featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 2, 5-23: Our Lady of the Rosas
Paris Fetes De Keersmaeker & Co. at 20

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

(Editor's Note: With this Flash Review, the Dance Insider concludes a year-long celebration of the 20th anniversary of Anne De Keersmaeker's company Rosas, of De Keersmaeker's school PARTS, and of De Keersmaeker as performer. Following Tuesday's performance at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, the choreographer, dancer, and teacher was awarded the prestigious Grande Medaille de vermeil de la ville de Paris. To read our other stories, please enter "De Keersmaeker," "Rosas," or "PARTS" in the search engine window at the left of our Home page.)

PARIS -- One of the frustrating ways in which France manifests its peculiar brand of insecure chauvinism is by making it impossible to find another country's premium products here. Oh sure, all the store-bought coffees have Italian sounding names, but the results are tepidly French. (Why do you think I had to go all the way to San Francisco for the strong Italian brew I'm drinking now!?) You can buy beer that SOUNDS German, but it's Budweiser compared to the real stuff our Berlin correspondent brought over here in March. And speaking of beer, you'll have a much easier time finding that trappist Chimnay stuff in Greenwich Village than here in Paris, which is only 90 minutes away from Brussels. In my local grocery, it's strictly Stella. Blech. Fortunately, when it comes to dance, French presenters import only the good stuff from Belgium, and that means just about everyone named Jan and one Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, whose company Rosas brings a year of 20th anniversary celebrations to a close with three programs at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt this month.

Now, I chose that way to begin my review of the second of three Rosas programs being presented here, a 'soiree repertoire' which opened Tuesday, to impress upon you that modern dance in Belgium is in some ways so many leagues ahead of that in France that even the insecure chauvinistic French can't ignore it. While there are talented choreographers working here, they exist by virtue of sheer talent and drive, as, for modern dance anyway, the French just don't offer -- that widely, anyway -- the educational and funding infrastructure to modern that they do to ballet. Companies do receive public funds, but there's not the non-profit tax break structure to allow young companies not in the system to get started. And in terms of education, forget it. In the Paris area -- I'll be corrected on this if I'm wrong -- there's exactly one university with a serious dance department, and Graham technique is not really taught anywhere, except by the occasional visiting artist from New York.

By contrast, from Belgium we have the lavishly funded (by, among others, Flanders taxpayers and a national lottery) Rosas and its school, PARTS, where everything from Trisha Brown to William Forsythe is taught, by an international faculty, over a four-year course of study.

If France, or at least Paris, is lacking in modern dance when it comes to pedagogy at the university level, presenting is another story. We're talking now -- or we will be eventually, hang on dance insider! -- about the Theatre de la Ville's substantial tribute to Rosas, which began with De Keersmaeker's newest work "(but if a look should) April Me" last week, and concludes next week with the return of the 2001 "Rain." But if this program, and De Keersmaeker's 18-year relationship with Theatre de la Ville, owes its presence to the visionary leadership of theatre director Gerard Violette, the celebration actually begin in October. That's when the Festival d'Automne and the Theatre de la Bastille, under the vision of dance programmer Jean-Marc Adolphe, organized a month-long series of performances by PARTS students and faculty, kicked off by an evening featuring ATDK herself in a duet opposite Elizabeth Corbett.

De Keersmaeker the performer also gets the current soiree repertoire going, with an excerpt of her seminal "Violin Phase," set to Steve Reich and first presented in April 1981 in New York, as part of Dance Theater Workshop's Fresh Tracks series. DTW director David White likes to recount how in that year's Fresh Tracks auditions, where the judges witnessed several dances to Reich, before she began, De Keersmaeker, then a student at New York University, warned them, "And don't give me any shit about using Steve Reich." (I paraphrase.)

