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Flash Review 1, 9-21: The Sum of P.A.R.T.S.
De Keersmaeker (and Charges) Storm the Bastllle

(Editor's note: With this review, The Dance Insider Online commences a month of international coverage of performances by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the school, P.A.R.T.S., she co-founded with the Belgian National Opera De Munt/La Monnaie, her company, Rosas, and Rosas alumni. We will be reviewing seasons and performances in Brussels, Paris, Toronto, and New York.)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- No artist I've ever seen transports me like Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. I was reminded of this fact last night when, summoning myself out of the sick-bed, I struggled onto the Metro to the Theatre de la Bastille, which was definitely stormed by De Keersmaeker in the opening night of P.A.R.T.S. a Paris, and left the theater dancing in the streets.

Even when your whole world seems to be imploding, when they've quarantined your old NYC neighborhood, when the Paris you remember is starting to look like your old NYC neighborhood because they have bolted the garbage cans to prevent bombs being placed in them, when you have been besieged by a dire cold and lump in your throat the last three days because in a brief Manhattan-inspired respite of euphoria you threw open the French windows to inhale the night air and behold the Eiffel and took cold immediately (either that or some virus floated over from the next-door Pasteur Institute), when you feel hot and sweaty and gross because, sick as you are, your press release on the De Keersmaeker coverage took twice as long to write, and by the time you'd spilled the coffee all over your subletted apartment as you reached for the Metro plan, and cleaned it up, there is no time to clean yourself up from the stench of someone sick in his room for three days, when you've, in an attempt to make the most of your malady, courted melancholy by playing the Kronos Quartet recording of Philip Glass for three days, when Mr. Big Shot NYC critic arrives at the theater and is told the reserved seats are not for him so you pop yourself down in the second row, when the woman to your left takes her bored self to a worse seat after the intermission because she can't take your stench, and the woman to your right keeps giving you the evil eye because of your coughing, when at the after-party you daren't shake the star's hand because you don't want to give her the virus, but you dare-do eat all the fatty French things so that the lump in your throat which had been shrinking has re-enlarged, even when you have to be out of your present digs by October 1 and still haven't found an apartment -- even when, in short, your immediate conditions if not your life seem to be tenuous -- even then, Mr. Old Timer, when you leave a concert where the force of nature known as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has seized control of the theater, you can't help doing something dance rarely inspires you to do any more, and dance down the street towards Metro Bastille in all your sordid NYC hobo regalia.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, paired with former Ballet Frankfurt principal Elizabeth Corbett, was the star attraction at the Theatre de la Bastille last night for the opening of P.A.R.T.S. a Paris, a five-week, fifteen-program extravaganza of the best that the dancers and choreographers of De Keersmaeker's Brussels-based Performing Arts Research Laboratories and Training Studios have to offer.

As dancers go, you can't get much better then the tyro also known as De Keersmaeker, whirling and twirling her way across and around a stage, the question not being will she catch the light but will the light catch her. But the 'kids' (most are about 20) were pretty all right too, a vivid manifestation of what can happen when young people are actually given serious and prolonged study in composition.

"For," developed from part of an evening of solos created for Corbett, is a thirteen-minute tour de whirlwind for two dancers theoretically from different schools, the classical ballet and modern. Theoretical because you can't get much more modern than William Forsythe, Corbett's director at the Ballet Frankfurt and her stylistic mentor, and the things that De Keersmaeker can do with her compact body have the pinpoint intention and virtuosity and even footwork more typically associated with ballet.

Her presentation, too, sets her apart in disposition from much of what we see today in post-modern dance expression. She is puckish as opposed to ironic and awake as opposed to nonchalant, casting furtive mischievous glances at her partner rather than staring blankly ahead of her. She even flirts with the audience with a flick of her skirt or a toss of the gauzy black blouse she wears over her black shorts, halter top, and, of course, those black sneakers which were seen on more than one emulator in the house last night.

But mostly you watch her like a moth that flitters about, only with a pattern and instead of being drawn to the fire, she embodies the fire. For example, even though theoretically Corbett was the ballet dancer, De Keersmaeker rose again and again and danced and balanced on the balls of those sneakers, often arching her back as well as her ankles. Set off by a white marley and white screen covering the rear wall, as well as Corbett's white outfit, in her sheer innocent aspect, and in maneuvers that are at the same time abandoned and finely etched, and notwithstanding the originality of her phrases, as a performer De Keersmaeker reminds of a (clever) child at play, playing a game of catch me if you can.

