A river of movements

'10,000 Gestures' to be performed at this year's Israel Festival.

A scene from Boris Charmatz’s newest work, '10,000 Gestures' (photo credit: DUNCAN ELLIOT)
A scene from Boris Charmatz’s newest work, '10,000 Gestures'
(photo credit: DUNCAN ELLIOT)
Every single day, every single person on the planet, from babies to the elderly, make thousands upon thousands of gestures. Without thinking about them or planning them, without even paying any attention to the majority of them, gestures are made and forgotten, repeated, reused and reinvented throughout our lives. This constant flow of movement, a veritable river of human activity, is the basis for French choreographer Boris Charmatz’s newest work, 10,000 Gestures, which will be presented as part of the Israel Festival next month.
In this piece, Charmatz’s cast of 24 dancers go through a dizzying repertoire of gestures.
“We could have called it ‘10,000 Movements,’ but it wasn’t just that,” says Charmatz. “It’s the gesture being what a human being in the world could do. It could be a movement, position, thought or idea.”
Charmatz, 45, was born and raised in France. Before taking up dance, he toyed with the idea of becoming a professional table tennis player.
“Just before doing hardcore studies, I said, ‘Will I really play ping pong my whole life?’ To be a dancer I could sweat in a studio, write a book, talk, travel… It could be something that had something to do with social politics but was not political because it’s dance. Becoming a dancer would be blurry. In our family we would know what a violinist was, but we didn’t know what a dancer was. Maybe in all of society that is so. I like the blurriness, not knowing what it could be if it’s not a ballet. Thirty-five years ago I chose dance, and I still love that,” he recounts.
Having given over to dance, Charmatz forged a formidable career dancing for Europe’s top choreographers, namely Anne Teresa de Keersmaker and Tino Sehgal. He is an initiator of various collectives and endeavors in the field of choreography and has presented work around the world. In his creations, Charmatz challenges the boundaries of dance, calling on unusual cast members and techniques to create unforgettable images. In 2011, Charmatz created Enfant, in which the stage was overrun by young children. The creation was both whimsical and harrowing.
For 10,000 Gestures, Charmatz assembled his cast in the studio – some dancers he had worked with in the past, others respected colleagues.
They ranged from their early 20s to the mid-50s. The concept was clear: to compose a piece made of gestures.
But once they began, Charmatz and his collaborators realized that the task at hand presented unique challenges.
“It was clear for everyone that we would do 10,000 gestures, but how to start? This was not written anywhere, this was not clear. I had done some research in different exhibitions at Musee de la danse in Rennes, with people I had met.
Someone talked to me and did this very strange gesture, and I said, ‘That should be the first one.’ I said it would be a tempest, chaos and long. So I said, ‘Let’s start with just doing nothing.’ They did that for 15 minutes. And then we said, ‘Can you pick 20 gestures out of what you just did?’ That’s the start of the piece. It was about four seconds. Then we said, ‘What next?’ That’s how the piece developed. We called it ‘change movement’ – you want to hug someone and while you try, you lose track and you do something else. Then we did backward gestures. We went through many areas of what a gesture could be. The idea was that in total there would be 10,000 gestures. At the beginning, we can really count. But there’s a moment where we stop counting. We decide to go on with the audience, and it’s more improvised because we never know what we’re going to find. We take your coat, we sit on your lap… It’s more than 10,000. It would be 400 per dancer, but what we do is way, way more. We stop counting,” he says.
Providing the rule that no gesture could be repeated by any dancer forced each person to be conscious not only of his/her own movements but also of the entire group’s gestures.
“They asked, ‘Should we do something daily, violent, political, social, virtuosic, dying, humorous…?’ But when you’re trying to do 10,000 gestures, you do everything. It’s all yes. Anything you propose will be in the piece. But once you’ve done it, you can’t repeat. You have to do something else,” he explains.
This will be Charmatz’s first time in Israel.
“I had a great-aunt who lived in Israel, but she always came to Europe to visit us, we never went to her. My father spent time on a kibbutz when he was young. I have been collaborating with an Israeli dancer, Or Avishay, for the past 10 years as well. But this is my first time coming to Israel,” he says.
Boris Charmatz will present ‘10,000 Gestures’ at the Israel Festival on June 9 at the Jerusalem Theater. For more information, visit www.israel-festival.org.