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Flash Review, 1-23: Not 'Phase' away
De Keersmaeker at MOMA: The universe of dance on grains of sand

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011 Paul Ben-Itzak

NEW YORK -- Seeing Anne Terese De Keersmaeker dance her seminal 1982 "Violin Phase" yesterday at the Museum of Modern Art -- you can catch her at MOMA again today at 2 and 4 p.m. -- made it clearer than ever that this piece, performed by this dancer, should be required viewing in every modern dance class around the world. Which is not to say that it is just a *modern* dance masterpiece (perfectly at home among the other modern masterpieces at MOMA, where these performances are connected with the exhibition Online, Drawing Through the 20th Century), but that, craft aside -- because there's plenty of that too -- De Keersmaeker does what fewer and fewer modern dancers and choreographers seem interested in doing these days, and that is reaching out to and engaging the audience.

Even in a performance space as intimate as that of the atrium at MOMA, where the performer might be forgiven for erecting a mental invisible wall between her and the audience, if only to maintain her focus and concentration -- the atrium may be large, but for this piece, anyway, there were no barriers between De Keersmaeker dancing on a square floor of sand about the size and circumference of a boxing ring and the spectators -- ATDK made sure to make eye contact with her observers on every side of the square. She smiled at them invitingly. Late in the 16-minute dance, she even increased her patented flicking of the long plain tan skirt and flirty flashing of her underwear. She smiled as she showed them one trick after another -- for, at 50, her attitude for this piece remains that of a girl not so much showing off as proudly showing what she's invented.

Seen up close -- I'd previously seen this piece in New York and Paris with ATDK and various other performers from her Brussels-based Rosas company, including as part of the hour-long "Phase," all set to Steve Reich -- I realized that, much as it provides a template for an engaging brand of modern dance, this work is not just an outreach statement, it's one virtuosic piece of choreography. Actually, many pieces. The dervish-like spinning -- arms akimbo, skirt billowing up -- I'd of course noticed before, as well as the curtsying, gentle scraping of the floor with the feet or hands, quick arm flicks or rapier slices, and even facial flicks. This time I saw a whole 'nother level of, let's call them hand and finger ballets. There were also quick smiles of recognition at familiar movements as if they were old friends, reminding her of where she was when she made the same gesture dancing the piece on an earlier occasion.

If it resembles a girl playing, the architecture of this dance is anything but child's play. It's exactly mapped out. And I don't mean that De Keersmaeker merely matches the musical notes -- with Reich, that would be too easy. Rather, she crams what at times seem like infinite gestures into every nook and cranny of this score, so that the dance score becomes not just as relentless as the musical one, but ultimately more intricate.

Intimate and intricate. Who could ask for anything more?


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