10000 Gestures originates from a simple premise, which is that it consists of entirely unique movements, there are no repeats in the performance, and we watch 10000 distinct gestures on the stage. Performed in Mayfield, an abandoned warehouse, the cavernous space is filled with an explosion of dance so intense you will leave the experience out of breath. Boris Charmatz worked with his ensemble of twenty-five dancers to develop a performance which explores a truly asymmetrical approach to the human body, and dance as a medium.
To understand what this performance feels like as an experience, it is worth paying attention to the venue it occupies. Mayfield is close enough to Piccadilly Station that trains could be heard through the walls, and is a wide, dark space with very little changed from its deserted state. The audience are seated in temporary staggered bleachers, and during the darkest moments it looks like the space goes on forever, the vanishing point truly vanishing. From this expanse of space a single dancer enters, as her red sparkly bolero slightly reflects off the silver dance floor. What she lacks in taking up so little of the stage, she makes up for in noise. She gasps for breath as she is laughing, groaning, and making sounds of surprise. At many points the movements themselves look more in control than herself, as she is pulled from one side of the stage to the other as if by some invisible force. Once we become fully absorbed in these individual gestures, we are shocked into action by the sight of a swarm of dancers sprinting towards us from the darkness, and a stampede of movement begins.
It’s wonderful seeing how freely Charmatz has used the medium of dance, as the ensemble move with no restrictions in a very innocent and almost child-like manner. Their movements are as likely to be balletic as they are kid at a wedding like. Importantly, this is not simply an exploration of the adage that every child is an artist, and that as an adult we need to return to this state. Extreme depictions of violence and sex are included just as much as pratt falls and bum scratching. Watching this show feels like looking at twenty-five lives played at high speed, and it’s impossible to see all of it at once.
Some sections are centred around a theme or emotion, others swell or ebb with the Mozart soundtrack. Every single moment has you engaged, by its vibrancy and difference. There is so much to look at, that one moment you’re watching a woman moan while crawling towards the audience, and then you look over and notice that aided by a crowd, someone is giving birth to another dancer. The whole spectrum of life and death is shown in this piece, and it’s exhausting.
Do not go to 10000 Gestures if you don’t like people wearing only pants potentially climbing over you. This happens like a tidal wave, and there’s no hiding from it, further giving the feeling of uncontrolled energy surrounding this experience. On the night I attended, a woman on the front row was literally lifted horizontally into the air by four dancers, leaving her on the floor slightly bewildered a minute later. I swear I saw a woman snogging an audience member, but given how fleeting each of these moments are, it’s hard to say for certain.
During these sixty minutes, even if you couldn’t see them, you felt every single one of the show’s 10000 gestures. This was largely because of the noise. It turns out that thinking the solo dancer was rather noisy was an amuse bouche to the sound of a whole ensemble yelling, sobbing, and panting. There were certainly more fun, light sections, which felt a lot closer to clowning. In contrast, there were terrifying segments where the entire cast screamed for what felt like 15 minutes, exploring pain, suffering, and eventually death.
The whole performance felt intentionally disorienting, and like an unstoppable force of nature. Once a movement is made it is over, and therefore every gesture is fleeting. Life itself is mirrored in these gestures, through the way they represent the ephemerality of time. While some gestures may have similarities, none can be repeated, which feels much like a reflection on the nature of life itself, and a statement on how we can only move forward, and one can never repeat the movements of the past exactly. It’s a truly unique performance, and one that is hard to forget.
10000 Gestures was performed as part of the Manchester International Festival in July 2017