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Photograph of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Boris Charmatz in De Keersmaeker's "Partita 2" copyright Anne Van Aerschot and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

Copyright 2013 Laurie Uprichard

PARIS -- The house lights dim to half. The buzz of the opening night audience at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, the primary contemporary dance venue here, starts to die down when, very suddenly, the lights black out. A woman wearing shoes with heels that click a bit walks onstage and begins to play Bach's Partita No. 2 -- gorgeously, in the dark, for about 15 minutes. The audience, here to see the Paris premiere of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's new setting to the music, "Partita 2," for herself and Boris Charmatz, is as quiet as a November audience in Paris can be (damp gray weather can't help but lead to some coughing). The woman stops playing suddenly in what I gauge is the middle of the third movement and walks off.

De Keersmaeker (the pioneering Belgian choreographer) and Charmatz (the somewhat upstart French choreographer now leading the National Choreographic Center, Musee de la Danse, in Rennes) enter in very low light and begin to dance a kind of signature De Keersmaeker vocabulary of delicate runs, hops, skips, and jumps in silence. She's wearing a black skirt and jacket with blue shoes that have bright orange laces; he's in a dark track suit with green trim and red sneakers. Slats lean vertically to the full height of the upstage wall and a vertical rectangle of the stage is illuminated upstage right. Seven or eight white intersecting circles are drawn in white chalk on the stage.

Charmatz takes off with a big run, then the pair skips backwards together. There's a bit of follow the leader, a bit of mirroring, and some unison. Their partnering is fairly equal; though she's much smaller, she can take his full weight on her back. He spins her in giddy circles. There's an odd duet with one standing, one lying on his/her side in which they each keep one foot touching the other's as they walk/scooch in small circles. They often, but not always, use the circles as their path.

Photograph of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Boris Charmatz in De Keersmaeker's "Partita 2" copyright Herman Sorgeloos and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

She is elegant and precise with very articulate feet. He's slightly clunkier, more athletic in his approach, but still has a clearly formed technical strength.

Slowly, you notice that the general wash of light is getting brighter and the rectangle is moving across the stage. They exit.

All three re-enter and the violinist, Amandine Byer, takes center stage and begins the Partita again. Charmatz takes off his jacket and sits upstage center, watching De Keersmaeker's subsequent solo. She walks forward and back, skips, zig-zags. I start to wonder about the musicality and begin to pay attention to whether she's on the music or countering it or ignoring it (which I can't imagine...). I finally decide it's a combination of following and countering. The effect is consonant, not dissonant, but neither is it imitative.

At the end of De Keesmaeker's solo, Charmatz gets up and goes tearing around the stage. Occasionally he crouches down as if to start a sprint at a track meet in a long lunge. There's a hint of Steve Paxton in Charmatz's dancing now. They run briefly together and continue their duet through the andante and into the allegro. Byer pauses and we see another duet section in silence before she starts again.

Motifs begin to repeat and be recognizable. There's a slow-motion walk and a bit of humming by the dancers, like Rostropovich on his recordings of the Bach cello suites. Is the whole piece repeating, perhaps forward, perhaps in rewind? I haven't been rigorous enough in my attention. I already want to see it again!

"Partita 2" is low key and informal. Tightly structured as the dance is, you still see that De Keersmaeker has left room for a bit of play with direction, speed, even steps within. You could be watching these charismatic dancers in a studio but the Theatre de la Ville stage must feel like home to her, for sure, by now, after decades of annual seasons by her company ROSAS. The three performers are all very comfortable. They are so extraordinary that they become nearly ordinary in that perfect way. It's a joy and a privilege to see De Keersmaeker and Charmatz thinking and dancing together in concert with an extraordinary musician playing a Bach masterpiece.

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