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Then & Now

It was a week like none other. Let’s just say that there was “before Paris” and then there was the unfathomably horrific, “after Paris,” when the world was once again irrevocably changed. Before Paris, people, went about their business—be it benign, beautiful, dutiful and/or consequential, which, in this writer’s case, happens to be covering the arts. And so it was with extraordinary excitement, that Royce Hall loomed early in this pre-holiday period, because that was where the intensely brilliant choreographer, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who rarely ventures to the West Coast (she performed at Orange County’s Irvine Barclay Theatre in 1997; before that in 1985 at L.A.’s Japan America Theatre), was to begin what was essentially a week-long residency/retrospective on campus. (Curiously, ATDK took Paris by storm earlier this month with works performed by Paris Opera Ballet at the Palais Garnier.)


Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas: “Rosas: Then & Now”


Center for the Art of Performance, Royce Hall, Los Angeles, California, November 10, 12-14, 2015


Victoria Looseleaf

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's “Rosas Danst Rosas.” Image courtesy of the company

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Much gratitude, then, goes to CAP UCLA’s executive and artistic director, the indefatigable cultural catalyst, Kristy Edmunds. And so it was only natural that Angelenos in the know wended their way to the Hall on Tuesday, for the first of four different programs.

And while ATDK danced through the physically punishing “Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich” (she executed one solo; performing the remaining three sections with Tale Dolven), a seminal work made in 1982 that put the Flemish-speaking artist on the Minimalist/terpsichorean map, those in the audience not in the know, were confused, frightened or—can it be—bored, leading some to an early exit.

How unfortunate for them! But this opus is an acquired taste, with the work leading to the founding of De Keersmaeker’s Brussels-based troupe, Rosas, in 1983. Even back then, “Fase” contained hallmarks of ATDK, her style and vocabulary on full view: precise pattern repetitions detailed with explicit gesturing; her innate sense of lighting and accompaniment (from silence to high-decibel sounds, heard on this night, on tape), the combination ultimately yielding a type of in-your-face, fracturing of the possible.

Thursday arrived and with it De Keersmaeker’s signature work, “Rosas danst Rosas,” which this reviewer saw the choreographer perform in Europe when she was 50—and which pop star Beyoncé was thought to have appropriated or “borrowed” bits for her 2011 work, “Countdown” (the hair flips, the baring and covering of shoulders). For this appearance, however, ATDK did not dance, leaving the grueling work to the astonishing quartet of Linda Blomqvist, Sandra Ortega Bejarano, Sue-Yeon Youn and Dolven.

At a run-time of one hour and forty-five minutes, the five-section marathon is not always easy to watch/love. The dancers, nearly superhuman, rivet with their stamina, allure and sheer ferocity of focus, yes. But it is, indeed, a kind of group consciousness, one that is obsessively devoted to a sublime art, and one that alternately bores, terrifies, induces trance states and is a jaw-dropping victory of mathematical and organic proportions, that reigns supreme.

Beginning in an extended period of silence (30 minutes, but who’s counting?), that could be called near deafening, it is the dancers’ breath we hear, a device that reminded this reviewer of the award-winning, “Le Co(te)lette,” a 2007 work by Dutch choreographer, Ann van den Broek. (Literally, a “piece of meat,” that dance might be branded a kind of postmodern Showgirls meets Fight Club, one that decidedly pushes bodies to the brink. “Co(te)lette” was also made into a film by the esteemed Mike Figgis, and was shown in 2011 as part of L.A.’s Dance Camera West festival)
But we digress: “Rosas,” decades older, is its own entity, with unison moves, including yoga-like cobras and lunges, hand-on-forehead and falling-backward motifs all part of the increasingly frenetic picture, the breathing a ploy, perhaps, to aid the dancers in counting, this pranic togetherness a thing of beauty.

With the overwhelming silence also come the squeaky sounds of tennis shoes, as well as the droning of bodies rolling on the floor, over and over and over again. Tableaux depict the women tilting their heads, their half-prone bodies rooted to the stage, the upper torsos angled in space, recalling Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World.

Replete with mystery, longing and a strange serenity, this was the calm before De Keersmaeker’s storm—a calm that would also be shattered world-wide a mere 24 hours later. Radical, austere and even somewhat hallucinogenic, the work amped up when Thierry De Mey’s and Peter Vermeersch’s score let loose with industrialized metallic rhythms: Are we witnessing movement for movements’ sake or is there some hidden karmic meaning?

