Winter variations

Photo by Agathe Poupeney

Choreography Lights & Costumes / Emanuel Gat

Music / The Beatles, R. Al-Sunbati, G. Mahler

created and performed by / Roy Assaf and Emanuel Gat.

Rehearsals Director / Noémie Perlov

Production / Emanuel Gat Dance.

Co production / Festival Montpellier Danse 2009, American Dance Festival, Lincoln center Festival, deSingel.

with the help of Scènes et Cinés Ouest Provence

World Premier / June 22nd 2009 American Dance Festival.

European Premier / June 30th Opera Berlioz, Le Corum Montpellier.


Winter Voyage, the first piece to be presented after the establishment of Emanuel Gat dance, was created early 2004 and danced by Roy Assaf and Emanuel Gat to three lieders from Schubert masterful cycle. Since its creation, the two have danced this duet more then 250 times all over the world to great acclaim.

In many ways, the 17 minutes of Winter Voyage, hold the core ideas regarding the choreographic process later developed by Emanuel Gat in pieces such as: The Rite of Spring, K626, Through the Center and Silent Ballet.

Winter Variations, explores the options lying beyond the proposition made in Winter Voyage, and uses them as the starting point for a few distinctive variations. The work is based on a unique artistic collaboration, between two dancers and performers who share a common understanding regarding the action of dance, and a rare physical telepathy.

After several group pieces, the desire to ones again explore the duet form, derives from a need to re-determine the basic means of creation. The loss of countless compositional tools used when choreographing for a group, results in going back to basics. The focus on the dance material itself, along side the need for a definition of an extremely clear context, becomes crucial.

A mechanism of extreme zoom-in, is applied on certain kea points in Winter Voyage in order to explore the landscapes lying behind specific choreographic fragments. Moments of charged stillness are examined carefully in search of the movement potential they inhabit. A few seconds of dance in Winter Voyage, develop in Winter Variations into full chapters of complex choreography and elaborated sequences of human drama.

Although Winter Variations is a duet of extreme intimacy, it was created with the intention of being presented in large spaces. The idea is to intensify the visibility of actions, relations, intentions and compositions created by the two dancers on a vast and empty stage. The space is extremely present, almost to the point it becomes a third actor with dense qualities and a dynamic character.

The musical form of the song is at the heart of a soundtrack in close and surprising dialog with the dance, determining the sound sets in which the dance unfolds. It includes a lieder from G Mahler's Das Lied Von Der Erde, A song by Riad al Sunbati (Awedt Eini ala Rouyak) who was originally composed for Oum Kalthoum, sung here in an intimate version by the composer accompanying himself on oud, and a remix of the Beatles “Day in a life”.





In 2004, Israeli choreographer Emanuel Gat created Winter Voyage, a short duet for himself and Roy Assaf to songs from Schubert's Winterreise. Winter Variations is an extension of the earlier piece, and it is a tribute to Gat's choreography and the performers' understated intensity that the hour-long duet, in plain clothes and on an empty, often darkened stage, commands our attention throughout.

The dancers scarcely acknowledge each other directly. In what sense are they "together" at all? In the first scene, a reprise of Winter Voyage, it is in their timing. This is almost a study in composition, with fleet phrases that reflect and rotate, or slip in and out of synch, so that the men appear to foreshadow, mirror or echo each other. At the same time, it feels companionable even if the mood is mournful: there are casual touches, playful chases, jogging breaks.

The next section begins with a disturbing electronic noise in an agonisingly slow crescendo that seems to press the two men together, until their bodies are suffocatingly interlocked. It's a surprise and relief when the sound resolves into the Beatles' song A Day in the Life, with its references to the banality of catastrophe. Danger has been averted, but at a cost: the men separate, but are literally brought to their knees.

The following episode, to an Egyptian chant by Riyad al-Sunbati, hints at sensuality, with skewed salsa-style armholds in a duet where the partners evade each other. Then, to Mahler's emotionally charged Song of the Earth, the two finally go their own ways. As the music swells, they end up bound to the floor, twisting, like their whole bodies were gagged.

Motifs recur throughout the piece, as if each round is casting the players different hands from the same deck. Some cards keep turning up: introversion, isolation, melancholy."

