The Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, a titan of contemporary dance, can seem somewhat forbidding. Rain, which premiered in 2001, is therefore a revelation. Yes, there is rigorous mathematical structuring, and a strong formalism. It’s 70 minutes of abstract contemporary dance performed to Steve Reich’s minimalist Music for 18 Musicians. But it’s utterly captivating, full of unexpected, joyous exuberance.
The Ictus Ensemble provides an outstanding live performance of Reich’s music, a soaring, hypnotic cascade of sound, driven by xylophone, marimba, clarinet, piano, violin and voice, which fills the auditorium. Such is De Keersmaeker’s musicality that her ten dancers seem to be completely woven into this music as they run, leap, arc, spiral and tilt, in perfect complement to the piece’s 11 stages, or “pulses”. They surge around the stage, propelling each other’s movements, creating shell spirals, slicing lines, tai chi shapes, duets and trios, sometimes all in sync, sometimes scampering freely, flashing moments of virtuosity.
Sometimes, as when they burst through Jan Versweyveld’s arcing beaded back curtain and sashay down the stage towards us, it feels like a catwalk show – they’re dressed in Dries Van Noten, in a colour palette that shifts as the piece progresses from taupe, oyster, cream and blush to more intense daubs of coral, fuchsia and magenta, and then back, echoing the music and movement’s ebbing and flowing intensity.
You are aware of the choreography’s complex layering and obsessive, detailed patterning – De Keersmaeker’s dancers, like raindrops sent skittering across a speeding car’s windows, are governed by a relentless logic even when their movement seems random – but it never feels oppressive. At one point the whole ensemble moves in a line like an anti-clockwise clock hand, repeatedly swapping places as they go; a simple premise, fiendishly difficult to make run smoothly.
You are also aware that De Keersmaeker is pushing these seven women and three men to the edge of their stamina – this is 70 minutes of incessant activity. However, the weariness that creeps into faces and limbs towards the end is as important as any of the perfectly executed moves – it’s another of the unpredictable human elements, among the myriad little dramas mapped on to the dancing, that give Rain its warmth and emotional depth.