De Keersmaekers Dancing in the Rainby Vanessa Manko
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s 70-minute long Rain, which had its New York premier at BAM in mid-November, is nothing short of a tour de force. Loosely based on a novel by Kirsty Gunn in which a young boy drowns, the Belgian choreographer experiments with ideas surrounding the act of breathing, artificial respiration, and the ebb and flow of water. Dancers run concentric circles round each other and propel themselves across the stage in whip-lashing movement passages, stopping abruptly only to move on in another direction. The otherwise fluid dancing gives way to momentary pauses that are punctuated by a flexed-foot or an elbow awkwardly jutting out to one side, adding a quirkiness to the lyricism. Steve Reich’s equally pressing Music for 18 Musicians, in which chords are matched to human breathing, further underscore Rain’s propelling motion. De Keersmaeker also experiments with falling. Dancers tilt and lean almost dropping to the floor before a quick recovery— a movement that seems to mimic grasping for air. The ten dancers break off into trios and duets, and there are also group dances for men and women (the women here have conspiratorial smiles), yet at no time does the movement stop. In continuous swells and surges, dancers congregate and disperse like a meandering stream of water. Jan Versweyveld’s set made of a half circle of ropes that, when touched, ricochet off each other creating an illusion of falling rain, mirrors the fluidity of the piece. And the lighting design, based on a pallet of pinks (mauve, rose, blush pink, petal pink), alters with the intensity of the dancing. Overall, De Keersmaeker has found a way to incorporate the inhalation and exhalation of breath into the very fabric of the choreography so that it too has a breath and lightness to it— a buoyancy and lyricism as light as a fine mist, and, at other moments, as unyielding and relentless as driving rain.
Water also makes an appearance in RoseAnne Spradlin’s Rearrangment (or a Spell for Mortals) which had its premiere at The Kitchen in November. Glass boxes filled with water line the perimeter of the stage. Two dancers (Walter Dundervill and Athena Malloy) begin a duet of intricate patterns meant to resemble DNA sequencing. How exactly does this translate into movement? While one dancer begins a phrase, the other is a moment behind and they circle round each other in one continuous coil. Dundervill and Malloy seem set on the same path, reaching the end via different means. They sometimes shake and spasm or lift a leg to the side or release into a controlled plié. At other moments intricate footwork requires each to stamp out a rhythm; one finishing a hair’s breath behind the other. While Rearrangement is rather heady in its attempt to bridge dance and science, the fact that there is a man and woman dancing on stage infuses the piece with human emotion. In some ways, Dundervill and Malloy seem like a quarreling couple who, though speaking the same language, cannot understand each other. There is a groping sense to the movement quality as the two rehash and retrace their steps, and this creates a disquieting yet powerful effect.
Spradlin’s 2002 under/world, which won a Bessie earlier this year, was also on the program. Divided into two parts— "Gravity Ball" and "Night Sweating"— under/world offers a glimpse into the world of private sexual obsession and delves into fetishism through dance. And what better way to do this than through the body, exploring dance’s seamier side. In this trio, Dundervill, Malloy, and Tasha Taylor continually walk up and down a runway that divides the stage and spills over into the audience. As the dancers enter, they launch into "performance," modeling particular fetishes. under/world has a rawness to it, and this is not because of the visible amount of flesh to be seen (dancers are nearly nude throughout). Rather, Spradlin’s dancers have a desperation to their movements, as if constantly struggling through life and so there is also an unpolished freshness to the dancing— its unfettered and Dundervill, Malloy and Taylor move with wild abandonment, like furies whirling and twirling through the underworld. Spradlin is not afraid to explore a darker side of sexuality and in so doing distills a surprising beauty.
VANESSA MANKO was the former Dance Editor for the Brooklyn Rail.