Dublin Dance Festival 2017: Sunny
Choreographic Dice Rolls
Like countless others, Marvin Gaye recorded a version of the classic hit Sunny, but it was never actually his song, even if the programme notes to “Sunny” by Emanuel Gat and Awir Leon indicate otherwise. That honour belonged to Bobby Hebb, whose hugely successful, 1966 original is still considered by many as the standard bearer. Adding his name to a lengthy list of Sunny cover artists is French electronic composer, Awir Leon, who, along with Israeli choreographer, Emanuel Gat, uses Marvin Gaye’s version of Sunny as a jumping off point for mixing live concert with choreographic explorations. Not that you’d notice the link to Gaye given that Leon’s Sunny seems to better reference other versions, including Hebb’s original. Luckily, Sunny is only a jumping off point from which “Sunny” quickly swims well clear, striking out into some interesting, uncharted choreographic waters at times, in response to a less interesting, well charted electronic concert.
There’s a suggestion of something tribal and ritualistic as “Sunny’s” nine dancers enter, dressed in bathing suits, whilst a tenth stalks the stage looking like a witch-doctor. Soon the tribe all gather around the spot-lit, keyboard campfire that is Leon, who plays the opening track Sunny, with some individual dancers momentarily breaking away to perform short sequences overflowing with a rich gestural vocabulary. In what follows, Leon moves from song to song as if playing his solid, if not outstanding, greatest hits and latest bits whilst dancers engage in a choreographic conversation with the beats. Throughout, short sequences emerge in bursts, with dancers offering snapshots or pulses of movement, some repeating, like signatures, others seeming to free flow. Seeming being the operative word for, like jazz musicians improvising, nothing here is left to chance. Yet if it all flows constantly, and crafts some stunning moments at times, it’s not consistently as interesting as it might have been.
With "Sunny" being developed in collaboration with dancers Annie Hanauer, Anastasia Ivanova, Pansun Kim, Michael Löhr, Geneviève Osborne, Milena Twiehaus, Tom Weinberger, Sara Wilhelmsson, Ashley Wright and Daniela Zaghini, collaboration and individual randomness seem to be key features of Gat’s choreography. Indeed, individuality seems to be the glue Gat hopes brings “Sunny” together. And it does, sometimes, and sometimes beautifully. But not consistently, and not often enough. Indeed, what’s emerges is a sort of choreographic kaleidoscope, a sometimes complex, sometimes simple interplay of varying and contrasting individual sequences. Group motion and movement, the ebb and flow of choreographic energy about the space, seems to be another hallmark of Gat’s choreography, and again it’s a little hit and miss here. At its best, movement displays a clean flow of energy and an engaging interplay between visual ideas resulting in an almost psychedelic sense of patterns in movement. At worse, it looks like a practice floor exercise for learning to move as a group about the space. The end result is akin to listening to an album containing some songs you like, others you can live without, and others you thoroughly enjoy.
“Sunny” is not a production for everyone. Those who like their choreography with a high degree of individual expression and randomness might find more to enjoy here. Those who prefer less a sense of the haphazard and random might feel “Sunny” is the choreographic, and musical, equivalent of rolling dice. If always unpredictable, and sometimes striking to behold, other times it just doesn't land on the right number. Each roll is new, and you're never quite sure just what you’re going to get. The house usually wins. You might get cleaned out. Or, maybe, if gambling and randomness are your thing, you just might get lucky.
“Sunny” by Emanuel Gat and Awir Leon, runs at The Abbey Theatre until May 23rd as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2017