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Originally published Friday, April 4, 2014 at 12:49 PM

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Ballet Genève taps deep into the structure of Bach’s ‘Clavier’

Switzerland’s Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève taps deep into the structure of J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” in their staging of Emanuel Gat’s “Preludes et fugues.” Additional performances April 4 and 5, 2014.

Seattle Times arts writer

Dance review

Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève

8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 4-5, Meany Hall, University of Washington, Seattle; $39-$44 (206-543-4880 or

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Human whirligigs and the many-stranded fugues of J.S. Bach play games of call-and-answer and of reflect-and-deflect in Emanuel Gat’s “Preludes et fugues,” a finely spun meditation on pattern and rhythm in both music and dance.

Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, making itr Seattle debut, are presenting this hourlong work by the French-Israeli choreographer as the sole item on their program. It’s intricately woven, offering pure dance pleasures of an agile, elastic, velocity-filled variety.

Gat, in his comments on the piece, declares, “I believe dance holds [many] of the qualities associated with music, particularly its nonverbal ones. The same way the art of music relates to our deepest selves through abstract sound structures, dance bares the capacity to convey substance through movement and ever-changing structures.”

Inspired by Bach’s music, “Preludes et fugues” delights in the dynamic geometries on limbs in motion — preferably 12 or 16 or 24 limbs at a time, as trios turn into quartets, then evolve into sextets, before reverting back to trios.

It’s rare that the dancers actually touch. Yet they make intimate use of the space between them, as if steered by some tight magnetic field. Rippling rearrangements of the entire 20-strong ensemble alternate with erratic dis-arrangements, with one dancer triggering half a dozen others out of groupthink mode, followed by the whole troupe.

What’s curious, in the dovetailing of the movement with the music, is the way that even when the music stops (as happens several times in the show), the dance seems soundlessly to continue it.

While this is very much an ensemble work, there are some standout performers. Nathanaël Marie’s leaping, gliding gymnastic flair is a treat; he has a real way of speaking with every part of the body. Louise Bille and Vladimir Ippolitov raise the intensity with some actual hands-on, airborne partnering. Paul Girard and Daniela Zaghini bring flirty wit to their pairing, especially Gerard who throws all sorts of stage business into his limelight moment: vaudeville-flavored pattering and quick steps.

Gat closes his reflection on Bach’s music by distilling it to its essence in a solo for Sara Shigenari. Forming her limbs and body into slow shapes, akin to certain butoh gestures, she finds both a rigor and a serenity in simple movements that end the piece on an exquisite note.

The score, selected from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” was played live by Brooks Tran, a doctoral student at the University of Washington School of Music. Meany director Michelle Witt is an ardent advocate of matching local music talent with visiting dance troupes, and having live accompaniment for “Preludes et fugues” was a first for the troupe.

It would be nice to say it went impeccably, but there were some stutters in Tran’s keyboard performance that surely didn’t belong there. Still, they took little away from the enveloping patterns of Gat’s piece and the fluid panache of its performers.

Michael Upchurch:

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