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm a devotee, and my chances being so rare to actually marvel at De Keersmaeker herself at work as a dancer, I found it hard to avert my eyes elsewhere -- a statement more about my imcompleteness and selfishness as a reviewer and audient than Corbett. But, she, too, played at crossover. That signature Forsythe upside down V was not over-exploited, and I liked the way she, releasey-like, slapped her butt and reacted with the rest of her body. As a presence, notwithstanding my own De Keersmaeker idolatry, she held her own wtih ATDK, meeting her eye to eye, letting her work, but also content to carry on her own work, her poise unfased by the energizer bunny whirling around her. If anything I think her job was harder; ATDK was working in her element, and Corbett was playing someone else's game -- and well: When they raced to the stage-right to end the piece, it was an even tie.

The rest of the concert was, well, uneven. Speaking from a critical perspective, here's what I saw:

When the task was simple, it was the most successful. Typically this meant starting with a recognizable post-modern dance scheme or exersize, and then just when you thought it was nothing new, sticking something new into it. For Johan Thelander & Eizaveta Penkova, the newness was in the frank way they regarded each other in their jointly choreographed "At This Point," in small gestures like her sweeping her hand over her hair in an admission that she may be a little winded (and thus was human, as also in the occasional smile she indulged her partner with.) It was also there in the final frieze, a simple tableau that had them standing at angles to each other. I was however perplexed by the operatic score; I didn't see how it related at all to the movement.

For Ulrike Reinbott, the quirks were both musical and motional. The score was muffled, as if coming from a radio playing downstairs in that old beachfront hotel in Waikiki sometime during the fifties. (I eventually recognized it as what might have then been called hula music.) Then there was a little flounce Reinbott, both choreographer and interpreter of "Silent Dialogue," introduced about halfway through the four-minute dance. This dancer set herself a task and achieved it, also making it worth watching.

Speaking of flouncing, after a promising start, Clair Croize's ambitious "Donne-moi quelque chose qui ne meure pas" swan-dived into the unfocused, everything but the kitchen sink, rampant emotions all over the map and worn incredulously on their sleeves exercises which unfortunately are to frequent from young choreographers whose imagination is bigger than their choreographic palette. There was a mixed reaction to the technical preamble, in which three or four crew members slowly lowered five bars from the rafters to the floor, whereaupon one unravelled long chords at the end of which were strung naked lightbulbs. Then they gradually elevated each bar so that the bulbs dangled all over the stage. Being a veteran of such spaces as Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church and The Kitchen, where the ace designers make the lighting another cast member, I kind of enjoyed this. The woman at my right however started shaking and then hung her head.

I liked the actual dance beginning of the piece too, which saw five soaking women in skirts arrayed, their backs turned to us, behind one similarly dripping man, right in our face. He appeared to be struggling to say something, finally giving up more or less and deciding instead to wring out his shirt. The women followed, doing the same to their skirts and blouses. Then there was a sort of mermaids floundering and flouncing on the Marley ballet, which reminded me of what it must have been like when our ancestors first flopped out of the ocean. It's not the first time I've been reminded of this, but never on such determined vehicles. Plus I loved the soundtrack, which was simply the sound of all that squishing and squirming. I would have been content and even impressed if it stopped here, but then there was a stray giggle, more, and, egad, we got your sexy vamping (guy shows his muscles, women fondle their breasts and put a finger to their lips), we got your guy clutches and tosses around blank-faced woman, we got your shouting angrily at -- what can you be so mad at, you're 20 years old??! -- and the whole piece deteriorated before my eyes into a juvenile exercise I was hardly expecting from the high-minded P.A.R.T.S.

