefly standing alone, blank-faced. The piece begins to seem endless, a trap. Finally, Shmurak pins up her hair and, stepping to where the others are sprawled as before, she slowly sinks to lie supine. On the last chord, they rise and flee, leaving her alone. And leaving questions in the air, buzzing through the audience like summer mosquitoes.