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Flash Flashback, 1-16: The Sum of P.A.R.T.S.
De Keersmaeker (and Charges) Storm the Bastille
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001, 2008 The Dance Insider
(The Dance Insider has been revisiting its Archive. In the nearly seven years since this review first appeared on September 21, 2001, in a slightly different version, the Dance Insider has probably written more about Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and her company Rosas performing in more places than any other English-language publication. De Keersmaeker's latest work premieres this week at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, through Saturday.)
PARIS -- No artist I've ever seen
transports me like Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. I was reminded of
this fact last night when, summoning myself out of the sick-bed,
I struggled onto the Metro to the Theatre de la Bastille, which
was definitely stormed by De Keersmaeker in the opening night of
P.A.R.T.S. a Paris, and left the theater dancing in the streets.
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, paired
with former Ballet Frankfurt principal Elizabeth Corbett, was the star attraction
at the Theatre de la Bastille last night for the opening of P.A.R.T.S. a Paris,
a five-week, fifteen-program extravaganza of the best that the dancers and choreographers
of De Keersmaeker's Brussels-based Performing Arts Research Laboratories and Training
Studios have to offer.
As dancers go, you can't get much
better then the tyro also known as De Keersmaeker, whirling and twirling her way
across and around a stage, the question not being will she catch the light but
will the light catch her. But the 'kids' (most are about 20) were pretty all right
too, a vivid manifestation of what can happen when young people are actually given
serious and prolonged study in composition.
"For," developed from part of an
evening of solos created for Corbett, is a thirteen-minute tour de whirlwind for
two dancers theoretically from different schools, the classical ballet and modern.
Theoretical because you can't get much more modern than William Forsythe, Corbett's
director at the Ballet Frankfurt and her stylistic mentor, and the things that
De Keersmaeker can do with her compact body have the pinpoint intention and virtuosity
and even footwork more typically associated with ballet.
Her presentation, too, sets her apart
in disposition from much of what we see today in post-modern dance expression.
She is puckish as opposed to ironic and awake as opposed to nonchalant, casting
furtive mischievous glances at her partner rather than staring blankly ahead of
her. She even flirts with the audience with a flick of her skirt or a toss of
the gauzy black blouse she wears over her black shorts, halter top, and, of course,
those black sneakers which were seen on more than one emulator in the house last
But mostly you watch her like a moth
that flitters about, only with a pattern and instead of being drawn to the fire,
she embodies the fire. For example, even though theoretically Corbett was the
ballet dancer, De Keersmaeker rose again and again and danced and balanced on
the balls of those sneakers, often arching her back as well as her ankles. Set
off by a white marley and white screen covering the rear wall, as well as Corbett's
white outfit, in her sheer innocent aspect, and in maneuvers that are at the same
time abandoned and finely etched, and notwithstanding the originality of her phrases,
as a performer De Keersmaeker reminds of a (clever) child at play, playing a game
of catch me if you can.
If you haven't guessed by now, I'm
a devotee, and my chances being so rare to actually marvel at De Keersmaeker herself
at work as a dancer, I found it hard to avert my eyes elsewhere -- a statement
more about my imcompleteness and selfishness as a reviewer and audient than Corbett.
But, she, too, played at crossover. That signature Forsythe upside down V was
not over-exploited, and I liked the way she, releasey-like, slapped her butt and
reacted with the rest of her body. As a presence, notwithstanding my own De Keersmaeker
idolatry, she held her own wtih ATDK, meeting her eye to eye, letting her work,
but also content to carry on her own work, her poise unfased by the energizer
bunny whirling around her. If anything I think her job was harder; ATDK was working
in her element, and Corbett was playing someone else's game -- and well: When
they raced to the stage-right to end the piece, it was an even tie.
The rest of the concert was, well,
uneven. Speaking from a critical perspective, here's what I saw:
When the task was simple, it was
the most successful. Typically this meant starting with a recognizable post-modern
dance scheme or exersize, and then just when you thought it was nothing new, sticking
something new into it. For Johan Thelander & Eizaveta Penkova, the newness was
in the frank way they regarded each other in their jointly choreographed "At This
Point," in small gestures like her sweeping her hand over her hair in an admission
that she may be a little winded (and thus was human, as also in the occasional
smile she indulged her partner with.) It was also there in the final frieze, a
simple tableau that had them standing at angles to each other. I was however perplexed
by the operatic score; I didn't see how it related at all to the movement.
For Ulrike Reinbott, the quirks were
both musical and motional. The score was muffled, as if coming from a radio playing
downstairs in that old beachfront hotel in Waikiki sometime during the fifties.
(I eventually recognized it as what might have then been called hula music.) Then
there was a little flounce Reinbott, both choreographer and interpreter of "Silent
Dialogue," introduced about halfway through the four-minute dance. This dancer
set herself a task and achieved it, also making it worth watching.
Speaking of flouncing, after a promising
start, Clair Croize's ambitious "Donne-moi quelque chose qui ne meure pas" swan-dived
into the unfocused, everything but the kitchen sink, rampant emotions all over
the map and worn incredulously on their sleeves exercises which unfortunately
are to frequent from young choreographers whose imagination is bigger than their
choreographic palette. There was a mixed reaction to the technical preamble, in
which three or four crew members slowly lowered five bars from the rafters to
the floor, whereaupon one unravelled long chords at the end of which were strung
naked lightbulbs. Then they gradually elevated each bar so that the bulbs dangled
all over the stage. Being a veteran of such spaces as Danspace Project at St.
Mark's Church and The Kitchen, where the ace designers make the lighting another
cast member, I kind of enjoyed this. The woman at my right however started shaking
and then hung her head.
