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Flash Review 2, 7-15: Collective Conscience
ROSAS & Friends Give a Schooling in Collaboration

By Tara Zahra
Copyright 2000 Tara Zahra

VIENNA -- On the web site for the Tanz2000 festival, Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker's "In Real Time" is described as being about "the tensions and contradictions between dance, text and music." That may be true. But what I found most exciting about Thursday's performance of the piece by ROSAS was not tensions or contradictions or competition between the elements, but the way that they managed to transform each other and, in turn, the audience. I can only speak for myself, but I left the Burgtheater at 12:15 AM exhausted (they weren't kidding when they said "full-length"). But it was the kind of exhaustion you get from staying at a good party for too long talking to interesting people, or from spending your first day in a new and exciting place. And the piece I saw was not only about the "tensions and contradictions between dance, text and music," but about metaphysics, love, and above all the performers themselves, who even seemed like people I knew after three hours.

"In Real Time" is a collaborative production of ROSAS, the collective theatre group Tg. STAN and the jazz ensemble AKA MOON. And here I mean collective in the truest sense. During the intermission, one of the actors (whose trademark was speaking in Flemish), chatted with the audience about the production. "Dancers are actors and actors are dancers in this company. You can't tell the difference," he said, I think in jest. Not quite. But that's what is fabulous about it. Dancers act and actors dance and you can tell who is who. But watching trained and pedestrian bodies moving together, you suddenly notice how physical comedy is itself a form of dance, or how the personality of a dancer can transform even the most minimalist movement. The clear highlights of the production for me (and I think for much of the audience) were two pas de deux performed by couples composed of a dancer and actor -- an ungainly middle-agish actor with a petite and controlled dancer, and an emotionally overwrought actress with her idealized and then abused lover, who could protest only through his movements. Each couple managed to be witty and poignant, conveying something recognizable about relationships, and also to be completely real. I was sitting in the front row, and although I couldn't tell if the dancers' feet were pointed or not, I could see the performers' faces. Typically I think being so close would destroy the mood -- everything larger than life, too staged. But instead I was privy to the genuine spontaneity of the performers' interactions, as they seemed to surprise each other and make each other laugh and think as they performed.

The production had no narrative, but rather consisted of stream of consciousness fragments of dance, music, and text woven together. Tolerance for stream-of-consciousness-anything typically runs low among the age 16 and older crowd, but overall the balance between witticism and depth was carefully maintained (although I am not sure a lot of the metaphysical threads in the dialogue would have worked if it wasn't 11:30 PM). Text was taken from the works of such distinguished writers as Gerardjan Rijnders; Anton Tsjechov, Multatuli, Daniil Kharms, Shuntaro Tanikawa, Paul Eluard, Don DeLillo, Jack Gilbert, and Kurt Vonnegut.

De Keersmaeker's choreography was recognizable in its minimalist patterns, its reliance on theme and variation, breezy weight shifts, and effortless, circular falls and slides. But it too was also infused with emotion and small surprises. And even the sections which immersed you most completely in form, or in the company's fabulous technique made emotional statements through their placement, for example as explosions on the edges of a repressive dinner party, or as contemplative (if increasingly fragmented) interruptions from the chaos of the text.

If we are really lucky, other companies will follow the ambitious example set by this type and level of collaboration. Even if the performance was at moments unwieldy, it never ceased to be stimulating. And I can't think of a person I know who I wouldn't want to bring along with me to see the next installment.

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