Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich
Sadler's Wells Theatre, London; April 10, 2011
Opening the week long retrospective of four of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s early works, “Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich” is a 1982 collaboration with the minimalist composer that comprises three duets and one solo danced to compositions that shift gradually in rhythm and melody. While the four dances may not have different colours, each undoubtedly possesses a different shade and tone.
Structurally, all the works follow the interlocking patterns and phasing in the music. There are links to the movement too. Angular gestures and the mechanical nature of the opening “Piano Phase” reflect Reich’s percussive use of the piano, while the circular pattern in “Violin Phase” reflects the fact the music is a rondo.
Talking about her work generally, De Keersmaeker once observed, “I think that ultimately each dance is part of a larger whole, a dance that has no beginning, and no end.” That is certainly the case here. Although each of the four sections is quite distinct from the others, “Fase” is most definitely a single choreographic entity. In all four sections the dance is developed from short sequences that are repeated and then shifted, varied and combined into new, longer phrases. There are strong connections in the use of space and lighting, and in the later repetition of motifs developed in the opening “Piano Phase.”
When it comes to moving around the stage, the straight line is king, but circles have a role too, whether it’s the half turns in “Piano Phase,” moving round on a chair in “Come Out,” or in creating a complex pattern in “Violin Phase.”
“Piano Phase” is the longest, and probably the most difficult section for those unfamiliar with de Keersmaeker’s work. Dressed in calf-length dresses, white ankle socks and sneakers, de Keersmaeker and Tale Dolven, the latter outstanding in all four works, move in front of a white scrim, their shadows following them.
It starts in total unison. Blank faced with their right arms swinging, the dancers stride along a line making frequent half turns. The synchronicity is mesmerising. The initially simple dance gets increasingly complex but just when the steps have become fixed in the mind, small variations start to appear. Before long the pair slip in and out of synch with each other, sometimes still facing the same way, but sometimes facing each other. The change can be so sudden it comes as a shock, but often it happens so gradually that you barely notice it at first. One effect of the repetition is that tiny gestures, a sigh here, a glance there, a brush of the hair or a stronger flick of the arm, things that may otherwise pass unnoticed, become intensely dramatic.
The second section, “Come Out,” is performed to the same recording of a young black man arrested in a disturbance in New York, that was to more recently provide inspiration for Shobana Jeyasingh’s “Bruise Blood.” It all takes place sat on two stools, each dancer under a light. Now the movements appear more to reference everyday actions, although quite what is unclear. Is it abstract? There are no clues in the programme, but one repeated gesture certainly looks like sewing, or is it the nervous twitch of someone under interrogation.
On the face of it the solo “Violin Phase,” danced in London by de Keersmaeker, is a set of steps that mark a circle and its radii. In fact, and this is very difficult to spot from the stalls, the patterning is quite intricate. As anyone who has seen the film shot at MoMA in New York, when de Keersmaeker danced on sand will testify, the rose window pattern that results is startlingly beautiful.
The final “Clapping Music,” with its steps, hops and flips onto sneakered pointe is the most upbeat section. At times the dancers look like characters on an Ancient Egyptian frieze. At the end the audience roared its approval. And quite rightly too.
Rosas is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you are looking for meaning, you are probably not going to find it here. De Keersmaeker’s style does not mean a lack of emotion though. It’s just that it sneaks up on you in different ways, different ways that you need to be open to.
The reviews of all four works danced during the week will form the basis of a longer article (with photos) for the magazine.