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Flash Flashback, 6-20: Walking the Line
Reichian Rosas; Propped up Cie 111; Fear of Fear

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007, 2008 Paul Ben-Itzak & The Dance Insider

(Editor's Note: To celebrate its 10th anniversary as the only dance publication apart from Ballet Review putting reviews of dance performances from around the world front and center, the Dance Insider is revisiting its Archive. This Flash was first published on May 3, 2007. Rosas's Steve Reich evening, with choreography by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and music by Steve Reich and Gyorgy Ligeti, comes to the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave festival with performances at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House October 22 - 25. Compagnie 111 performs at the same space, with a different work than the one reviewed here, November 5, 7, and 8. )

PARIS -- There are certain dances that, simply put, justify Dance. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's 1982 "Fase," an excerpt of which ATDK's company Rosas performed in last night's Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt opening of an all Steve Reich program, is one of those landmark works.

Like F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby," "Fase" is deceptively simple on first viewing but reveals new layers and levels every additional time you see it. Last night, the luminous (and Bessie-winning) Cynthia Loemij and Tale Dolven, interpreting the "Piano Fase" segment of this masterpiece, evoked images and memories of girls at play. ATDK is nothing if not girlish and, indeed, I noticed this the first time I saw this dance, nearly a decade ago, performed by a flirty De Keersmaeker with Michelle Anne De Mey. This time, though, the duet was tinged with poignance -- particularly when Loemij leaned forward, as if precipitating into a memory, one leg extended behind her, before righting herself and returning to the present.

If you've seen "Fase," you also know that it is not a dance for just two persons but two performers, their two shadows, and a third in which they seem to merge, all captured on a bright white screen behind them. This added to the melancholic nostalgia yesterday, stinging just as the shadow soldiers in Paul Taylor's "Company B."

I also noted how spins -- or 'spirals,' as Jean--Luc Plouvier put it in the program notes -- were punctuated when arms jutted out and hands touched.

Cynthia Loemij, left, and Tale Dolven of Rosas in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's "Piano Phase." Herman Sorgeloos photo copyright Herman Sorgeloos and courtesy Rosas and Theatre de la Ville.

And, in a forgotten aspect of child's (and particularly girl's) play, "Piano Phase," in particular on these interpreters, conveyed the seriousness of task children often apply to play, as well as its complexity.

It also helped that for this staging, the two dancers weren't the only live performers on the stage; on either side of the stage pianists from the Ictus Ensemble played the Reich score. (And before that, two Ictus musicians had performed "Marimba Phase," setting the musical tone for the evening. Less sonorous was something called "Pendulum," which opened the program in an assault the audience mode by subjecting us to the feedback from two microphones swinging above and close to two speakers.)

Directly following this dance, music, and lighting tour-de-force, the women (including Loemij, who gets the Energizer Bunny award, starring in just about every dance that featured women) who performed the new "Eight Lines" were hampered by a generic lighting cue, smarmy recorded music which sounded more like lulling Philip Glass than elemental Steve Reich, and a fudgy dance, loosely choreographed and loosey-goosey enacted. Here we also ran up against the current incarnation of Rosas being a feeble one, with none of the other dancers having the emotional heft of Loemij. Elizaveta Penkova showed some promise up until last season, with the potential to at least approach Loemij in charisma and add her own special sparkle, but she's lost a considerable amount of ballon which, in often airy dances like De Keersmaeker's, handicaps her considerable native ability and charm. Moya Michael shows clarity and energy, but it's too early to tell if she'll turn it into artistry.

Things are more bleak among the men, as I was reminded in the evening's other premiere, "Four Organs," in which only Mark Lorimer stood out for presence and facility. Here the music, which interminably seemed to be always beginning, didn't help; I started to question whether Steve Reich could sustain interest (and tolerance) for an entire evening without the minimalism melting into monotony.

And those who aren't accustomed to Steve Reich are really in trouble. There's usually a certain there-because-it's-cool element, perhaps partly tourists, in the audience at the Theatre de la Ville, who inevitably end up outing themselves by leaving when the going gets oblique for those who haven't been there before. A number of their seats went up during the next piece, which started with Superwoman I mean Loemij traversing the stage in front of the fallen curtain just as the men were drifting out, finely etching to a snatch of what sounded like African pygmy singing. She was joined by her colleagues, who soon set the 100 metronomes of the title ("Symphonic Poem for 100 Metronomes") going, this spectacle sending a dozen or so of the uninitiated fleeing. I loved both the hypnotic sound (set off in a way by the rhythm of the emptying chair-backs), as well as the miniature red tee-pees which housed the metronomes.

Eventually they dwindled to one slowly tapping and when that finished, up went the curtain, in kicked the (perhaps) African-inspired (if not resembling) drums of "Drumming Part I," and across the stage and a rolled out thin white carpet raced Loemij. Here De Keersmaeker small gestural picture melded smoothly with lateral and pelvic Africanish vocabulary, particularly in Loemij's energetic solo. (When she finally, after a spirited quartet with Penkova, Lorimer, and the lanky Igor Shyshko, takes a pause I could understand why she put her face in her hands as if recovering; this girl deserves the croix de danse!) Here the score and its playing by Ictus on a set of small but powerful drums goosed the drama, even creating a choral-like reverberation which seemed to be coming from the upper stands of the theater. It all ended when Loemij circled around to check hands and glinting eyes with her partner Lorimer, then made a final diagonal sprint across the stage as the carpet was rolled up, casting one last marveling electric glance across the stage as we marveled at her and the lights blacked out. (To read a lot more about "Drumming" from an African perspective, click here.)

Rosas's Steve Reich evening continues at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt through Sunday, followed by a second mixed-rep. program May 9 - 13.

It's an art that banks on the charisma of every pore of the body that produces performers like Cynthia Loemij. One reason that might explain the fatal lack of charisma in the cast of Cie 111 and Phil Soltanoff's "Plus ou moins l'infini," a physical theater piece seen April 19 at the Theatre de la Ville, might be that notwithstanding the athletic feats they're called on to perform, they're primarily actors. This is strictly prop-inspired work -- the props in this case consisting mostly of poles which, along with the occasional apparently separated body part, project up from a slatted stage floor. Notwithstanding a few 'how'd they do that?' tricks -- as when a man seems to cling sideways by his legs to the upper end of a pole, with no tension -- and admittedly droll moments -- as when a body-less head is pursued by a headless body which eventually joins it in a seemingly impossible position -- the work lacks the essential ingredient, drollness of delivery, which turns mere trick-fests into real theater, so the floor ultimately falls out from under it. I hate to keep bringing this up -- even more so as I've now not seen these companies for a few years so for all I know they may have lost their oomph -- but when French audiences applaud, as if it's original, routine physical theater like this I bemoan again that the masters of the genre, Pilobolus and Momix, are no longer invited to Paris.

Speaking of contortions, being at the theater last night I couldn't see the expression on right-wing, fear-mongering, just this side of race-baiting candidate Nicolas Sarkozy's face when Segolene Royal, his Socialist opponent, called him "very 'brutal," but it's good to see Royal take the gloves off as she continues to clearly delineate the stakes for France and the French in Sunday's final round of the presidential election. It's a choice between fear and hope but also between the De Keersmaker-like equilibrium and balance promised by Royal and the disequilibrium for many that will er would follow a Sarkozy victory.

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