Like people talking over each other in an animated conversation, three dancers of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève flitted and swivelled around each other. The scene dissipated as they walked away like nothing had happened—maybe it hadn’t? This brief encounter seemed to be a microcosm of Emanuel Gat’s sixty-minute Preludes et fugues, which the company presented this weekend, April 3-5, in their Seattle debut at UW’s Meany Hall. The dancers stretched, glided, spun, and leapt with exquisite technique, but the shape-driven choreography often felt like circuitous physical chatter that never fully reached its point. (Apparently the same could be said for the company’s latest performance at the Joyce Theater in New York City).
Set to Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, the piece was accompanied with masterful clarity by pianist Brooks Tran. Ranging from soothing and entrancing to zippier moments that provided a propulsive force to the movement, Tran’s sensitive playing added depth to the work. In large ensemble sections, Gat structured the choreography with visually pleasing moments of point and counterpoint, which helped keep the eye engaged. It was the small group sections which seemed to lag the most. Solos, duets, and trios—many of them performed in silence—emerged throughout the piece, but the dancers never formed true connections. These moments had the feeling of strangers interacting while passing on a street (enhanced by their pedestrian costuming), but lacked even the spontaneous dynamic such an encounter might offer.
Gat played up the work’s casual feeling by having dancers stand or sit near the edges of the stage for most of the piece, watching the action from the shadows. This layer of watchers created a mildly voyeuristic (and mildly self-interested) feeling, but it also felt like the most authentic part of the work. The observing dancers were simply people-watching, studying how their fellows interacted and moved, like we do in everyday life.
While the company is undoubtedly talented, it would be interesting to see them perform other works in their repertory. The fluid ease with which they executed the challenging choreography hinted at the troupe’s power, but Preludes displayed little beyond their technical prowess. This was the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève’s first time performing in Seattle; hopefully it won’t be the last, but they’d be better served with a more varied program next time around.
Additional information about the UW World Series and the companies it presents can be found at their website.