Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker | Rosas
London, Sadler’s Wells
5 November 2012
The opening sequence of this show tipped over into a self-indulgence that, while remarkable, became hard to bear. A tall, thin, bald man (actually Michael Schmid, but he could have passed for Wayne McGregor at a distance) demonstrated some gymnastic breathing techniques that enabled him to hold a monotonous, tuneless noise while blowing into a flute for around ten minutes. It was certainly no sound that I have ever heard a flautist make before and its duration was both astonishing and relentless. Near the end of his epic blow, I was dismayed by the thought that this show was to last 100 minutes without a break: at that point the anticipation of another hour-and-a-half was a very bleak prospect indeed.
Ten minutes later, still no step had been danced and – after they finally got moving, beginning with a long, sorrowful, solo walk by Chrysa Parkinson – when some of the eight dancers shed their clothing and went into the darkness at the back of the stage to find new garments, I was still so disillusioned by the work in progress that I made a note to suggest that they had gone to find the Emperor for their new clothes. But, by the end, I had been so won over by the many little capsule moments of genius that these earlier reservations had been blown away and I wanted more.
The related works of En Atendant and Cesena (to follow later in the week) began life outdoors at the Avignon Festival (albeit a year apart in July 2010/2011) and have now been brought indoors. The first work (En Atendant) was performed as daylight disappeared into night while Cesena followed in the early hours of the morning, as dawn broke. To replicate the journey into dusk, En Atendant begins with a stark fluorescent glare that lit up the whole auditorium and concludes with the light gradually ebbing away.
A medieval context soon became evident as the work progressed, not least in the music of a collective known as Cours & Coeur, featuring the dexterous, haunting singing of Annelies Van Gramberen. Mostly sitting on a bench at the side of the stage, the singer and two musicians performed half a dozen pieces that come from a genre known as ars subtilior (a subtle art). I won’t pretend to know a jot about ars subtilior but an informative programme note by Lyndsey Winship describes it as ‘a style of late 14th century polyphony recognised for its complexity of rhythm’. What I can say with confidence is that this unfamiliar music had a spine-tingling effect (although I kept imagining how much more powerful this would have been when experienced at dusk in the courtyard of the Papal Palace in Avignon). Nevertheless, this was still a mesmerising experience, made all the more so by these isolated oases of textured sound being enclosed within long periods of silence.
The set consisted of the aforementioned bench and a line of clay, which was eventually scuffed and trodden messily into the stage during a frenetic solo by Bostajn Antoncic. Dancers occasionally skidded and slipped on the dirt, lending a feeling of outdoors authenticity. Most of the steps were simple, based on patterns of walking or playing and there often appeared to be some kind of geometrical shaping of the collective movement. When they danced as an ensemble, the choreography suddenly slipped through the centuries, with influences ranging from the baroque to the neoclassical. Some of the group movement, where a trio of dancers might swing a fourth dancer into a position, creating strange, fluid shapes through the coagulation of their limbs, reminded me of work by Mark Morris. The final solo by a naked man – a “late evening” frolic against the steadily dying light – was sublime.
The early section may well have taken an age to get going but the final hour flew by with wave after wave of inside-out, back-to-front, inter-woven movement. I can’t help but feel cheated at missing this day into dusk on a summer’s evening in Avignon and waking up to its counterpart the next morning. This must have been an unforgettable experience. The three days and nights that must pass between seeing En Atendant and Cesena in this theatrical interpretation at Sadler’s Wells must rank as the longest interval ever.