10000 Gestures @ MIF17: “A full on assault of organised chaos”


I didn’t quite know what to expect going in to Boris Charmatz’s 10,000 Gestures. I wanted to enter without too many preconceptions and I was rewarded with a show equally exciting, intriguing and uncomfortable. In the cold, vast, industrial setting of the Mayfield train depot, Charmatz and company took the audience on an abstract journey through the human condition during its one hour run-time at the Manchester International Festival.   

The show began with a lone dancer, performing an initial, and comparatively subdued, mix of diving, jumping, spinning and reciting numbers in French, before dozens more unseen came sprinting dramatically from the distance into the hall. What followed was a full on assault of organised chaos that, sometimes physically, demanded your attention; pushing the limits of what you might expect from a dance performance. It was an arresting and extremely immersive experience, as the audience discovered towards the end of the show, as the performance abruptly spilled into the stands.

Performances from all involved were amazing, and the wide range of gestures on display truly impressed. From banal movements, to the odd (butt sniffing, mock masturbation and the live birth of one performer were all on show), to expertly executed classical motions like pirouettes, it presented almost all conceivable human signals, actions and emotions. I quickly lost count so I can’t say for sure whether there were actually 10,000 unique gestures, but there really was a lot on offer and nothing felt repetitive. The performance of each individual was incredible, to the point where I was unsure where to focus my attention. There was so much going on at any one moment that I’m certain no two viewers would have the exact same experience. It was hard to keep track of what was going on with everyone, but I found myself latching on to one individual, until another’s performance caught my eye, and so on. It felt like there were several distinct narrative threads progressing all at once, with an impressive sense of depth as the available space was fully utilised. I’d almost like to see it again to try and witness everything I’d missed the first time round.

Music was also used to great effect. Mozart’s Requiem fittingly accompanied the performance, at times providing little more than background, but swelling dramatically as the action intensified. Subtle changes in the lighting altered the mood and aesthetic a surprising amount, having interesting visual effects on the silver floor. But what really stuck out was the masterful choreography. Despite the seemingly anarchic movements of dozens of performers operating in independent spheres, dancers expertly threaded between, through, over and under each other, with distinct groups occasionally merging theatrically, bringing abstract storylines crashing together.

It was challenging, strange, extremely interesting and sometimes a bit overwhelming. It may not be for everyone, but I’d implore anyone to give it a go, you definitely wouldn’t be bored.  

Filed under: Theatre & Dance

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