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Rosas/Alston/Khan - Dance to Music by Steve Reich

by Cassandra

September 28, 2006 -- Barbican Centre, London

Part 1: Rosas

In this programme, three very different choreographers create works to the music of Steve Reich. The first part, Piano Phrase, is performed by Rosas to a recording of Reich’s Piano Phase and Violin Phase from Fase. This music is stark and ascetic in its nature. It is very much to De Keersmaeker’s credit that she is able to interpret such a difficult score so effortlessly. In the first half of the work, Piano Phase, the two dancers (De Keersmaeker and Tale Dolven) are plainly dressed in simple, almost colourless dresses with white ankle socks and sneakers. Although they are just two, they cast three shadows that become four when they begin to dance. The choreography is as spare and basic as the minimalist score. The movements include repeated turns with one arm outstretched at a speed that is neither fast nor slow, which exactly matches that of the music. The repetitious character of the steps could easily be boring, however it is anything but with the movement developing a hypnotic quality that draws the viewer into the inexorable rhythms of the dance.

The second half, Violin Phase, is an extended solo for De Keersmaeker that begins with her barely visible on the darkened stage with only her torso slightly illuminated. By degrees the light increases until she casts a giant shadow that eventually becomes two. As ever, I admired her stamina in this demanding piece. This is a lady who never spares herself physically.

Part 2: Richard Alston Dance Company

The music of the second work, Perotin Viderunt Omnes and Proverb could not be more different from the first as this is Reich acknowledging the past with a nod to both Elizabethan part songs and Renaissance church liturgy. Beautifully sung by The Theatre of Voices and Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen grouped at the back of the stage, this far more varied score offered opportunities for more emotional involvement with the music. With a company of ten, the groupings were many and varied, beginning with a duet for two men and eventually encompassing the entire troupe. There was a strange contrast between the girls’ smart cocktail dresses and the mens’ loose T-shirts, as if formal and very casual were experimenting in interaction. At times I caught a slight, almost imperceptible gesture of arm and wrist hinting at courtly posturings of the past, but this was momentary. The engaging choreography was both flowing and energetic, reflecting the music, but perhaps on this occasion not creating any really lasting images.

Part 3: Akram Khan Company

The backdrop to Akram Khan’s contribution to the evening is the London Sinfonietta, ranged around the back and sides of the stage and leaving a well-defined rectangle at the front of the stage as a performing space. Reich’s “Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings” requires a larger then usual percussion section and the massed ranks of players seem to have had a significant influence on Khan’s creation. The work begins with a smile-inducing example of Khan’s humour when company member Gregory Macqoma sits on a chair, looks out into the auditorium and says “Hi”. Quite a few audience members return his greeting and he proceeds to tell us a little about himself. Soon however it becomes apparent that he is in fact engaged in an interview with an invisible interviewer and you begin to play a game with him of guessing what the original questions were. After a few minutes of this, conductor Alan Pierson comes forward with a gesture that reminds us that Macqoma is there to dance and, with chair and dancer removed, the music and dancing begin. The humour continues with a witty sequence of the three dancers with their backs to the stage conducting the orchestra, both a parody of a conductor’s movements and an opportunity to admire some particularly fluid arm movements by the dancers. Khan’s arms, of course, were the most fluidly beautiful of all.

This was a very lengthy programme that was both a tribute to Steve Reich’s music and to the choreographers and dancers that interpreted it in their own individual styles. Audience reaction was rapturous and the applause prolonged. The evening’s performance was dedicated to the memory of recently deceased John Drummond who was not only a fierce champion of Reich’s music, but of modern music in general, besides being a great lover of dance in all its forms.

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