Review: Rosas in Desh at Laban

Performance: 28 Oct
Reviewed by Mariko Harano - Tuesday 31 October 2006

Desh, a dance piece co-choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Salva Sanchis, displays layers of paradoxical elements – sacredness and profanity, exoticism and svelteness, vibrance and serenity, tension and release, darkness contrasting with the light, visual simplicity expressing sensory complexity, girlish mannerism embracing mature sensuality and detachment evoking intimacy. These contradicting features are blended and woven into a unique texture of motions.

The 90 minute work comprises 5 sections of solo, duo and trio dances, responding to recordings of a selection of traditional Indian music and a jazz piece inspired by India. The stage is almost completely bare with everything – from the door to the dressing room to metal frames for lighting facilities – exposed to the audience. About a dozen chairs are scattered on both sides off center stage. A few layers of large backdrop hangings in black and white, made of coarse and shrinkable paper-like materials, are manually rolled up and down by two stagehands sitting on the left side of the stage. It’s spacious and, at the same time, a little claustrophobic in the sense that there is no place to hide once performers step onto the stage. The lighting effectively contrasts light and shade, too.

In flimsy feminine dresses in gentle pastel colours, Marion Ballester and De Keersmaeker execute a succession of characteristically momentum-driven movements, for the most of the time in a synchronised or syncopated fashion, with occasional moments of individual motion. Their dance vocabularies, consisting of sequences of smooth sliding, sudden changes of direction, brisk horizontal jumps and insouciant kicks, with multi-dimensional sweeping arm movements, are carried out with their complete control of tension and release. They often look like sacred maidens in the service of deity, possessed to dance, dedicating themselves to an invisible, extraterrestrial power. Yet, they yield profane coquettishness out of their covertly sensual gesticulations.

De Keersmaeker’s solo, in response to a pleasing folkloric tune for flute and drum in sunny lighting evoking a dozy spring afternoon, presents both serenity and intensity. Its sedate pacing and abundant use of pausing leave an eloquent sculptural image.

Sanchis (who is one of the first alumni of the Performing Arts Research & Training Studios founded by De Keersmaeker in 1995 and whose subsequent dance CV reveals a wide range of dance disciplines and experiments) is, undoubtedly, an extraordinary performer. In his solo, India, Sanchis exhibits impressive corporeal elasticity and musicality in seemingly casual and improvisational movements reminiscent of street dance. As a saxophone blares out in crescendo, his head, torso, limbs, hands and feet gradually get stirred as if they were disjointed, yet in a seamless harmony and command.

When this “exotic male” joins the two dancing maidens, spectators’ naturally expect to see a dramatic change in group dynamism. Well, not overtly. The trio continues to move nonchalantly, rather detached one to another. Intriguingly, in spite of its total absence of physical contact amongst the three performers, Desh transmits a sense of telepathic interaction as if its exotic music was their medium. It’s an enthralling dance composition with rich physical and perceptional materials constantly displayed in a sassy minimalist milieu.

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