I liked the actual dance beginning
of the piece too, which saw five soaking women in skirts arrayed, their backs
turned to us, behind one similarly dripping man, right in our face. He appeared
to be struggling to say something, finally giving up more or less and deciding
instead to wring out his shirt. The women followed, doing the same to their skirts
and blouses. Then there was a sort of mermaids floundering and flouncing on the
Marley ballet, which reminded me of what it must have been like when our ancestors
first flopped out of the ocean. It's not the first time I've been reminded of
this, but never on such determined vehicles. Plus I loved the soundtrack, which
was simply the sound of all that squishing and squirming. I would have been content
and even impressed if it stopped here, but then there was a stray giggle, more,
and, egad, we got your sexy vamping (guy shows his muscles, women fondle their
breasts and put a finger to their lips), we got your guy clutches and tosses around
blank-faced woman, we got your shouting angrily at -- what can you be so mad at,
you're 20 years old??! -- and the whole piece deteriorated before my eyes into
a juvenile exercise I was hardly expecting from the high-minded P.A.R.T.S.
The evening and the school's reputation
was, fortunately, redeemed by Magda Reiter's duet for her and Katarzyna Chmielewska,
another tyro. At the appearance of a mic on stand at the beginning I was getting
ready to hang my head with my neighbor, but, surprisingly -- considering De Keersmaeker's
own liberal use of text -- text was utilized here sparingly and always with clear
dramatic intent and choreographic utility. "But we must have covered several times
the equivalent of the terrestial equater," a voice intones towards the beginning
of "All These Apropos," and it's when they're on the floor, connecting sideways-like
to Twister-like instructions, that this pair and what Reiter has devised for them
is most interesting -- again, a break from what the piece looked like at first,
another semi-competition between two women partners. In the simplicity of its
scope, Reiter's piece -- 25 minutes long -- was probably, not counting De Keersmaeker's,
the most successful of the evening. She bit off a lot, and gave herself a lot
of time to say it, but did so, articulately and with some images and combinations
I hadn't seen before.
At the conclusion of of Reiter's
dance, there was a line about ejaculation -- something about not having enough
of a sample to form an opinion. It was an appropriate segue to the next piece,
Tom Plischke's dancing of his "Fleur," in which Plischke literally bepissed himself
-- causing no small anxiety among this second-row De Keersmaeker devotee, aware
that she would be traipsing on that stage next. (In the event, the stagehands
not only cleaned it up, but plastered the white Marley on top of it.)
I say literally because I'm pretty
sure that the fluid dripping out over the floor, and the splotch on his pants,
was not faked; by this point we already knew that he was wearing no underwear
in which to hide say a water balloon, as Plischke had performed a matter of fact
naked waltz, after (clothed) dropping into the audience and giving the man in
the row behind me a rose and a pen-light, the sole illumination of Plischke's
This waltz with an invisible partner,
during which the soloist nodded his head rhythmically and dipped his back as he
guided the partner up and down the stage, was compelling, as was most of the rest
of Plischke's choreography. But sitting here the morning after, I think it may
have been simply that it was more sophisticated than what proceeded it in the
variety of gestures: in Plischke's ability to carry out several isolations at
once, in his wending, almost cerebral palsy-like, his body against the space (and
we hadn't yet seen much space-carving). (Plischke is a bit older and more seasoned
than his comrades.) As well, he has the build, close-cropped hair, charisma and
obvious enjoyment of doing weird things with his limbs of Baryshnikov. I am not
so sure that in a less riveting interpreter, the choreography would have held
my attention so well. Regarding the nudity and the bepissing, it may have had
something to do with expressing a vulnerability, but that theme wasn't expressed
clearly enough to warrant these particular choices.
Now then, speaking of choreography
holding my attention well. When I've previously reviewed school concerts -- mostly
the Pluck Project, graduating seniors and juniors from the North Carolina School
of the Arts -- after I've reviewed the concert as a concert, thinking that the
kids wanted to be critiqued as grown-ups, I inevitably get an e-mail from a "friend"
of the performers complaining that the idiot who reviewed the concert doesn't
know what he's talking about, he doesn't know college dance, and besides all her
friends liked it. So I am going to try, anyway, to imagine how a college dance
teacher might have evaluated this concert.
In this regard, I would say the opening
night of P.A.R.T.S. a Paris reveals a school which has an infinite regard for
the choreographic potential of its students. We are not talking about one evening
of five-minute pieces. These students, and their teachers, have prepared 15 different
evening-length programs. (The one I saw last night repeats tonight and tomorrow;
for details and info on the rest, please visit the Festival d'Automne web site.)
And from the literature I picked up, I don't think this is unique to this year;
says here that the fourth year at P.A.R.T.S. includes five weeks of international
touring. So the kids are given elbow room -- both in terms of length and latitude.
As a process-oriented enterprise, therefore, judging just from what I saw last
night, P.A.R.T.S. scores a ten. That process is also distinguished by its evidently
not being geared to just turn out mini-De Keersmaekers. It is clear that P.A.R.T.S.
is serious about the "research." After wide instruction in their first two years,
the students choose either a choreographic or dance path for the final two. Teachers
and choreographers have included, in addition to De Keersmaeker and her dancers,
Lance Gries, Chrysa Parkinson, K.J. Holmes, Wil Swanson, Jonathan Burroughs, Meg
Stuart, Lynda Gaudreau, and Corbett. What I saw and sensed last night at the Theater
de la Bastille is these students are given a deep and varied chest of tools, and
then allowed to find their own voice. The evidence so far is that that voice deserves
to be listened to, whether you're a critic, pedagogue, dance fan, art fan, or
just a friend.
Kudos to the Theatre de la Bastille
for turning its facilities over to P.A.R.T.S., and to co-producer the Festival
d''Automne a Paris.