The program for Emanuel Gat and Ensemble Modern's Story Water, now in performance in the hallowed Cour d'Honneur, describes the work as, "An unprecedented dialogue between a dazzling dance company and one of the greatest modern music ensembles..." After the 75-minute performance on July 21st 2018, this was still news to me. Embarrassingly careless in both theme and movement, Story Water attempts to be simultaneously coldly plastic and politically potent. Artistically what this amounts to is a group of children who have made up their own language and who have taken to making a point of conversing in it in front of you. Frustrated, at a certain point in time you dismiss them, not caring to crack the code and, by extension, not caring about anything they might have to say.

Emanuel Gat has split the work into parts starting with: Choreography, Music, People, and Dance. The dancers enter in white street clothes by Thomas Bradley. The musicians, assembled stage left, are dressed in white linen suits. Under Franck Ollu's direction, Pierre Boulez's Dérive 2 and Rebecca Saunders's Fury II are performed well, or very poorly. It's difficult to tell the difference. In any case, the challenge of this confounding music is not answered by Gat. Offering no rhythmic foundation to set their pulse to, the audience searches for structure in the choreography. Gat leaves us grasping at straws while the corps de danse, now split in two, roams through what appears to be semi-improvised choreographic structures. There are brief breaths of unpretentiousness when individual dancers, in a bid to organize themselves in the group, vocalize cues.

These first parts labor forward with slight qualitative differences in staging or dance form. A cellist in brought onto stage, dancers strip down to their underwear, and breadths of highly necessary synchronistic movements within the entire corps. There are also touches of humor as "People" is projected on the Cour d'Honneur's upstage wall, and then seems to search for the French translation "en français...hmmm." Though, after over a half hour of the performance being insufferably withholding, it felt only fair to return the favor.

Around the hour mark we are introduced to the dance work's final portion, "Gaza" or, as I read it, "Gaza?" Statistics on the state of life in Gaza are projected in shocks on the back wall. Now smiling and clad in multicolored street-clothes the dancers dance and sing to a variation of Daniel Decatur Emmett's minstrel song "Dixie". Without the previous hour of bad-faith self-importance, I might have had the curiosity to dissect this choice. However, residing in the context of the evening, it felt like an appropriative effort to render this resoundingly meaningless evening of dance profound.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so damning of the skill of the artists on stage. Ensemble Modern certainly performed difficult music. The dancers somehow stayed grounded on stage while executing what externally has the air of groundless movement. Perhaps also if I saw this piece in a threadbare Chelsea art gallery, or Bushwick loft I'd have a more forgiving tone. Though, staged as it is in one of the most prestigious theatre spaces in the world, it felt like a careless dereliction of artistic craft.

Photo Credit: Franck Pennant

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From This Author Wesley Doucette

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