Well, if they ever were, they certainly aren't giving De Keersmaeker merde anymore. Tuesday's performance began with the patented ATDK circle of light (designed by Remon Fromont), slowly coming up center-stage so that a solitary dancer is only barely visible in the silhouette of a silhouette at the upstage ridge of the circle, as the strident chords begin their repetitive procession. She knows how to tease us still, this De Keersmaeker! Time is taken, until gradually we see the swirl of a long-gray dress, a swinging mane longer than the usual bob, and then those arms, swinging, swinging. Even at what must be (doing the math) about 40 years of age, De Keersmaeker -- and here she gets to a kernel of dance that many have lost track of -- still evokes the girl gavotting on the playground. She is more distracted than abstract -- distracted not in the sense of unfocused, but by dint of being in her own world. She swings and swings, pivots and pivots, for a long time, letting those arms lead the rest of her body, before introducing spare gestures. Suddenly she twirls, for a moment she stands on black-sneakered pointe, arms stretched to the heavens; she slaps the ground like an old reliable friend and then slaps her dress up and flashes white shorts or panties underneath. She is flirting with us less this time around.

In watching this piece -- and the thought is not original to me -- as in watching Buffy Miller dance to Eliot Feld's choreography for another Reich composition -- I am reminded of how very much dance can bring to music. By itself, the music is more than repetitive -- it's annoying and even computeristic -- but the dancer reveals how it's not just an exercise but a way to steadily steadily burrow into the soul. And here the dancer breaks through, De Keersmaeker finishing with a sudden rush to the downstage center ridge of the circle's periphery, head jerked up and arrested.

Speaking of arrested, I wish I could stop my review here because while the performer's mesmerizing powers have (hopefully) allowed me to transcend my critical limitations in responding to De Keersmaeker's solo, in trying to evaluate the group works which followed, I'm basically up merde's creek without a handle. But not being able, yet, to channel Siegel or Jowitt, I'll do my best, because the juxtaposition of her works for other dancers with that performed on her own body raises at least one interesting question.

Ironically, the two strongest pieces in the repertory evening, after De Keersmaeker's solo, were those which travelled furthest from the vocabulary indicated in 'Phase.' I only know how to begin to describe "The Lisbon Piece," created in 1998 on the National Ballet Company of Portugal, and imported to Paris on killer young dancers from that company. Corbett, an early dancer for William Forsythe, assisted on the work, but if there's Forsythe influence here it's strictly in the ferocity of the dancers' attack -- particularly that of Isabel Galrica -- and in the way they hover dangerously, mincingly on pointe. There are also brief openings of windows to battle-of-the-sexes, world-series-of-love stories. A woman enters and strides right up to a still-standing man on the periphery, before turning to go to center-stage and do her solo thing; the mophead Xavier Carmo decisively rips off his shirt before whipping across the stage, legs splayed, facing us. The dance concludes with Galrica winsomely picking up an errant shirt and then fleeing offstage as a guy gets up to chase her. Music by Thierry De Mey and Eric Sleichim is appropriately percussive, reminding us that these are Latin dancers who can jut hips as well as melt torsos and flex ankles. And yet, thrilled as I was in the moment, I feel I should also pass on to you a colleague's comment that unlike other De Keersmaeker work, he probably wouldn't remember this one the next day.

Less cloying and presenting a more developed portrait of the relationship between a man and a woman was a surprise encore piece d'occasion. After several curtain calls, the audience had already started to leave when Anne Mousselet and Nordine Benchorf slunk on stage, she in a ruffled ballroom gown cum housecoat under which she was soon revealed to be very pregnant. Himself dressed in ballroom attire, Benchorf very delicately removed the stilettos from a zombie-stanced Mousselet, and a languorous pas de deux, half waltz, half post-modern floor grappling and wrassling, began, always with the aspect that Benchorf knew he was turning and maneuvering a pregnant woman.

