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Flash Review, 10-1: Classic Contemporary
De Keersmaeker & Sisters reprise 'Rosas danst Rosas'

Rosas in "Rosas danst Rosas."  Photo by and ©Herman Sorgeloos and courtesy Sadler's Wells Theatre.

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2009 Josephine Leask
Photography by and copyright Herman Sorgeloos

LONDON -- To see Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker herself perform together with three of Rosas's second generation dancers, Cynthia Loemij, Sarah Ludi and Samantha van Wissen in "Rosas danst Rosas" at Sadler's Wells, September 8, was truly inspiring. The revival of this signature work, which premiered in 1983 and became a sort of manifesto for the new company, exposes the women as riveting performers as ever. The look of the work has changed through the maturing of the performers: the stroppy, insecure girly image of the original Rosas has now been replaced by one of formidably forceful, complex women. Although physically they look the same, they have developed as dancers and seem to embody greater wisdom, experience and incredible strength and stamina, women in their performance-prime and role models for the older dancer.

The familiar 'quotations' that appear throughout the four sections of "Rosas danst Rosas," which are based on everyday gestures such as running hands through hair, adjusting a shirt, and sudden flicks of the head are now performed without the former titillation, but with a kind of ironic questioning instead. Movement that used to be fueled by neurosis is now layered with multiple meanings. These women are not afraid to show their vulnerability as well as their power.

Quotations which come straight from the studio are injected into the stage performance and remind us of how important the continual leaking of process into product is in De Keersmaeker's work. Transparent too are other core themes favoured by De Keersmaeker: tensions between rational behavior and irrational, between contradictory emotions; the role of the individual juxtaposed with the group; and tight, sharp, repetitive choreography performed with a fluid, released body. The majority of "Rosas danst Rosas" is performed in unison, from which the dancers break away sporadically into solos or duets. Such a device together with the highly expressive gestural language helps draw out the individuality of each performer.

"Rosas danst Rosas" is a gruelling work -- nearly two hours without an interval -- due to its intensity and what it demands from the dancers. The first section, performed mainly at floor-level and in silence, apart from the sounds of panting and hands slamming onto the stage, starts with the four women standing, then tripping backwards to fall down. As they role from side to side on a horizontal plain, sighing, tossing and turning, they begin to resemble people in a very disturbed cycle of sleep. Periods of frenetic but highly organized and mechanical activity performed in unison are followed by periods of stillness.

The transition from the floor section into the second is marked by Ludi placing chairs in four diagonal rows across the stage in a very calm and methodical fashion, taking as much time as she needs. Slowly the women take up their seats, one in each row, and tension builds as they simply wait. Then, ( to the steady, rhythmic, clacking score by Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch, the women begin taking their cues. After quick affirming glances at each other, they delve into gestural sequences, dropping heads into hands, reaching across the body, crossing legs or throwing the head back. Small, pedestrian actions performed in unison at speed make the group look like an efficient machine. The precise and percussive nature of the choreography forms patterns that slice through the space like a knife. Suspense mounts, prompted by the increased attack given to every action. One expects the women to get up and hurl their bodies away from the confinements of the chairs out of frustration or anger, but they remain where they are. While each performer momentarily breaks out of the unison by either standing up or lying down on the chairs, through the exchange of hasty signals the ensemble always stays perfectly in tune.

In the third section, the chairs gone, the dancers spin in straight and diagonal lines across the stage, taking turns stepping into a corridor of light, created by designer Remon Fromont, to perform idiosyncratic solos. Three women with their repetitive turns and shimmies create a pulsing chorus behind the soloist, who takes on the audience in a brave confessional mode, enacting tantalizing gestures such as baring a shoulder, before modestly covering it up again. Boldness and embarrassed self-consciousness abide in this gestural theme, rash actions followed by regret as each woman offers herself to the audience then drastically changes her mind. While at first the gestures seem seductive, through repetition they become technical and formal, immunizing the female performers from the objectifying gaze of the audience.

Unison movement brings the four dancers together again for the final section, a frenzy of ordered physicality. Through diagonal lines, circles and straight lines the women reach a fever pitch of activity which leaves them exhausted and us in the audience giddy. In spite of the mathematical patterns which they describe, they still manage to weave emotional textures into the choreography. One minute they are confident, self-assured women, the next self-conscious about what they are wearing or confused about how to relate to their audience. Playing around with physical presentation and projecting out to the audience one minute, they then retreat into their own introverted stories the next. Watching them is thrilling what with the satisfying accuracy and fluidity of their movement, their fluctuating moods and the mixed messages they give out. Finally, pushed to the limits, they collapse, scattered around the stage. The lights beam up harshly one last time to expose their genuine states of noisy fatigue and I believe entirely in this group of women giving it all to this timeless piece of choreography.

Rosas in "Rosas danst Rosas."  Photo by and ©Herman Sorgeloos and courtesy Sadler's Wells Theatre.

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