Sanjoy Roy / The Guardian


"...In the case of Israeli choreographer-dancer Emanuel Gat, his extraordinary duet with Roy Assaf, “Winter Variations,” was performed to a full house at the 2,000-seat Opéra Berlioz. Filling such a vast stage is no easy feat, even for a medium-sized company, but to command the space for 50 minutes with this unabashedly intimate pas de deux proved a breathtakingly emotional journey. The world premiere featured the duo executing deliriously perfect unisons. Whether marching militaristically on their knees or moving tenderly minuet-style, holding hands and half-hopping, the pair riveted. The music was also sublime, including Richard Strauss, Franz Schubert, the Beatles and Riad Al Sunbati, while Gat’s gorgeous lighting design created an endless horizon one moment, a beckoning abyss the next. Gat, 40, is a major talent (he recently made a piece for 13 women of the Paris Opera Ballet), with “Winter Variations” offering catharsis for a troubled world. Indeed, on Tuesday the audience responded with nothing less than a collective sigh at the fragility, beauty and, finally, the resilience of life."

Victoria Looseleaf in Montpellier, France / Los Angeles Times


"...In the midst of a heat wave in Montpellier, France, it was Winter Variations by our own maverick Emanuel Gat that took the dance festival by storm. His latest creation was a chilling duet, performed at Montpellier’s grandest venue. This is no small matter, since the festival is one of Europe’s more prestigious dance festivals, directed by Jean-Paul Montanari.

For many, Gat’s creation stood out as a glittering diamond among the jewels of the festival. This full-length creation derives from Winter Journey, an earlier short duet, choreographed for himself and dancer Roy Assaf. Both carried out the new Winter Variations, set to music by Richard Strauss, Riad al Sunbati and the Beatles.

The striking lighting designed by Gat transformed the stage into vertical zones in shades of gray that highlighted subtle mood changes corresponding to emotional contents of the work. The dancers exposed layers and depths of male camaraderie with sensitivity, delicacy, honesty and human solidarity in a way that was ever-so-touching and sad, yet strong. Its effect was breathtaking: At times fierce as the cold Mistral rushing down from the Alps, and at other times gentle as a zephyr. This forceful production is perhaps Gat’s most important work yet."

Ora Brafman/ the Jerusalem Post


"Emanuel Gat’s company, founded in Israel but now based in France, performed in the Rose Theater. In Winter Variations, Gat expanded on a stunning older duet with Roy Assaf, Winter Voyage.  There is such empathy between Gat and Assaf that when they do the same movement, they seem to move as one. Even when the choreography is different for each—whether it’s pugilistic darting, crouching, or pivoting—it has the same muscular weightiness. Gat not only choreographed but also designed the simple, effective lighting, illuminating the front two-thirds of the stage and letting the dark upstage area become, in effect, off-stage. There, he and Assaf change into white T-shirts, visible only as specters.

The piece begins to a long, droning chord which turns out to be The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” When the melody and lyrics begin, the movement shifts from a series of unconnected gestures and poses to playful, fluid social dance, bursting the accumulated tension. The two walked on their knees, evoking a ritual, a sojourn, a disability. The music, including a melancholy Egyptian song as well as Strauss and Schubert, heightened the spatial drama between the two remarkable dancers."

Dance Magazine / By Susan Yung


"Emanuel Gat’s Winter Variations is not just another male duet. It is also an intense dance piece which captivates viewers from the opening sequence with its unique interplay of movement, music and enthralling performance.

Emanuel Gat’s Winter Variations is not just another male duet. It is also an intense dance piece which captivates viewers from the opening sequence with its unique interplay of movement, music and enthralling performance. Created in collaboration with Roy Assaf, who performs it with Gat, this new work explores the choreographic motifs and ideas first seen in Gat’s 2004 Winter Voyage. But you don’t need to be familiar with the previous creation in order to appreciate the sheer beauty of the new piece.

Referred to as an ‘intimate’ duet in the programme note, Winter Variations never slips into any of the easy clichés that populate the long history of dances that have been created for two men. The intimacy mentioned in the programme manifests itself as a charismatic game of perfectly synchronised actions and masterly ideas, which relies on the hypnotic interaction of a perfectly attuned couple.

The emptiness of the stage highlights the lyrical, humorous and competitive play between the two performers, as well as heightening the crescendo of emotions. Indeed, emotions, more than the diamond-like technical bravura of the two interpreters, are what this work stands out for. And I am not referring to any soppy sentimentality, but to the wide gamut of psychological reactions that the two dancers’ interplay elicits from the audience. I only wish there were more works like this around."

