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Emanual Gat
Scottish Dance Theatre in “The Circle” by Emanuel Gat. Photograph by Brian Hartley

Hypervigilant

Scottish Dance Theatre's “The Circle”

Dance International Glasgow
Scottish Dance Theatre: “The Circle”
Place
Tramway, Glasgow, Scotland, October 26, 2019
Words
Lorna Irvine

There is an itchy sense of restlessness to Emanuel Gat’s ephemeral piece with Scottish Dance Theatre, a heightened kind of hypervigilance with a dozen dancers onstage always looking over their shoulders. They appear primed to pounce at any time, all too aware of lurking predators. It’s there in Gat’s lighting design, which is hugely evocative of twilight corners. It’s woven into the alertness of eyes, the scratchy shapes of arachnid hands twitching in the air and protective hunches on haunches, the groups of two or three, rearing up like horses on hind legs. This “fight or flight” stance is a constant, a reminder of observing or being observed in cities, where there is nowhere to hide. 

Gat’s choreography is utterly rife with bubbling tension everywhere, and a feeling of never being alone or safe. The energy feels governed by feeling it out—and it should, as each performance is an improvised, collaborative exploration, individual as a finger print

The soloists are surrounded by this hungry, feral-looking pack, so that any dancer performing alone, stretching with an arched back, or surging forward, is never really ‘alone.’ The most jarring juxtapositions occur when the ensemble move painfully slowly in one unit to the more frenzied drum ’n’ bass tracks of Squarepusher, whose soundtrack fuses the tension of jazz with the BPMs of the dancefloor. It’s an apposite soundtrack for city life, with all of the incumbent anxieties: a pressure cooker, writ large.

It is of course, not the first time the Israeli choreographer has worked to the throb of club beats. Much of his work explores contemporary responses to hip-hop and dance music, as with previous pieces like “YOOO!!!” an all-ages urban piece with hip-hop music, or “Sunny,” framed around a live DJ set from electronic producer/musician Awir Leon. But this is very different, much more shadowy and slippery.

Designer Thomas Bradley’s costumes, all upcycled materials from Dundee Rep, are integral to how the ensemble move, acting as bustles or burdens, bulk like another body to carry on backs or from the waist. All of these folds of velvet, crepe and satin reinforce heavy weight, working against their bodies, becoming impediments to flowing freely. Such hindrances, ironically, only serve to show the unbelievable stamina and strength of the company. They also bring an otherworldly quality to the overall aesthetic.

A great many unreliable narrators carve out stories which shift and unravel: these are bands of renegades, rebels and outsiders, excluded others from the margins. Because of the manifold personalities highlighted within the work, no one dancer is either protagonist or antagonist. So the work unfolds without any one body to really focus on, and as such, becomes hard to invest emotionally in. It feels at times like we as audience members are ultimately cast as security guards, keeping an eye on things from multiple perspectives on camera from a safe distance, yet we are powerless to intervene.

Scottish Dance Theatre in “The Circle” by Emanuel Gat. Photograph by Brian Hartley

Everything here is slightly askew, all tilted at an uncomfortable angle. Slow cartwheels and nervy jumps to squiggly prog synth lines underline a series of attempted personas, from gods and goddesses toppled from their plinths, to strutting emperors, freed from the shackles of responsibility.

Sometimes the twelve figures seem to be posturing, vying for attention (from each other, as much as the audience) but elsewhere, they are utterly vulnerable and exposed.Limbs are tested to breaking point, muscles flexing, close to snapping. Yet, there is space too, with much room to pause and take stock, when the frenzy abates.

But above all, even when things slow down and almost grind to a yawning halt, the feeling persists that we are in a crowded city where all is paranoia, all is fearful.