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IMPRESSIONS: Boris Charmatz’s “10000 Gestures” at NYU Skirball as part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival

IMPRESSIONS: Boris Charmatz’s “10000 Gestures” at NYU Skirball as part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival

Published on October 2, 2018
Photo: Tristram Kenton

September 28, 2018

Choreography: Boris Charmatz

Choreographic Assistant: Magali Caillet-Gajan // Lighting: Yves Godin

Costume Design: Jean-Paul Lespagnard // Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The math is simple if unbelievable. 60 minutes + 18 people = 10000 Gestures. The answer is also the title of the piece, and don't let the lack of a comma confuse you. That's ten thousand gestures, which no dancer will repeat, according to Boris Charmatz, the choreographer who dreamed up this formula. Receiving its New York premiere at NYU Skirball as part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival, the framing device can be interrogated quantitatively and qualitatively. 

First, the numbers. Does Charmatz succeed in his premise? The answer is probably, but it really doesn’t matter. 9,999 or 10,001 gestures wouldn’t make a difference. Neither would 5,617 or 13,824. It’s a glut regardless. 

A group of dancers in a big tableau. A dancer in a magenta gown lays on the floor
Boris Charmatz's 10000 gestures at NYU Skirball; Photo: Chloé Mossessian

The more interesting question is: What constitutes a gesture? Merriam-Webster defines one as “a movement usually of the body or limbs that expresses and emphasizes an idea, sentiment, or attitude.” 

Clearly, the dictionary has never been to a dance show. Or, in this instance, a non-dance show as Charmatz is one of the original provocateurs of a “movement” genre more akin to witty performance art. 

For an hour, dancers rip through gestures that hopscotch from yogic bow poses to gazelle-like saut de chats, from twitchy fingers to wedgie picking. What idea, sentiment, or attitude they convey is irrelevant. These gestures exist as ticks in an ever-increasing balance sheet. 

A dancer in the foreground in a down-dog position.
Boris Charmatz's 10000 gestures at NYU Skirball; Photo: Chloé Mossessian

But how does Charmatz deconstruct this ceaseless cascade into discrete components? Does waving an arm front and then back count as one gesture or two? How about if a man in jeggings hinges backward while tracing a hand down his torso? When the cast gathers into a clump and writhes, how many or how few gestures is that? Can loud vocalizing count? It should because there’s a lot of it.

Maybe one plus one equals two or maybe it equals one, yet the purest expression of a gesture isn’t found in the movement. It’s in the peripheral elements. Mozart’s Requiem in D minor K.626, a dramatic mass for the dead, serves as a punch line for Charmatz’s “anti-museum” work, which has been designed to resist preservation and replication. The outfits slide on a spectrum from costumes (a bespangled majorette getup) to clothing (swirly summer dresses), ending with near nudity (jock straps). In their specificity and clarity, song and garb satisfy the emotive and expressive potential of a gesture. 

A man in underwear stands at the center of a tableau
Boris Charmatz's 10000 gestures at NYU Skirball; Photo: Chloé Mossessian

The most memorable actions aren’t the ones that unfold onstage. Close to when the choreographic thunderstorm — Noise! Light! Commotion! — saturates my interest, the performers enter the audience. They clamber over us, they shake our hands, and they rip up our programs. The reactions of flinching, laughing, and extending a helping hand add more gestures to the balance sheet. 

Near the end of the audience assault, one of the female performers (perhaps Salka Ardal Rosengren) strokes my hair. She whispers, “You have beautiful hair ” as I squirm, my contribution to the five-digit goal complete. 

Maybe the formula needs to be rethought. 10,000 gestures – 9,999 = the only one that counts. 

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