The Mayfield venue, an old railway siding behind Piccadilly station, barely looks passable from the outside for anyone to enter without a hard hat. Inside, some basic raised seating, lighting rigs and a sprung reflective floor, transform this disused industrial space into a stage of incredible depth, the likes of which even the largest theatres couldn’t accommodate.
It’s a stark and brutal setting for Boris Charmatz’s new work for MIF Festival, 10000 Gestures. Here among thick iron pillars, exposed brick work, steel shuttered doors and graffitied walls, 25 dancers roll, run, dive, pick their teeth and their genitals in a series of jarring moves that supposedly doesn’t see any one dancer repeat the same movement twice. I say supposedly because who is counting?
For the show, Charmatz says he prepared a gestural sequence of 400 gestures, conveyed differently by each of the dancers and the rest is improvised. Apart from three dancers in black chemical suits the others are dressed individually from tiny speedos to sparkling jester-type costumes. Voices appear to offer the audience a focus for this chaos, but then it quickly descends into a cacophony of wails and then screams.
I wonder if over the three performances any of the audience join in with the noise and if this indeed was Charmatz’s intention. I certainly wanted to scream and found it repressive to stay silent. In this respect, this chaotic and at times ugly performance moved me in a way that was hard to ignore.
For anyone who remains unmoved the dancers head into the audience to an increasingly loud Mozart’s Requiem. When a sweaty half-naked body lies across your lap or an exhausted dancer rests their head against yours (both of which happened to me) there’s no escape. During these interactions the vulnerability as well as the strength and vitality of the performers is striking.
10000 Gestures is an uncomfortable and unsettling experience. For many it was also clearly both memorable and exhilarating.
MIF: 10,000 Gestures is at Mayfield, Manchester from 13-15 July 2017.