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Flash Review 1, 4-9: (but if a look should) Confuse me
De Keersmaeker's Spin on Stravinsky
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2002 Rosa Mei
(Editor's Note: The following Flash is part of The Dance Insider's
extensive, year-long coverage of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, whose
company Rosas celebrated its 20th anniversary March 18. To read more
of our coverage, please enter "De Keersmaeker," "Rosas," or "PARTS"
in the search engine window on our Home page.)
BRUSSELS -- No one could ever accuse Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker of being
short on ideas. She's an incredibly prolific avant garde
choreographer, a maker of
experimental dance. And, as experiments go, sometimes De
Keersmaeker's succeed, and other times. . . well, you get a leaky
tube and the results just don't
quite add up. Such is the case with De Keersmaeker's new creation "(but
if a look should) April me," which premiered this past week at La
Monnaie on her company, Rosas. The piece, its title taken from line
in an e.e. cummings poem, careens and lurches through rough territory
and strange, far away lands -- Russia, India, Pakistan -- with
Stravinsky's "Les Noces" as a thematic
anchor. There are also echoes of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" ("April is
the cruelest month..."). Unfortunately, it's not really borscht or
mulligatawny, or pea soup for that matter, but some weird conglomerate
that just does not work.
To be fair, "Les Noces" is De Keersmaeker's first ballet. People tend to
know her for her minimalist, mathematical pieces to Reich ("Rain,"
"Drumming," "Fase") or her dense, text-driven works ("In Real Time," "I
Said I" and "Just Before"). And though Stravinsky's masterpiece is
ostensibly the cornerstone of her new work, which begins with a
lavish celebration for a shotgun wedding, "Noces" eventually becomes just
another element in an obtuse, rather haphazardly strung-together piece.
Stravinsky and the kitchen sink.
Nonetheless, "April me" begins promisingly with some breathtaking
imagery. Bright azure boards are randomly strewn across the stage, stage
shafts lowered to create hurdles for the dancers and a diminished site
line. A ragtag wedding procession parades across the stage with big bouquets of
flowers, a surfboard, an automatic washing machine. . . . Meanwhile, we hear
the rich, deep gutteral voices of the Pokrovsky Ensemble crooning in the
background. A cossack jig and later the Indian music begins. Enter male
dancer for Kathak inflected solo: low lunges, ornamental arms and hand
gestures. Between the ethnic-ish sections, we have other dancers
randomly appearing a la Cunningham and channeling body parts a la Trisha
Brown; loose-limbed movement driven by bone logic, more or less De
Keersmaeker's signature style, though the phrases seem to lack the
improvised squiggles that make Brown's work so beguiling.
The first half of "April me" ends with the bare-chested dancers moving
in flocks, clearing the stage, and creating space in which to prance about
more freely. The movement is light and flouncy, loose arms and well-oiled hip
sockets. Then there's a quick switch to a martial section with lots
of running in circles and smooth, continuous aikido shoulder rolls to
the ground. As the groom, Jakub Truszkowski, a cheetah/human hybrid,
tumbles effortlessly and pounces with fierce intent, the folks gather
to cavort and tumble and tumble and tumble. Then part one just kind
of peters out with a contact improv male duet where the two men exit
looking confused and, after some awkward silence, a group of
semi-naked women holding pink dresses wadded up in their arms wanders
onstage and leaves abruptly. Lights out. The audience wonders
whether or not to applaud.
For part two, it's back to "Les Noces." The women have changed into
fuchsia formal wear and the men into black tuxes, without ties.
"Noces" was Diaghilev's favorite Stravinsky ballet, and many
choreographers, from Michael Smuin to Jiri Kylian, have been inspired
to reshape the original Ballet Russe creation. De Keersmaeker opts
for corny musical visualization: Jumps on all the highnotes and
screeches in the music, hand flutters during the vocal trills. It's
not Slavic folk dancing, nor is it a radical modern interpretation.
Somehow her dance vocabulary never quite meshes with the gritty,
powerful vocals. What could be seen as a tongue-in-cheek approach
just comes across as goofy and confused. By the end of part two,
we've lost "Les Noces" and switched to dissonance a la John Cage. The
dancers make a mess of the stage again, tossing blue boards here and
there and ripping off their clothes rather randomly. There's a lot of
scampering, Taka Shamoto dangling from a harness and the groom
sitting upstage watching TV.
It could all be profound. And I suppose I could spend a few more pages
trying to justify and analyze the intractable material. Fact is, there
are so many promising elements to "April me" -- including great
music, brilliant performers, and stunning set. And so many ideas. Too
many, in fact, to process in one evening, in one piece. I end up
thinking less e.e. cummings and more Robert Burns's "To a Mouse":
"The best-laid plans o' mice an' men/Gang aft a-gley/An' lea'e us
nought but grief an' pain /For promised joy."
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