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by David Mead

September 11, 2009 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

While minimalist is probably the last word that would describe “Zeitung”, in many ways this second London presentation by Rosas was as much about tensions as the first.  Here though, De Keersmaeker and pianist Alain Franco went in search of the unstable combination between music and dance, choreography and improvisation, and romance and disillusion.

“Zeitung” is set to 26 music selections, mostly Bach preludes and fugues, but with some Webern and Schoenberg tossed in, some of which is recorded, some of which is played by Alain Franco at his grand piano upstage.  Franco rather engagingly sat in an old armchair while not playing.  Yet for the first hour De Keersmaeker and Franco seemed determined to demonstrate that dance could be independent from the accompanying music.  As if to make the point, one section has no dance at all.

For much of the time the two were indeed completely disconnected.  The problem is that one still tries to make connections, and when you cannot, as interesting as the dance may be, it becomes increasingly problematic.  But the lack of relationship went further.  Many sections of dance come from nowhere, and disappear just as quickly.  They are also highly individual.  Not only is the dance disconnected from the music, and each section of dance is disconnected from what goes before and after, but the dancers are disconnected from each other.

In many ways it reminded me of a rehearsal where a choreographer has asked dancers to improvise and create movement.  The result is a set of fragments that only later are pieced together in a way coherent to an outside observer.  I have no doubts that each dancer’s movement had great personal intention and meaning, but with nothing to relate it to, it was lost on much of the audience.

It was unremittingly difficult to watch.  The body language of some of the audience suggested they soon started asking ‘Why?’  A man near me at various times appeared asleep, held his head in his hands, or sat with is chin balanced on his fist, looking for all the world completely bored.  At least he stayed.  Unable to find an answer, a number did not, gave up and walked out.  It is perhaps just as well there was no interval, otherwise I suspect many more would have done the same.  That would have been a mistake because they would have missed a treat.  The hints of what might be to come were realised in an outstanding last 50 minutes when those who persevered were rewarded with some outstanding dance.  Perhaps, in the end, even De Keersmaeker could not escape the music.

The change came quite unexpectedly when, out of the blue, the work became eminently watchable and everything seemed to make sense.  It began with an outstanding and achingly beautiful, almost lyrical duet that subsequently morphed into a trio set to a prelude and fugue from Bach’s “Das Wohltemperierte Klavier”.  This was followed by an equally powerful, menacing section.  Whether it was only the difficulties of the first half that made one realise it, suddenly everything and everyone seemed in their rightful place.  It probably says a great deal about how dance is usually viewed, but now the dancers were clearly in relation to each other and the music, a relationship that changed, sometimes in unison, sometimes in counterpoint, but in relationship none the less.

The biggest disappointment with “Zeitung” was not the music-dance relationship, but that although each dancer’s movement was very personal, especially in the first half, most failed singularly to show personality.  Perhaps it was no surprise that the exceptions were long-time Rosas dancers, most notably Cynthia Loemij, who dressed in a skimpy white vest and well-worn jeans showed a quiet yet powerful presence throughout.  In the second half especially, she always seemed to be at one with the pulse of the music.  Loemij was equally potent in “Rosas danst Rosas” earlier in the week.  Of the newer dancers, only South African Moya Michel stood out.

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