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Golden Hours (As You Like It)

Choreography Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Rosas Company
Sadler's Wells

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Golden Hours (As You Like It) Credit: Anne Van Aerschot
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Golden Hours (As You Like It) Credit: Anne Van Aerschot
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Golden Hours (As You Like It) Credit: Anne Van Aerschot

A leading figure in experimental dance theatre, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, takes no prisoners. Intellectual exploration of “my walking is my dancing” and “my talking is my dancing” is well and good in an academic context but on the stage it is something else.

"Formal abstraction and concrete gesture" masquerading as dance theatre, an esoteric indulgence with barely perceptible ironic undertones, defies music as impetus for movement. “How can movement embody thoughts?” How does it embody listening when there is no sound?

Over two hours with no interval and hardly any music, Golden Hours (As You Like It) challenges our patience, attention span, humour and stamina—there are walkouts.

Time is what it is seems to be about, and it is amazing how interminable it can be when sitting in self-conscious silence. “Time travels at different speeds for different people. I can tell you who time strolls for, who it trots for, who it gallops for, and who it stops cold for.” De Keersmaeker makes it drag.

“Oh me oh my
I think it's been an eternity
You'd be surprised
At my degree of uncertainty
How can moments go so slow?”

How can moments go so slowly? Brian Eno’s lyrics from his ambient “Golden Hours” track from his 1975 album Another Green World define the evening.

This four-minute song invites movement, but the bare black stage is empty, nothing to see. Eleven people in casual clothes and trainers eventually emerge from the back door and walk oh so slowly in phalanx towards the front, turn and walk back. Tiny moves of the head, a change of pace, they hobble and run.

Silence falls heavily. White letters on black: As You Like It in capitals, quotes from the play, guides to the action on the stage. If you know the play, well and good, if not there is a synopsis in the single sheet handout. But which one is Rosalind, which one Celia, Touchstone, Jaques, Orlando, the Duke, the shepherds—they all are. “And one man in his time plays many parts.”

In silence broken very occasionally by a strumming player (Carlos Garbin), the essence of the play unfolds. It looks like child’s play and improvisation, limited in range and expression. The gender is as fluid as in Shakespeare, but there’s a banal literalism in De Keersmaeker’s guidance that kills joy and quick comedy.

Orlando hands out white sheets of paper to the front rows, his love poems to the trees in the forest; cigarette smoke is shared between lovers. Lines are chalked on the stage floor, a hashtag RSLND and emoticons. The dancers move to the internal inscrutable rhythms of their chosen texts. Golden Hours (As You Like It) feels a work in progress, a rehearsal process, a private language, and a deprivation.

The lack of music becomes the landscape of the forest, its stillness. How unused we are in our bustling lives to sit in silence for so long. Like children in a classroom being put to the test, how long can you sit without fidgeting… Or coughing or glugging water—in this stifling hush. “How weary are my spirits” (writ large on the back wall)—is De Keersmaeker indulging in self-parody?

Silent wooing never won fair lady, and “it is a melancholy of mine own” perhaps that informs my resistance to this hermeneutic exegesis of Shakespeare’s play and Eno’s looping song. “Several times I’ve seen the evening slide away.” “Perhaps my brains have turned to sand.”

The music returns at the very end and I see people jiggle in their seats: oh the joy of music, “give me excess of it”.

Reviewer: Vera Liber