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Flash Review 1, 10-3: Judson Redux
De Keersmaeker Goes Post Post-Modern at 20

By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2001 Rosa Mei

(Editor's Note: In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rosas company, The Dance Insider is providing a month of unprecedented coverage of Rosas the company, De Keersmaeker the performer, the Rosas school P.A.R.T.S., and performances by alumni of ROSAS. This and the story below are our second and third reports, which will span performances in four countries.)

BRUSSELS -- A double anniversary. 20 years after she founded Rosas and 10 years after it became resident company at La Monnaie, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has great cause for celebration. Rosas's 20th season opened last month with performances of four recent pieces -- "Just Before" (1997), "Quartett" (1998), "I Said I" (1999) and "In Real Time" (2000) -- which compose a cycle in which text plays a pivotal part along with dance and music. This past week, in viewing "Just Before" at the Kaaitheater and "I Said I" at the Rosas Performance Space, I saw the work of an artist fascinated by process, not product, someone whose work resonates with the iconoclastic attitudes of the Judson era avant-garde of the 60s and 70s. De Keersmaeker's modus operandi? Ask a question. Examine. Investigate. Ask another question.... Performances in the form of a Happening, a three-hour marathon not necessarily made for our viewing pleasure. But is it intriguing? Absolutely.

"Just Before" dives into the world of relationships, landscapes, objects, people and events. After milling about the stage for a while, tables and chairs arranged just so (we could be looking at a coffee house, bar, restaurant or a really ritzy community center), the dancers line up across the stage and stare directly at the audience. One breaks into speech and squiggly improv, "The landscape is in New Zealand. The object is a teapot, and the person is a man." Another begins, "The landscape is Southwest Germany. The object is a table. The person a working man." Tokyo, Rotterdam, Andalucia.... a ring, three photos, a guitar.... young Spanish woman, man, young Oriental woman. And we see buckling isolations of the torso, nervous twitching, swishy hips, developpe here, pencil turn there. Virtuostic improv, the movement equivalent of jazz rifts. Martin Kilvady lifts Rosalba Torres as she tells a story and treads imaginary water, intermittently finishing her sentences for her. The dancers, all loose and well-hinged at the joints, carve clear shapes with their limbs leaving trails in space. Points of demarcation, points of conversation.

The second half of "Just Before" has the dancers baring their souls, quite literally, while stripping down to their skivvies. The meticulous anecdotes give way to pontification. "This is a puzzle....physical, emotional, metaphysical, promotional." Between the babble, the dancers skip in unison, then in canon while Roberto Olivan de la Iglesia (who gets an A for Adrenaline) goes on a rampage throwing chairs from the stage, chasing Marta Coronado around the theater into the audience and attacking her, and tumbling and pouncing on the floor like a caged animal. Another dancer mocks his hairiness. Along the way, we notice the subtle shift of color in the costumes, from black to navy to cobalt blue. We notice stilettos changing to sneakers changing to bare feet. De Keersmaeker seems to give the dancers free reign then brushes her piece with a fine tooth comb. Dots of glue here. Other parts just hang au naturel.

"I Said I" traces "an unbending itinerary that leads to conformism and integration into the collective." (And you thought Forsythe had inscrutable program notes....) Staged at the Rosas Performance Space, "I Said I" has the same big, raw feel of the warehouse space it's performed in. Oversized wooden pallets, mounds of army blankets, tons of plastic buckets all of different shapes, sizes and colors. A woman pretends to defecate in one bucket half-way through the piece. But I digress....

The text of "I Said I" is based on Peter Handke's 1966 litany of self-accusation of the same name. Widely regarded as the most important postmodern writer since Beckett, Handke also wrote the screenplay for Wim Wenders's "Wings of Desire." It's dense stuff, not made for casual listening. "What deeds of time did I violate? Which laws of the underworld did I violate? Which laws of the theater did I violate" and "I did. I failed to do. I let do. I spat against the world. I call monotony oppressive." And so on and so forth, all lines pretty much delivered at a breakneck pace, full volume, non-stop for two and a half hours. The path from birth to adulthood demarkated along the way, DJ Grazzhoppa and Fabrizio Cassol (aka Moon) periodically interjecting funky house rhythms. I said this. I did that. What did I, who did I, why did I? I, I, I, I, I, I, I....hated it. I mean, talk about Chinese water torture (this coming from a Chinese woman). I personally couldn't wait for the haranging to stop. Towards the end of the piece, a dancer screams, among other things, "I failed to find the moment to stop!" Ain't that the truth....

But do I have a valid complaint? My pleasurable viewing of "Just Before" on one night (loved the anecdotes, loved the dancing) gave way to a migraine after "I Said I," yet in a sense both pieces spring from the same source. Rewind 40 years to Robert Dunn's composition class at the Cunningham studio. Trisha Brown, in particular, valued Dunn's emphasis on the invention of forms, his use of nonevaluative criticism. She said, "This procedure illuminated the interworkings of the dances and minimized value judgements of the choreographer, which for me meant permission, permission to go ahead and do what I wanted to do or had to do -- to try out an idea of borderline acceptability." De Keersmaeker appears to be the heir apparent to this post-modern Judson tradition. Kudos to Anne Teresa. And Happy Anniversary....

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