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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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