The evening and the school's reputation was, fortunately, redeemed by Magda Reiter's duet for her and Katarzyna Chmielewska, another tyro. At the appearance of a mic on stand at the beginning I was getting ready to hang my head with my neighbor, but, surprisingly -- considering De Keersmaeker's own liberal use of text -- text was utilized here sparingly and always with clear dramatic intent and choreographic utility. "But we must have covered several times the equivalent of the terrestial equater," a voice intones towards the beginning of "All These Apropos," and it's when they're on the floor, connecting sideways-like to Twister-like instructions, that this pair and what Reiter has devised for them is most interesting -- again, a break from what the piece looked like at first, another semi-competition between two women partners. In the simplicity of its scope, Reiter's piece -- 25 minutes long -- was probably, not counting De Keersmaeker's, the most successful of the evening. She bit off a lot, and gave herself a lot of time to say it, but did so, articulately and with some images and combinations I hadn't seen before.

At the conclusion of of Reiter's dance, there was a line about ejaculation -- something about not having enough of a sample to form an opinion. It was an appropriate segue to the next piece, Tom Plischke's dancing of his "Fleur," in which Plischke literally bepissed himself -- causing no small anxiety among this second-row De Keersmaeker devotee, aware that she would be traipsing on that stage next. (In the event, the stagehands not only cleaned it up, but plastered the white Marley on top of it.)

I say literally because I'm pretty sure that the fluid dripping out over the floor, and the splotch on his pants, was not faked; by this point we already knew that he was wearing no underwear in which to hide say a water balloon, as Plischke had performed a matter of fact naked waltz, after (clothed) dropping into the audience and giving the man in the row behind me a rose and a pen-light, the sole illumination of Plischke's nature dance.

This waltz with an invisible partner, during which the soloist nodded his head rhythmically and dipped his back as he guided the partner up and down the stage, was compelling, as was most of the rest of Plischke's choreography. But sitting here the morning after, I think it may have been simply that it was more sophisticated than what proceeded it in the variety of gestures: in Plischke's ability to carry out several isolations at once, in his wending, almost cerebral palsy-like, his body against the space (and we hadn't yet seen much space-carving). (Plischke is a bit older and more seasoned than his comrades.) As well, he has the build, close-cropped hair, charisma and obvious enjoyment of doing weird things with his limbs of Baryshnikov. I am not so sure that in a less riveting interpreter, the choreography would have held my attention so well. Regarding the nudity and the bepissing, it may have had something to do with expressing a vulnerability, but that theme wasn't expressed clearly enough to warrant these particular choices.

Now then, speaking of choreography holding my attention well. When I've previously reviewed school concerts -- mostly the Pluck Project, graduating seniors and juniors from the North Carolina School of the Arts -- after I've reviewed the concert as a concert, thinking that the kids wanted to be critiqued as grown-ups, I inevitably get an e-mail from a "friend" of the performers complaining that the idiot who reviewed the concert doesn't know what he's talking about, he doesn't know college dance, and besides all her friends liked it. So I am going to try, anyway, to imagine how a college dance teacher might have evaluated this concert.

In this regard, I would say the opening night of P.A.R.T.S. a Paris reveals a school which has an infinite regard for the choreographic potential of its students. We are not talking about one evening of five-minute pieces. These students, and their teachers, have prepared 15 different evening-length programs. (The one I saw last night repeats tonight and tomorrow; for details and info on the rest, please visit the Festival d'Automne web site.) And from the literature I picked up, I don't think this is unique to this year; says here that the fourth year at P.A.R.T.S. includes five weeks of international touring. So the kids are given elbow room -- both in terms of length and latitude. As a process-oriented enterprise, therefore, judging just from what I saw last night, P.A.R.T.S. scores a ten. That process is also distinguished by its evidently not being geared to just turn out mini-De Keersmaekers. It is clear that P.A.R.T.S. is serious about the "research." After wide instruction in their first two years, the students choose either a choreographic or dance path for the final two. Teachers and choreographers have included, in addition to De Keersmaeker and her dancers, Lance Gries, Chrysa Parkinson, K.J. Holmes, Wil Swanson, Jonathan Burroughs, Meg Stuart, Lynda Gaudreau, and Corbett. What I saw and sensed last night at the Theater de la Bastille is these students are given a deep and varied chest of tools, and then allowed to find their own voice. The evidence so far is that that voice deserves to be listened to, whether you're a critic, pedagogue, dance fan, art fan, or just a friend.

Kudos to the Theatre de la Bastille for turning its facilities over to P.A.R.T.S., and to co-producer the Festival d''Automne a Paris.

 

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