The relationship was of husband to wife, who had found a way to still dance together, physically intimate and yet respecting that she needed to move slower now. "Exquisite" might not be the first word that comes to mind when I tell you the dance featured two (apparently) not entirely toned figures, but exquisite it was. It seems to me that the type of dancing we can all relate to is that that shows us dance is for all of us, not just prime physical specimens, and something we can continue to practice in all phases of our lives and physical evolution, the pas de deux adaptable to different relationships. A pregnant woman, exhausted from the pre-labor, can still dance with her middle-aged husband; the dance is just evolved. In fact, contrasted with the breakneck-paced, throw yourself on the floor, roll, get up again, collapse again male tour-de-force that preceded it in the 1992 "Grosse Fugue," this duet, which seems to be called (it wasn't listed in the program) "Ch'io Ch'io mi scordi di te?," also made in 1992, seemed especially refined both in its crafting and execution.

With all due credit to the stamina demanded of the rest of the men in an excerpt from the 1992 "Grosse Fuge," the highlight was two surprise cameos from Rosas veteran Vincent Dunoyer. I should explain: The evening, at Tuesday's opening anyway, was set up so that after a dance concluded, the performer(s) re-appeared in festive dress to congregate around a candlelit banquet table upstage right, drinking and munching while watching the subsequent dances. Dunoyer, after appearing in a light, almost baroque pas de trois with fellow Rosas veterans Fumiyo Ikeda and Marion Levy, was already in dinner dress, then, when he unexpectedly plopped off his shoes and gambled onto the stage to taunt the rest of the guys, looking gallant and puckish at the same time.

Speaking of taunting, the most problematic entree on the evening's fare -- at least from my limited perspective, having not seen much De Keersmaeker group work -- came in what was described as an "extract" from the 1986 "Bartok - Aantekeningen." (Quotes around "extract" because it seemed to go on forever.) This quartet, performed to the Duke Quartet's live playiing of Bartok's Quartet No. 4, is, I suspect, more interesting to those who want to track De Keersmaeker's attempts to apply choreography designed on her own body to others' and to sketch it in larger formations. As with "Grosse Fuge," I knew that there was something in the architecture and in the virtuosity of its interpretation that I should and did respect. But, removed from the entrancing figure of De Keersmaeker herself, it left me kind of cold. What was personal and charming on her own body became cloying when imported -- particularly the whole skirt tossing up, panty-flashing thing. (And yes, having looked it up in Herman Sorgeloos's photography book "Rosas Album," I can now say these were more panties then shorts.)

A colleague explains better than me why the panty-employment thing is tiresome: Aren't women, particularly woman dancers, infantilized enough already in dance training and ballet curtsies? Evenas a straight guy who will cop to being a dance critic in part because he gets to watch beautiful woman all the time and call it work, I find this effect annoying, especially when repeated as often as it is by the women in this excerpt. Couple it with a hyper-chaste squishing of legs together as the four women walk upstage away from us, and I think ADTK can hardly blame us for asking: Exactly what are you trying to say here? Used minimally on her own body, the occasional flirty gesture is charming. Over-used on other woman's bodies, it's only a bit short of disturbing.

On a larger scale, and notwithstanding the cocktail party setting, when it comes to the discussion of dance, De Keersmaeker raises, intentionally or not, at least one question which is relevant in an appraisal of not just her work, but of other choreographers attempting to translate vocabulary from their own charismatic bodies to those of others who can't help but be less riveting. If you've thrilled to the personal performances of Bill T. Jones or Stephen Petronio, but yawned more than occasionally at their group works, you know what I'm talking about. (Interestingly, even if the work is lighter, David Parsons's choreography plays as well on his other dancers as it does on his own body.) I haven't seen enough Rosas group work to render a verdict on that, but as an individual performer of her own creations, I know there's nothing I'd rather do than watch that girl spinning amongst the shadows and in the light.

"Soiree repertoire," featuring the choreography of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker on her company Rosas, continues at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt through Saturday. ATDK's 2001 "Rain" is reprised at the theater May 28 through June 1.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home