I said I said it all

Virginia Baxter, Keith Gallasch: Fase, Drumming, I Said I, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas, Fase

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas, Fase

Conservative programming in Australia that denies us the work of major contemporary artists is tragic. One visit from Pina Bausch to the 1982 Adelaide Festival has kept us going for decades—it’s taken an Olympics to get her back. The Wooster Group—once. Mabou Mines—once. Jan Fabre—once. Jan Lauwers—once. William Forsythe—once. And all at Adelaide festivals. We’ve been waiting to see Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker for too long now. She brought her company Rosas once to Perth in the 1990s while the rest of us made do with pitifully brief dispatches. On the law of averages that should have been that, but Robyn Archer thankfully brought us de Keersmaeker in triplicate this Adelaide Festival.

It was in 1981 that de Keersmaeker collaborated with members of the Steve Reich ensemble to create Fase. Fortunately for us, de Keersmaeker believes in revivals. Watching the same two bodies who danced it then (de Keersmaeker herself and Michèle Anne De Mey) dance it 19 years down the track is pleasure indeed. In Piano Phase the dancers spin hypnotically against a wide screen. Between them is the shadow they jointly create, two nearly identical dancers making seemingly identical, seemingly simple movements. We watch as the inevitable variations of breath, blood, the velocity of hair, the kinetics and speed of singular bodies move them ever so slightly in and out of phase. As their shadows play with parallax, ergonomics, air and light, the music moves in and out of ever more complex synchronicities. The patterns of movement vary in each of the sections that follow (Come out, Violin Phase and Clapping Music) but the same geometrical attention to space, light and short choreographed sentences is repeated. What it adds up to is a synaesthetic experience of music and movement. A composer friend said she longed for live musicians—imagining that was almost too much. As it was, the beauty of this work left me breathless. VB

Drumming is like watching Chaos Theory in action as the dancers move in and out of sync with Steve Reich’s score and with each other. Dance often likes to explore the relationship between the individual and the group (de Keersmaeker’s I Said I being a potent example entering new territory), sometimes to the point of cliché, but in Drumming social complexity is evoked. The power of the work resides in the relationship between the one, the several and the many. Initially, an individual in a strip of light moves freely with the quality of improvisation, stop-starting her way into fluidity. Forward of her, in the dark we see a man enter, imitate her, slightly behind, suddenly totally in sync. Other dancers enter informally from the wings where they’ve been standing. Soon there’s a swirling cosmos of atoms, sudden pairings, and trios striding together. In the middle a woman pushes into the back of a man, the first touch, which triggers others. Dancers fly dangerously close to each other. They acknowledge each other, a smile, a touch, making space, moving fast into a huge unit (here and there sudden partnerships you might miss if looking the wrong way). But there are limits, a change in the Reichian pulse and suddenly the edge of the stage becomes an invisible wall which pushes the dancer away, suddenly another dancer is another such a wall. But the swirling never ceases, the brief duos and trios recur, this looks like chaos but it’s not, it’s chancy but meaningful, and beautiful and recognisable. KG

Peter Handke’s Self-Accusation is to dance for—the perfect text for choreographers we decide and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s I Said I the perfect spoken word dance. The 12 members of the company wear head microphones and deliver Handke’s text to perfection (allowing the words to work their way through the bodies to the audience, never over-inflecting them but allowing emotion to believably build of its own accord). The text is also projected on a screen above their heads and the production is “driven” from a desk at the front of the auditorium. Since the 90s de Keersmaeker has worked increasingly with live music. As we enter the theatre, the dancers await us on the stage flanked by musicians—on one side, a saxophonist and a scratch dj; on the other a piano trio. We’re often sold the idea of the journey in theatre and short-changed with hops to the corner shop. At the end of I Said I we feel like we’ve really been somewhere. Over two and a half hours (no interval) we re-live practically all we ever knew about getting along with other people—that vast vocabulary of interpersonal behaviours learned in all its traumatic detail, all its cultural complexity from ages nil to 7, modified from 9 to 12, rebelled against from 13 to 16 and still only occasionally perfect in adult life.

Each of the sentences is short, recited at fairly cracking pace; if someone makes a mistake, another corrects them. The music (both formally constructed and improvised) and the movement (eruptions of dance amidst patterns of everyday movement) builds step by step on the ideas embodied in the total work. Each dancer at some time becomes the individual learning to be part of the social corpus while the others team up or gang up to accept or reject. Everything is running smoothly until one of the performers decides to play ‘blind’ or accusative or demanding. Like the attention to the onstage infant in Les Ballet C de la B’s Iets Op Bach, the others peripherally guide the one who is different. There’s a revealing scene about blame and ostracism in which the many become the few and the one. It ends with everyone pointing accusingly at everyone else. The rebellious one walks into the audience to borrow a coat, eventually she’ll take up the tarquette. Though it’s rumoured to be a difficult work, we saw only 3 people walk out, leaving the rest of us to roar our appreciation.

At this year’s Sydney Festival we had one of the relatively regular visits from choreographer Jiri Kylian and the Nederlands Dans Theater. The season of 2 works attracted justifiably large audiences but troubling responses from some of the critics. In particular, The Australian’s dance writer used her appreciation of this work of ‘pure’ dance as a stick to beat Australian contemporary dance practitioners whom she believed should all go back to their studios and start again. But Kylian’s choreography, however expert its execution, has none of the communicating power of a work such as I Said I which revels in its hybridity; relishes words as well as a full repertoire of movement; is serious, yet playful. We hope the Herbertsons, Waltons, Carbees, Stewarts, Guerins, Adams, Walshes, O’Neills, Parkers, Patricks, Kohlers, Lasicas, Obarzaneks and others continue to defy antagonism to the postmodern in Australian dance. We wish them the critical climate that nurtured the perfection of a work like I Said I.

Fase, Drumming, I Said I, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas, Adelaide Festival Theatre, March 14 – 18; Adelaide Festival 2000

RealTime issue #36 April-May 2000 pg. 19

© Keith Gallasch & Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2000