Review: Rosas in D’un Soir un Jour at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 16-20 October
Reviewed by Georgina Harper - Friday 20 October 2006

Sadler’s Wells was buzzing and the first few rows of the stalls were cleared and packed with people happy to stand in order to watch Belgian company Rosas perform a selection of new pieces. The stage space was opened up to reveal its side walls and various pieces of technical equipment exposed. Rows of fluorescent strip lights rose mechanically from the floor making way for Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker’s latest explorations of movement and music, featuring compositions by Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky and George Benjamin.

The first half began with a reinterpretation of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Prelude a l’apres midi d’un faune. Stripped down and bare faced, the dancers moved under the harsh industrial light in a mechanical and emotionless series of slow tableux. Grecian and sombre at first, dancers balanced with precision and strength against Debussy’s score, inspired by Stéphane Mallarmé‘s poem about illusion and longing. The flicker of the strip lighting gave the scene an eerie modernity and flashes of mystique peppered the piece; a dancer appeared then vanished in a wisp of orange chiffon and others moved through twists and angular contortions encircled by gentle clouds of dust. Despite these elements, the industrial lighting and vacant expressions of the dancers quelled the magic. The dancers empty stares conveyed little emotional engagement with the music or the poetry from which it originated, creating the sense that their feelings were somehow divorced from their highly trained bodies and leaving the piece with little of the sensuous and dreamlike emotive qualities of Nijinsky’s classic.

The six pieces presented were often difficult to delineate, creating an episodic series of dances intended to convey the passing of a single day. Movement motifs introduced in the first half reappeared in the second and repetition was a common feature. The costumes also served to create unity and structure across the six pieces, as dancers wore similar items in different colour combinations throughout the performance, creating a visual through line. Bursts of yellow and orange suggested the dawn and silver and turquoise punctuated muted tones of the daytime. In the second part of the performance the screening of a film clip, Antonioni’s 1960’s classic Blow Up, provided a smooth and humorous transition between the lively student furore of Fireworks and Jeux, in which a dark blue back drop ushered in the dusk.

Clever use of colour, costumes and a stark but evocative set brought life to the evening but overall the dance remained lacking in emotional motivation and at times was thoroughly disengaging. The second half injected some much needed fun, and managed to provide a handful of moments in which the energy and power of De Keersmaeker’s choreography was fully communicated to the audience. The music was at times mischievous, evocative of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the dancers succumbed to it’s impish charm, indulging in a bit of fun parading down a makeshift catwalk in Fireworks and in a stylised tennis game against the stunning blue backdrop in Jeux. At other moments the music offered a violent crescendo reminiscent of the shower scene in the film Psycho, but the dancing rarely evoked such drama. One moment that stood out was in Ringed by the Flat Horizon. Two female dancers danced a tense duet against rumbling music in a space defined by the wires of the florescent lights, which had descended to the floor and taken on a golden glow_._ But moments of drama and beauty were few and far between. Whilst part two introduced an element of mess, confusion and energy which enlivened the proceedings to an extent, it felt as though the performers were merely going through the motions and the vital connection between movement and emotion was absent.

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