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Flash Review, 9-1: In and Out of Love
De Keersmaeker Flirts with Mozart

By Lisa Kraus
Copyright 2004 Lisa Kraus

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NEW YORK -- Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's choreographic vision is nothing if not hugely ambitious, so it's no surprise when De Keersmaeker places the many jewels of Mozart's sublime arias for soprano in a setting quite different than a conventional concert recital or opera. Seen Friday in Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival at LaGuardia Concert Hall, De Keersmaeker's 1992 "Mozart/Concert Arias, un moto di gioia" presents singers in the midst of dancers, sometimes caressed, teased or flirted with, and sometimes alone and apart, as the escapades of De Keersmaeker's Rosas troupe swirl about them. More a concurrence than a melding of music and dance, this production delivers its gifts in visual lushness and in the prodigious talents of its dancers, singers and instrumentalists. Still the title, which translates as "a flash of joy," applies more fully to Mozart's music than to the dance, which gets weighed down somewhere in its second hour and dwells largely in a realm of disconnect rather than joyful union.

"Mozart/Concert Arias" opens on a stage-cum-18th century ballroom replete with pianoforte, curlicued regal seating and a tilted, round parquet floor. Unfolding like a courtier's fan, the work begins with pianoforte and single dancer, a most charming gent who snakes and squiggles his head to initiate space-eating swoops, then lightheartedly leaps, joined by a second fellow, both tilting in the air. In brocade jackets and leggings, the first of many sumptuous costumes, the men group together as do the women, who wear sleek black jackets and short shorts. In the restrained stepping dance that follows, the two sexes -- apart but complementary -- display their excellently turned ankles and splendid shoes. Here is the first of the gender games -- who wears the pants? And, say, what time are we in?

Any audience would be familiar with scenarios of lady-longing-for-her-man and vice versa, but here muffled sobs of disappointment, yelps, and giggles erupt without obvious cause. It's as though De Keersmaeker plays with deconstructed elements from Mozart's operas free of any storyline or cause and effect. In the unfolding play of longing, bids for attention, despondency, and petulance, she sets her dancers arcing and spinning through the space as individual characters in a shared plight -- men and women enduring all manner of privations and some pleasures as a result of their attraction to and need for each other. Interspersed with orchestral interludes, the arias come in all the colors of love, and are sung by three highly accomplished sopranos -- Patricia Biccire, Anke Herrmann and Olga Pasichynk -- each draped in a variation on a blue velvet concert gown.

De Keersmaeker displays her dancers' prowess in the hurtling groups tracing ellipses that slide floor-ward and back up, arc through space and speed their way through lightning-fast whipping turns. Highlights in the dancing are moments like the gentlemen's Olympian jumping duo in which each beat is punctuated by a gesture, the last being a fluttering hand as beating heart. This becomes a running joke as these two repeat the antic several more times. In another passage, a fetching lady on her squire's arm dips her toe over the edge of the curving floor, as though into a rushing stream. There's no lack of invention or kinesthetic drive.

Occasionally De Keersmaeker's dancing seems an enlightened conversation with Mozart, as when her phrases go on just slightly longer than his, tipping toward a stretched out airborne dissolution, or when, in a sequence where dancers settle onto the floor as if in sleep or death, the lone singer stands, face highlighted, center stage. Here it seems we can hear better by seeing what the choreographer sets onstage. At other times, all the activity, especially after it has been in process for some time, becomes overwhelming. She does give us a repeating respite, a sorbet in the form of a lanky black-maned dancer prancing to solo piano.

In Mozart's music even the sorrow of love is an exquisite sorrow, and it is amply balanced with love's euphoria. But we don't sense that in this dance.

For a dance about love, there's precious little direct or unfraught relating. In the only duo approximating a harmonic coupling, which comes quite late in the piece, the man undoes his lady's hair, and removes her shoes to engage in a floor-bound spooning and rolling duet in which the couple pulls away from each other for a good bit and ends as they began, apart at right angles, distant.

Several personalities come through strongly. It is moments in which individuals are struggling to win attention that are some of the most endearing. One puppy love sufferer shuffles onstage several times on her knees, making a beeline for the object of her attentions. Two other solos play on dance as courtship vehicle, and rock star movements as magnet -- all jutting hips, pointing fingers and electric boogie. It's well done and the audience giggles. Sometimes it's just plain fun having this kind of incongruous movement to Mozart. Sometimes it's peculiar.

The bottom line here is mixed. This reviewer is glad De Keersmaeker and her musical and visual collaborators had the ambition to place Mozart's music in such a dynamic and novel surround, to say nothing of the excellent caliber of the production. The joy in De Keersmaeker's "un moto di gioia" is ultimately less related to love and to 'other' than to a kind of self-presentation which is youthful, sprightly and joyful indeed. But in comparison, though Mozart died far too young, his joy was so deep that it may well be eternal.

Jean-Luc Ducourt created the concept along with De Keermaeker and was the program's director. The excellent Orchestra of St. Luke's was conducted by Gregory Vajda, the pianoforte soloist was Steven Lubin and the 14 dancers included several masterful veterans.

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