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Flash Review 1, 10-10: "Small Hands" for Girls
De Keersmaeker and Loemij Just Wanna Have Fun

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

CRETEIL, France -- The winds blew prematurely frigid in and around Paris last week, so the spontaneous round of audible coughing that filled the silence between Henry Purcell tunes when Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Cynthia Loemij performed De Keersmaeker's latest duet at the Maison Des Arts here last week was no surprise. Also no surprise was ATDK's reaction. Erupting as they did during one of the many freeze and stare-out the audience moments in ATDK's 2001 "Small Hands," the coughs were followed around the theater-in-the round audience by the choreographer's swiftly pivoting head. Finally she paused as if to say, "Are we done now?," until a cough to her left made her grimace wryly with an expression of, "Okay, if you're finished, we will now continue with the dance."

I start my Flash of last Thursday's French premiere of the 2001 "Small Hands" with this moment because what distinguishes the solos and duets of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker from much post-modern dance is that she does not disregard or pretend to ignore the audience. She connects. What alienates many of us, er, pedestrians about post-modern dance is not so much its weirdness, but its almost solipsistic presentation, the performer acting like she's alone in her room (or bathroom, as the case may be) and we're not even there. From the understandable starting point of rejecting the presentational aspect of ballet, many post-modern choreographers have rejected the presence of the audience. ATDK proves that dancing abstractly is not the same as dancing detachedly. There is no irony here.

In "Small Hands," De Keersmaeker taps on her sophisticated choreographic skills and her girlish dancing manner, together with longtime ROSAS dancer Loemij's more tomboyish nature, to create a playful duet which harkens back to the first reference point most of us have for dance, cavorting on the playground.

Though this work, played out on a stage marked up with numbers like the floor of a gym -- and the cavernous Grande Salle of the Maison des Arts has that rambling aspect -- is punctuated by intimate exchanges between the dancers and checks between dancers and audience, it's also big, with ATDK and Loemij frequently breaking off a duet to race around the space's oval circumference. Appropriately enough, it starts with a crash from about four levels above the stage, jolting last Thursday's expectant audience, which included many Parisians who had made the trek (last stop on Metro Line 8, then you make your way through a grand mall and blocks of a housing project before finding the spanking new building nestled in a pristine office complex). We crane our necks to discover two girls racing around and down the catwalks until they arrive with a skid, lift their frilly chiffon trains to their waists, and circle the arena to assess us.

The frilly part is disposed of, revealing the girls in sheer blue-green evening dresses, with no undergarments. (Hey, I'm a hetero guy! Wasn't it Marcia Siegel who said she's more interested in what a critic saw then what he thought of what he saw?) On either end of the stage are two chrome bar stools, their seat cushions glowing orange. The girls never sit on them, only using them as retreats for one to huddle under when the other is performing solo.

If "Fase," ATDK's original duet, is spare and martial, then "Small Hands" is lush and flowing. It really does have the aspect of two girls cavorting in a sandbox: "Can you do this?" "Ooh, look what happens if I do this!" "Your turn." "Betchya ya can't." "Betchya I can!" There's lots of tilting off-balance. But like girls on a playground, though most of the time they're lost in their own world, they're also fascinated with the grown-ups watching, and so frequently stop to regard us curiously.

While ATDK the choreographer and ATDK and Loemij the dancers succeed at depicting an overall mood, "Small Hands" is slightly hampered by being less economically composed than "Fase," structurally more similar to ATDK's often repetitive movement for her company ROSAS. Like some of those dances, "Small Hands" is more Earthbound -- lots of rolling on the ground here -- but also too long. Still a pleasure to watch on ATDK herself and especially on Loemij, who demands just as much attention with an approach that is both big and graceful, I have a feeling it would not be so riveting with less riveting dancers.

"Small Hands" was presented in Creteil by La Maison des Arts et de la Culture Andre Malraux and the Festival d'Automne a Paris. Trisha Brown Dance Company opens at the Maison des Arts October 16, followed later in the season by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, Systeme Castafiore, and other international companies. To find out what's coming up at the Festival d'Automne, please visit its web site. Next month in Brussels, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker premieres "Once," the second solo of her career, set to Joan Baez.


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