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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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