Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, choreography Emanuel Gat
22nd May 2011
"Without the reflection which knows to distinguish, categorize, make a choice, the artist is incapable of mastering the subject which he wishes to perform, and it is ridiculous to imagine that the real artist doesn't know what he is doing".—G. W. F. Hegel, Introduction to Aesthetics, "The idea of beauty", Chapter III
This quotation, and a few more paragraphs from the same source, is what greeted me upon opening the programme notes of Emanuel Gat's "Préludes et fugues". A ballet, set to J.S. Bach, whose director quotes Hegel—and then goes on for quite a few pages in the programme about the "philosophy of dance" with essays from various persons—you certainly cannot fault the artist for a lack of bravery or ambition. It is, however, one thing to find a snappy quote by a dead genius with which to preface your own work, and quite another to be able to back it up. Gat clearly wanted to create a highly abstract, minimalist piece–the dancers were all dressed in one kind of black or another, the set was bare, and the music sparse and at times nonexistent. The problem is that he simply didn't have the self-discipline to pull it off.
The parts danced a cappella and the parts danced to Bach were indistinguishable as far as the dancing went; the dancers were dressed in all kinds of shirts, T-shirts with slogans, T-shirts without slogans, jeans, hotpants, you name it; as for the dancing itself, it was asynchronous without any real point. One of the things about a really serious piece of art is the totality: remove a part, or add something extraneous, and the whole falls down. The biggest problem with the dancing in "Préludes et fugues" is that you could have told any of the dancers to do something other than what they were doing and the whole would not have been appreciably altered. There was one particularly farcical part right at the end where, for the first time, the dancers performed synchronously. Given the rest of the piece it felt as if they were completing a mandatory section of an ice-skating routine, but even then they were not in time—although you could hardly tell if this was through lack of ability or intention on the part of the choreographer.
Probably the saddest thing about "Préludes et fugues" is that it clearly wants to be something more than the usual jumble of half-thoughts and witticisms which passes for modern art; but it equally clearly has no good idea of what this "something more" actually is, and as a result it fails in a fairly tragicomic fashion.