This mystique also ratcheted up the tension. Decidedly unlike ballet, where effort is hidden, here we can’t help but bear witness: to the sweat, the work, the art, the life.

Clad in neo-militaristic wear (loose shirts, short, flowy dark skirts, tights and those sensibly dreary shoes, the costumes credited as “rerun” by Anne-Catherine Kunz), the quartet emitted a schoolgirl sensibility when chairs were added. Think, in an obtuse way, of William Forsythe’s “Impressing the Czar,” albeit one with a lusty, hair-swinging attitude, with each of the four women projecting her own personality, a half-smile here, a knowing look there.

This casual formality is pushed to the limit, for audience and performers alike.

What are they thinking, these anti-cheerleaders, as they are seated, hunched, hands on chins à la Rodin, touching their breasts, moving jerkily, standing, slinking back down again? But ours is not to ask what or why, ours is to experience, to feel, to breathe with this well-oiled machine that rises and falls, canonic and constant. And breathe we do, with Remon Fromont’s occasionally harsh lighting providing both respite and unease.

Then again, this was Thursday.

As shell-shocked patrons found their way once more to the Hall on Friday, Edmunds offered impromptu, near weeping words before the program, “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”). Set to Arnold Schönberg’s late Romantic score of the same name, the original choreography was created as a group piece in 1995, and was rewritten as a duet only last year.

Heard on tape, the music draws from a poem by Richard Dehmel in which a woman confesses to the man she loves that she is pregnant by another man. Danced exquisitely by Boštjan Antoncic and Samatha van Wissen, with brief, bookended appearances by Nordine Benchorf, this stunning, heart-wrenching pas de deux featured daring and sumptuous lifts, with the couple’s commitment to a work dense with emotions made by a woman not known for same, helping to lift the thick, dark pall that shrouded the theater.

Feelings were palpable, salvation, for the moment, was within grasp.

With the onslaught of news from Paris making its swift, inexorable journey through all media and into the deepest recesses of our minds, we were again at Royce Hall on Saturday for “Vortex Temporum.” Set to Gérard Grisey’s fiendishly difficult, 1996 eponymous masterpiece, this 2013 De Keersmaeker choreography featured a live performance by the Brussels-based new music group, Ictus.

The seven dancers and six musicians proved thrilling and fascinating—on their own and as a gorgeous, cohesive whole. Ictus kicked off the work, blowing, bowing and clanging in that contemporary way that either enthralls or enrages, here enthralling. Replacing the sextet, the dancers then performed in silence, their hard-edged moves confrontational and cunning, each its own connective tissue to the unseen, the unknown.

The bold intertwining of sound and movement followed, linking each dancer (Carlos Garbin, Marie Goudot, Cynthia Loemij, Julien Monty, Michaël Pomero, Igor Shyshko and Antoncic), to an instrument, creating a mash-up of monumental proportion. Where else, after all, will you see a pianist (Lean-Luc Plouvier), playing the hell out of a Steinway while the instrument is moved around the stage—by a dancer, no less—with the ease and grace of, say, a LeBron James?
In medicine, ictus is a sudden event such as a stroke, seizure, collapse, or faint—in world events it was Paris—while yet another definition is “rhythmic or metrical stress.”

And whether choreography blossomed into veering, off-kilter runs, fluid clusters or ever-present, Dervish-like turns—with magnificent lighting by De Keersmaeker and Luc Shaltin, Rembrandtian at times—when musicians and dancers purposely began to lose steam, like balloons deflating, it was the realized efforts of this collaboration that made for an indelible performance.

The work, risky, life-affirming in its obliqueness, and what we so desperately needed—and will always need—brought a thunderous hush to the crowd, to us theater-going mortals. Amen to art, then, and long live Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who, along with Kristy Edmunds, aesthetic warrior perpetually on the frontlines, continue to bring spirit, vigor and joy, however splintered, to a world in pain.

Victoria Looseleaf

Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based international arts journalist who covers music and dance festivals around the world. Among the many publications she has contributed to are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Dance Magazine and KCET’s Artbound. In addition, she taught dance history at USC and Santa Monica College. Looseleaf’s novella-in-verse, Isn't It Rich? is available from Amazon, and and her latest book, Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet with illustrations by JT Steiny, was recently published by Red Sky Presents. Looseleaf can be reached through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In, as well as at her online arts magazine ArtNowLA.



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