Review: Rosas & Ictus - Drumming - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 25 & 26 June 2013
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Wednesday 26 June 2013

Rosas 'Drumming'. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos

Performance reviewed: 25 June 2013

Sadler’s Sampled is a new mini-festival packed with juicy tasters, to attract people to the theatre who might not normally come. So alongside the main productions on stage are numerous extras which include workshops, classes, talks, installations, film screenings and even a pop up show.

I attended one of these extras after seeing Rosas’ Drumming on Tuesday. Around 30 people gathered hesitantly at the front of the stalls, (stripped of seats for the Sampled festival , making an area where people can stand for £8 each), to learn two dances as part of a ‘Bal Moderne’. The first was Codesa, choreographed by P.A.R.T.S. student George Mxolisi Khumalo and inspired by Kwaito traditional music, from the South African township of Soweto, set to a mixture of South African hip-hop and Kwaito beats. High energy and funky, this was intended to be a vigorous warm up for Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s more tricky and contained piece Moonlight Shadow.

Two company associates – Filip Belsen and Frauke Marien – wittily taught us both dances from the stage and soon had everyone swinging. Mike Oldfield’s Moonlight Shadow) was the inspiration behind De Keersmaeker’s sentimental, romantic dance with clichés and some ironic gestures thrown in. Loose and easy in its movement vocabulary, it was nevertheless much harder to remember than Codesa because of its repetitions, frequent changes in direction, and dramatically raunchy finale. Danced in pairs, it demanded a certain intimacy which produced much hilarity.

Most of the Bal Moderne participants looked like they were familiar with movement, so I’m not sure how successful it was in converting non-dancers to dancers, but it certainly offered a revealing insight into De Keersmaeker’s way of working: her use of building on simple phrases and rhythms, her incorporation of irony and her ambivalent flirting with popular culture.

Drumming made by De Keersmaeker in 1989, is a shimmering display of the phasing in and out of sound, light and movement. Rosas’ twelve dancers and the Brussels based contemporary music ensemble Ictus, make the experience hypnotic and trancey. There’s an incredible clarity and levity to the piece while visually it radiates, aided by the understated costumes: white, soft, silk slips or trousers, billowy shirts worn on top – some coloured with a dash of orange.
The important feature of the piece is of course the relationship of Steve Reich’s minimal percussion score with the choreography. Reich’s composition is based around a short single rhythm which is first played by the bongo drums, then repeated, amplified and phased out only to be taken up again by the marimbas, then the glockenspiels. Each percussion instrument produces a different tone and subtly divides the work into cycles, each with their own distinct flavour. For example the beginning is louder and deeper, as the drums create a robust masculine quality, while the end of the piece is quieter and delicate, generated by the glockenspiels and high pitched female voices. It’s exhilarating when the speeds of the repeated rhythms gradually go out of synch and other sounds, or echoes emerge to produce a cacophonic wall of sound.

Like Reich’s score, the choreography is an interplay between complexity and simplicity. Movement is comprised of both pedestrian and technical steps arranged in simple patterns. A phrase is formed by a soloist then magnified and made more intricate by the full company. It is also about direction, lines and pathways which carve out the space in endless possibilities. Rigorous and formulaic, there is no room for error, deep concentration is vital. Dancers feed in effort and skill as if it were dispensed through a drip in a steady trickle. In spite of the rigorously structured material within both sound and dance, there is no hint of heaviness or tension. The dancers smile knowingly as if they hold the solutions to a myriad of impossible equations.

Expansive, technical dance steps – leaps, high leg swings, jetes, abound in the beginning bongo section but phase out with the other instruments to more minimal, slower or miniscule movements. Dancers continue to fall in and out of line. Grouping and re-grouping.

In the final section, all the percussion instruments are re-introduced and fuse splendidly. Sound and danced action build to a climax, which is theatrically reached by a shout from Cynthia Loemij who hurls off her over-shirt and runs into the wings. The single black strip of flooring on which the defining movement phrase was earlier performed by Loemij rolls back to reveal total orange.

While Drumming lacks the emotional tension of Rosas earlier work it nevertheless satisfies in its precision and fascinates in its unpredictability.

At Sadler’s Wells until 26 June

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider

Photo: Herman Sorgeloos

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