Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has always experimented with the tension between music and dance in her choreographies. In Drumming, for instance, musicians, transitioning from one percussion instrument to another, created a choreographic pattern of their own, while in Achterland dancers scurried alongside violinists, playfully charging the musicians.
Mozart/Concert Arias: un moto di gioia, presented by the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center’s La Guardia theater in late August, was originally created in 1992, the first year De Keersmaeker’s troupe, Rosas, became the resident company of the Monnaie in Belgium. In this plotless work, De Keersmaeker stages the composer’s sublime works for soprano and orchestra in an unconventional hybrid that blends concert recital with dance performance. Through nine Mozart arias, De Keersmaeker explores the many facets of love, relations between men and women, and the love dance harbors for music.
This lavish production features three excellent sopranos, a pianoforte soloist, and the orchestra of St. Luke’s. The simple period set design, oval parquet flooring, and pianoforte evoke a ballroom, but the rectangular panels of greenery and white lawn chairs are reminiscent of a garden. The dancers have several costume changes throughout the evening and are dressed in sumptuous 18th-century clothes that range from unisex nightshirts to Marie Antoinette minidresses for the women and Les Liaisons Dangereuses coattails for the men.
At first, the dance and music seem to have a torrid affair. Partrizia Biccirè’s singing spurs the antic Vincent Dunoye to leap and kick around her. He then turns his attentions to Anke Hermann, giving her a music score only to kick it out of her hands, strip down to his skivvies, and jump into her arms. At other times music and dance seem bound for collision, as when the long-haired Rosalba Guerrero slowly walks backward toward a singer, narrowly missing her.
Intermittently, the singers step back so that the choreography commands our attention. To be sure, the performance lives up to its subtitle, un moto di gioia, which translates as “a flash of joy.” For instance, Bruce Campell and Johan Thelander, in what becomes an ongoing joke throughout the evening, bounce up and down in an athletic jumping duo, assuming different arm positions on every beat, including one that mimics the heart all aflutter.
Although love suffuses the music and production, there is only one dance of harmonic coupling. Nordine Benchorf and Taka Shamoto perform this rolling duet on the floor, seldom touching, and only coming together briefly before ending apart. Yet, despite the lack of physical contact, the dance is deeply sensual. De Keersmaeker’s eye for details, like Benchorf unfurling Shamoto’s hair or when he folds and tucks in her skirts, imbues the dance with an unusual intimacy.
The euphoria of love is balanced by sadness. Elizabeth Penkova cries out while Rosalba Guerrero sighs in turn, and De Keersmaeker is at her most inventive when portraying the exquisite longing of the arias. Women lurch forward on all fours again and again in rangy fits, unable to move. Igor Shyshko repeatedly attempts to rise up from a kneeling position by propelling himself with his arms. But he only manages to balance, momentarily, on his toes before sinking to the floor again. Here, the repetition transforms the virtuosic movement into naked desire.
De Keersmaeker pokes fun at this desire too. The petite Marta Coronado prowls the stage wearing a leopard-print dress with her skirt in her mouth; later, Vincent Dunoye wears the same dress in a hilarious cross-dressing moment. Marion Levy, a performer with a firecracker intensity, crawls across the stage at breakneck speed like a countess gone wild. These clumsy bids for attention endear us to the dancers, and the incongruous play off the music is smartly done.
SHANTI CRAWFORD is a choreographer and writer based in Greenpoint.