10000 Gestures begins like any journey – with a single step. One dancer takes the stage, running through movements with an air of improvisation so convincing, so dancing-in-my-bedroom or experimenting-in-front-of-the-bathroom-mirror that our presence as an audience verges on feeling intrusive. Her body work is accompanied by vocalisations – humming, groaning, shouting. Some phrases (French) are discernible, pronounced decisively as though joining in with bits of a song she knows while skipping others: the effect is only to compound the aura of private performance to which we ought not be privy. It’s surprisingly tense; some people laugh. Partly, this is to break the strain – but it’s also because bits of the performer’s routine are funny. After all, if you had to come up with ten thousand gestures, none of them repeated, you’d have to cover the comic as much as the profound. The risible, along with the tragic. Undignified wiggling; wrists lolling; face down on the ground, jerking earnestly. At one point, the dancer puts her fingertips on the skin above her breast to make it jiggle, narrating with a speedy little voice as though ventriloquising it.
Here comes the cavalry. 23 more bodies bound onto the stage, each launching into their own feverish string of gestures – moving like they’ll never be permitted movement again should they stop, it makes me think of medieval dancing plagues. In 1518, one woman swaying in a Strasbourg street set off an epidemic of compulsive dancing which saw hundreds of Alsace locals jigging for days on end. Plenty of them met their end, keeling over from strokes, dehydration or exhaustion. I know that’s a sad story, but it’s one of my favourites – there must be worse ways to die than dancing yourself to it, and the hysterical harnessing of mass death drives in a sleepy medieval town is just one episode that proves how unaccountable human behaviour can be. There’s something of that mania about Charmatz’s dancers, each completely absorbed by their own frenetic pull to move and drawing on the energy of their fellow performers at once. Separate, and together. Utterly alone, and inherently interdependent – hey, it’s not a bad metaphor for life. Dance now, because tomorrow may never come.