Review: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker / Rosas - Golden Hours (As You Like It) - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 8 & 9 March 2016
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Wednesday 9 March 2016

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker / Rosas - Golden Hours (As You Like It). Photo: Bettina Strenske

Performance reviewed: 8 March

It opens with a music played onto an empty stage, but it’s not The Show Must Go On; it features wrestling and running in circles, but it’s not What The Body Does Not Remember; the cast periodically decorate the stage with piles of cast-off clothing, but it’s not Palermo, Palermo. While Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s latest work occasionally brings these and other classics fleetingly to mind, it’s a perplexing beast in a category of its own. Billed as a collaboration between the Belgian choreographer and Brian Eno, purveyor of ambient music and some of the lesser U2 albums, Golden Hours (As You Like It) is more about the parenthesis than the main title: the show is an experiment in turning Shakespeare’s text into movement, and while the idea is a bold and exciting one, the execution falls somewhat flat.

Usually when a dance production takes an extant play or narrative as its source, the relationship is one of inspiration rather than functional translation. The choreographer might be inspired by a theme, or an image from the text, rather than the work in its entirety. Not so here – Golden Hours treats Shakespeare’s play unusually comprehensively and in strict chronological sequence, act by act. It’s easy to see what might have appealed to the choreographer about the source material: the line spoken by Audrey the goatherd in Act 3 of the play,“I do not know what ‘poetical’ is… Is it a true thing?” could be the leitmotif of De Keersmaeker’s own work; the choreographer is equally feared and feted for her austere, no-frills, antipoetical approach to dancemaking.

Golden Hours takes place on a completely bare stage, lit with an unforgiving cage of fluorescent striplights, and performed by an eleven-strong cast in hyper-pedestrian clothing. Snatches of Shakespeare’s text are projected on the back wall of the stage in clean, workmanlike Helvetica. Everything about this production says “no-nonsense”, which might be par for the Rosas course but is is a strange approach to take to a pastoral comedy. Rosalind and her cousin Celia are danced by male performers, perhaps in homage to the conventions of the Elizabethan stage which would have likewise had a male actor play the cross-dressing Rosalind: a man portraying a young woman pretending to be a man. This potentially interesting avenue is however not much explored beyond the bare fact of its being on stage.

The collaboration with Eno is slight at best. Three tracks (Golden Hours, Everything Merges With the Night and I’ll Come Running) from the musician’s 1975 album Another Green World appear repeatedly, in recorded form and played live by members of the cast. A good three-quarters of the production, however, takes place in complete silence – a silence which demands (and receives, for the first hour) the audience’s total concentration. It’s hard-going, though, even by the standards of De Keersmaeker’s oeuvre, and as we meander into the second hour the audience’s focus audibly fails.

The word that kept flitting through my mind was “workshop” – not just because of the “furniture” of the work (the costumes, the lighting, the music or lack thereof), but because of the quality of the material itself. You can practically hear the Judson-style tasks being given to the cast as they perform – move around the stage but stay at the same distance from one another! Have a conversation with your partner using circles! The result is something that looks like a two-hour long R&D sharing, with some moments of interest but far, far too much left in that should have been edited out at the creation stage.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has earned her iconic position by not giving two hoots what critics think, and I admire her for that. If her works sometimes feel like she doesn’t give two hoots what the audience thinks either, I genuinely admire her for that too. I admire her for going out on a limb here, for attempting something that isn’t usually attempted, and that is a departure for the choreographer herself from her usual working methods. I just can’t love the resulting work.

Continues at Sadler’s Wells until 9 March

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher who writes about dance for many publications, including Londonist & Arts Professional. Find her on Twitter: @lisekit

Photos: Bettina Strenske

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