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An experiment in intergenerational reviewing: 10,000 Gestures at the Manchester International Festival

2017 July 19
by Paul Vallely

I took my 15 year-old grandson along to see Boris Charmatz’s 10,000 Gestures premiere at the Manchester International Festival.  Here’s his review, followed by the one I wrote for The Independent:


Review of 10,000 Gestures at 2017 Manchester International Festival

by Daniel Atherton

Rating:    ★★★½

This show is set in an enormous windowless former train depot. From when you first enter, its abandoned and damp feel creates a strong sense of anticipation, and an enigmatic air. The show begins with the lights dwindling in favour of small beams aligning the pillars allowing a slight amount of visibility. A woman in red enters the stage, acting erratically and moving unnaturally. Breathing in and out heavily and speaking nonsense sentences as the music (Mozart’s Requiem) grows louder.

Suddenly, all other cast members rush into view, all dressed differently, some half naked, others in strange costumes. They echo the violent grace of the woman in red introducing the theme of frenzy and lack of reason but do so with precision. There is a good deal of shouting, writhing and screaming, occasional random phrases like ‘I have a dream, I still have a dream’ (an allusion to Martin Luther King Jr.) and also ‘God is the greatest’ in Arabic, reflecting modern day issues like inequality and terrorism. There is also a deal of pointing and making signs with their hands. A theme of death and negativity created by the music and amplified by the violent and aggressive actions sets a strong tone for rest of show.

On occasion, the dancers interact with each other (where most of the particularly precise dancing takes place) and form groups. At other times, they flail around individually or stand perfectly still and calm. Their animalistic behaviour shows a disconnect from regular human actions, comparable to the writhing and screaming.

Amidst this, at certain points all performers suddenly fall. They drop to the floor which introduces a false calm which contrasts with the earlier frenzy. Then all the performers travel closer to the audience and begin thrashing about again, apart from the woman in red and a male dancer who roll slowly together across the length of the stage in a prolonged embrace of companionship or love. The cast then begins counting upwards in French, and advance into the audience engaging them in a decidedly unconventional way. This is sure to grab your attention.

Eventually they retreat to the stage, and fall still once more, with the music subsiding again. Now only their hands move, though gestures continue in endless variety as is central to the theme of the 10,000 Gestures of the title of the show. Finally the cast falls still once more, the stage is silent, and the music and lights fade to a close.

10,000 Gestures is a show which never loses your attention, as there is always visual or audible engagement. You will not find yourself bored. So much happens among the 25 performers – with each individual performer acts without any repetition of themselves, or each other simultaneously across the stage – that every member of the audience will have their own individual experience of the show. In addition the vague and elusive path the show takes, which allows for many possible interpretations, permits each viewer to form their own ideas. The skill and precision of each dancer is evident. The huge challenge the show’s choreographer, Boris Charmatz, has set himself, is brilliantly executed and the skill, effort and energy of the company is remarkable.

What I didn’t like was that the show was generally hard to understand – it had no dialogue and no clear progression of a story which made challenging for an observer to grasp the themes and messages of the show. Some members of the audience may have found it hard to engage with that, especially in a performance which lasted more than an hour and could profitably have been shortened. But this show, though by no means perfect, is definitely worth seeing. Its explosion of movement means it never loses one’s attention and provides moments which are especially striking.

Daniel Atherton


10000 Gestures

Manchester International Festival


A solo dancer, wearing a red bolero and ice skater skirt, enters the cavernous space that is the former Mayfield train depot in Manchester, at the start of Boris Charmatz’s epic dance piece premiering at the 2017 Manchester International Festival. Her movements are frenetic, episodic, elegant, wild, and entirely without any of the repeated patterns which we take for granted as integral to the business of dance.

In 10,000 Gestures, this celebrated French choreographer – whose work has recently been seen at Sadler’s Wells and the Tate Modern and New York’s Museum of Modern Art – sets out with the ambition of never having any of his 25 dancers repeat a particular move or gesture. The result is powerful and enigmatic, haunting and puzzling.

The Girl in the Bolero sighs and grunts, like a terpsichorean tennis player or beast in labour, as she moves across the reflective floor of the vast hall.   Slowly this music of the human body is replaced, faintly at first and then ever louder, by Mozart’s Requiem. This is a journey from life to death.

The rest of the company arrive with ferocious speed from the back of the hall. The men wear balaclavas and boiler suits or are naked apart from underpants. The women are in leotards, bikinis, or the ruffles of Latin American dance outfits. All human life is here. Set against the studded cast-iron columns of the massive hall, illuminated with cold white strips of LED lights, the scene looks like the modern equivalent of some ancient bare Greek temple.

Against this gigantic canvas the dancers play out their individual stories with unnatural jerky obsessions and moments of superbly poised elegance. It is febrile and agonised. The audience feels like voyeurs at Bedlam or in a living version of Hieronymous Bosch’s vision of hell. There are wails and howls and screams. There is the grooming of apes, the rutting of stags, the loping of hyenas, the skeetering of birds, and the playground behaviour of children. There is combat, pursuit, embrace and onanism.

Dancers slip out of their individual isolation to interact as pairs, and then as groups in agonised tableaux of terror, and then return to their solipsism. Everywhere is the paradox of wildness and precision, brutality and delicacy.

But if it is overwhelming and puissant it lacks shape. It may not be repetitious but it grows samey. There is no narrative arc. The choreography is not sufficiently attentive to the dynamics of the music. But then the work changes gear.

Ground-based movements recall life crawling from the primeval slime, and then the company advances on the audience and invades the seating, counting aloud in French towards the 10,000 climax. Dancers move among and across the spectators before retreating to the hall. There they swirl around the enormous space like the fairies at the end of Shakespeare’s Dream and raise their hands to the heavens, in offering, before an exhausted stillness takes hold and darkness falls.

The audience leaves amazed and astounded, though not a little bewildered.

Paul Vallely





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