Giannandrea Poesio / Arts and Culture


"... Emanuel Gat’s brilliance as a dancer is obvious upon a moment’s witness of his animal grace and controlled concentration. His importance as a choreographer has been elusive to me, however, until the world premiere of his pearly Winter Variations. Winter Variations, an hour-long duet for Gat and his performing partner Roy Assaf, somewhat clarifies Gat’s underlying concern with the deep duality of life — it lets us know that there is a philosopher beneath that irritating bad boy and that clarity allows greater charity with his sometimes infuriating methods. Winter Variations grew out of a shorter work, Winter Voyage (danced at ADF 2005). Like a form and its shadow, or sound and silence. In his masterful stage design, composed entirely of light and a pair of audio speakers hanging side-by-side just above the danceable space, Gat and Assaf, in simple gray clothes, dance precisely through a world of shifting grays, on and within fading and darkening grids of light. With a litany of crossing and opening motions, covering and revealing and aligning themselves and each other, they work from stuttering pauses into whipping waves of muscular poetry with brutal grace. in Winter Variations the pair works in telepathic tandem with each other and with a medley of disparate songs united by their mournful resonance: Jessye Norman singing Richard Strauss’ “Im Abendrot,” Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau performing the Schubert Lied“Die Krahe,” Riad Al Sunbati, accompanying himself on the oud, and a re-mix of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”

“I read the news today, oh boy....” That is indeed enough to bring a man to his knees, to drop him out of whatever tender connection, heroic rescue, or joyful swing he may be stretching and snapping, to shrink him and dwarf him and send him knee-walking rigidly down a fine line before the maze returns him to himself, his partner, his form or shadow. In the final scene, the two struggle prone across the floor in feats of spasmodic wriggling and rocking, like seals dragging themselves onto a beach. It is a relief when they get there."

Kate Dobbs Ariail / Voice of North Carolina


"... From the first image, Gat revealed the contrasts at the heart of the work, balancing the tension between darkness and light, sound and silence, movement and stillness. Gat and Assaf, sometimes alone, sometimes weaving in and out of unison, moved with precision into and between the lighted areas, freezing for long, measured pauses before continuing. Filled with specific but baffling gestures - an arm outstretched like an elephant's trunk, a hand cupped under the chin - the full-body movement skimmed the surface of the stage with a smooth, unhurried lightness. Arms and elbows fanned and pierced the air, framing and passing over the face and around the head. The idiosyncratic movement remained compelling throughout the work, as it grew in intensity or pulled back, connected the two men or propelled them apart. The work, according to Gat, follows a strict formalistic logic, negotiating elements such as time, space, line, lighting, rhythm, and music. Gat has balanced these components masterfully, particularly the sense of timing - between the dancers, or with the musical phrasing - and the pacing of the dance as a whole. He seems to know just how long to stretch each moment, and when to jump quickly ahead. Certainly one of the most potent aspects of Winter Variations, as in the dancers' previous duet, Winter Voyage, is the relationship between the two men. Throughout the hour-long work, this relationship took on layers and permutations of significance. Power, intimacy, vulnerability, indifference, synchronicity, individuality - all were present. Performing in diverging and converging streams of movement or perfect unison, the two men passed long periods of time without sharing a single glance, only to come to an abrupt stop nose to nose. Gat balanced, seated in the chair of Assaf's lap, his feet curled around Assaf's ankles as Assaf walked slowly, one heavy step after another; the men traversed the stage walking on their knees, continuing so long we forgot they once had longer legs, approaching each other as if to connect, but passing shoulders without a glance. The final image was particularly striking. In a bright wash of light at the front of the stage, the two writhed and wriggled across the floor, isolated and struggling, continuing until the last and sudden gasp of the lights blacking out."

Anne Morris - World Dance Reviews 2009

"Two very similar-looking guys dressed in tee-shirts and trousers dance together on a stage. For an hour. That’s the Tweet on Monday night’s world premiere of choreographer Emanuel Gat’s “Winter Variations” at the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina. Gat, an Israeli-born dance maker now working from France, manages to intrigue his audience with that basic idea – but he takes it so much farther. Co-occupying a half-lit desolate stage with only a pair of audio speakers hung from the ceiling, the two men execute a series of pedestrian gestural movements. Much of the time they do so in squeakingly close proximity. The dance accrues density either in reaction to a recorded musical score or by the way the men develop their partnering possibilities. As it builds in complexity, “Winter Variations” is a strange and gripping show. Picking up pace, the handholding duo spins around the dance floor. Romantic overtones . . . call in Fred & Ginger! Then both performers drop to their knees and hobble that way across the entire stage. It’s a sad, weird, upsetting image: okay, so now they’re crazy people. Bare-boned dances of this ilk give viewers the leeway to make such literal associations. But what if “Winter Variations” were merely an interesting theatre piece about two guys dancing together? Would that satisfy? Oddly enough it does. One of the evening’s big pleasures is that Gat and Assaf are very good dancers. They’re super-fit to withstand the non-stop calisthenics. But there’s also a sensual overlay and an homoerotic tone that demands more than pure dancing. It calls for a sense of vulnerability that both dancers deliver. In moments like the ones in which the two men, backs to the audience, crouch together under a patch of white light, Gat cradling Assaf in his lap, “Winter Variations” feels genuinely intimate."

