Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Rosas Danst Rosas

Choreography (and set design) by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Music by Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch
Sadlers Wells
(2009)

Production photo

A quarter of a century after its creation Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker revisits (for two nights only) her defining breakthrough piece, which gave the name to her company, Rosas (1983), by dancing in it herself with Cynthia Loemji, Sarah Ludi, and Samantha van Wissen.

Like the late Pina Bausch, Lea Anderson, and Ohad Naharin, De Keersmaeker is inspired by simple everyday movements, which when repeated build to a hypnotising momentum, both fluid and quick, but always human and witty, personal and universal.

Dance as accessible movement and a natural response to music. Music is integral to the drama and development of the piece, and De Keersmaeker works closely with her composers, Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch. To quote Alistair Spalding quoting Balanchine: "See the music and hear the dance".

A most apposite quote, in this case. Against a metallic backcloth the five-part piece opens with a deep 'industrial' sound, and then deafening silence. The low-level lighting (by Remon Fromont) picks out four female bodies lying on the floor. To the sound of their exhalations, and bodies and hands hitting the floor naturally, the four women move in unison with the precision of machines until one breaks away. The permutations change again, but the synchronisation continues in counterpoint and at a distance, as they roll over the territory of the stage, sit up, tilt and fall.

Sphinx-like poses, arms sweeping the floor, restless felines or restive workers or bored teenagers on a dull afternoon, they define the geometry of the space and the 'dance'. Apart, but together... Infectious languor, or the relentless repetition, caused the critic next to me to nod off.

A ticking sound brings us back, gentle at first, then more insistent, whilst the dancers set out chairs in three groups of three and a two in diagonal, sit down, put their shoes on, and dance never leaving their seats.

With autistic repetition, under spotlights delineating their moves, and complicit glances, the dynamic is ratcheted up as the layers of music build track upon track to a mechanical compulsive thrum. Trapped in a cycle; cogs in a wheel; nervous energy; a crisis of emotion? Something is happening. And it is wonderful. Can we join in? But it goes on and on, never slacking. Please stop. Enough is enough

The chairs are lined up against the back wall, and cabaret strips of light slash the stage. Shirts are shrugged suggestively off sweaty shoulders. And on and on they go on their feet now, but still earthbound. Compelled and propelled by the percussive sound into ritualistic shamanistic dance. A mix of Red Shoes, Modern Times, and Samuel Beckett...

The stage is bathed in warm light, and the vigour of the dance intensifies in its fourth part. The music takes on a folk dance element with pipes and synthesisers surfing on top of the percussion. Thankfully, the music gets more interesting as the dance begins to weary the viewer. Are they taking part in a rite, or a marathon? They Shoot Horses, Don't They? comes to mind.

A dancer drops to the floor. Yes, they are worn out. That's what dancing does - no masking the reality. There is a price to pay. The dancers stand still, backs to the audience, in silence. Recovering their breath. Lights out.

Repetitive motion for one hour and forty minutes without interval feels twice as long. Marvellous and mesmerising though it is, half the length would have been just as good. But, the journey, obviously, has to be made. The ritual completed; the body put to the test of time. One leaves not energised, but spent.

Reviewer: Vera Liber