Debra Levine / Arts meme


"...The New York premiere of “Winter Variations” for the Lincoln Center Festival  began with a score that was less music than sound wallpaper. In a long segment danced to an industrial hum segueing into the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, two dancers, Gat and Roy Assaf, introduced themselves, individuals sharing a hauntingly lit space as if each were alone. Gat’s long powerful arms danced in a whiplike movement encircling and reversing around his body. The two dancers combined undulating movement with sharpness, and incorporated every part of their strikingly beautiful bodies. Heads, necks, backs, the low haunches of their squatting thighs and calves joined arms, legs, torsos, and feet in a corporeal celebration.

This piece, a second-generation duet for Gat and Roy Assaf, was also credited as created by both. It grew from the relationship they had forged over five years performing Gat’s shorter, Bessie-award winning duet “Winter Voyage”, his breakthrough piece from 2004. At this point, their partnership looks forged in steel. Each moves with an almost abrasive independence – until they turn and face one another, or move into perfect parallel moves, or one carries the other in a powerful squat, one body molded on top of the other. The opening sounds were urban grit;  later, the pounding tune and lyric of city energy in “A Day in the Life” drove the two dancers into partnered movement in which they becameeach other’s gravity. As they moved across the floor, arms intertwined like swing dancers, the momentum of one drew and dragged the motion of the other. Long sequences of movement across the stage on their knees changed the pace, as the score moved into a haunting Egyptian melody played on the oud and sung by Riad al Sunbati. By the final segment, set to Strauss lieder, the movement of the dancers was eerie in its parallels; their strides were identical; their hops, slitherings, and twirls occurred with striking exactness and precision. It was a relief when, in their final bows, their timing and the depth of each bend was finally slightly different between the two.

The lighting, also designed by Gat, created the overall sense of space and boundary in these works. In “Winter Variations”, the two dancers stood side by side, small on the broad deep stage, strapped into the space by a series of cross-hatched lines of light that created smaller dance platforms and shadows to weave among. Over the course of the 50 minute piece, the stage shrank and the dancers grew. In a clever visual trick of the final segment, the stage was horizontally cut into a half of darkness and a half of light, allowing each dancer to start a solo, just barely dancing alone, only to have his partner emerge from the blackness and reconnect. They were no longer just a pair of dancers on this enormous stage. They filled the stage with their movement, bodies in space and relationship, forming a multitude."

Martha Sherman / DanceViewTimes


"...Winter Variations is a triumphant and ever-evolving duet created and performed by Gat and Roy Assaf. Dressed in drab tees and dark pants and shoes, the two men mesmerize with the sheer fluidity and authenticity of their movements. Through dramatic changes in mood, lighting and music, a choreographic language gradually emerges—one that takes the audience on a journey into the facets and possibilities of their relationship to one another. Whether it’s literal or figurative doesn’t matter here. Neither does a clear narrative thread. It’s body over brain, yet their foreheads join for an instant in a sort of mind meld. Corporeal expressions range from quivers and gestures (especially ones about the head and face), to quirky ballroom-inspired social partner dancing with a twist. Their seamless connectivity and spatial relationships maintained impressive telepathic qualities regardless of their relative proximity or distance on the expansive stage. What I found most breathtaking were the synchronized dance sequences. Now and again, Gat and Assaf launch into rhapsodic episodes of perfect unison: taps, hops, jumps, turns and steps that would have impressed Fred and Ginger. The soft patter of their feet was satisfying, real. Other passages spent “walking” on their knees lent an eerie, primeval quality, particularly in the shadowy lighting upstage that obscures their legs in limbo. Animal-like grace was also summoned: one moment, they were feline; another instant, avian; now, serpentine. In short, Winter Variations showcases Gat and Assaf’s movement virtuosity. It was a pleasure to watch such pure, unadulterated kinesthetic skill and presence."

Julie Mullins / Citybeat .com


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