July 31st, 2009 §
Rosas danst Rosas is a historical work, the second mainstage full length work by then young choreographer Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker in 1982. One of the performances which moved me the most in my life is Rosas’s A Love Supreme so I was eager to see Rosas danst Rosas in its entirety live.
Rosas danst Rosas has been filmed at least twice, once in something like the original version, more recently with the current cast. Rosas danst Rosas is something special, the seminal work on which a great dance company was built.
Normally every generation of Rosas dancer must learn Rosas danst Rosas and so the piece remains perenially young, each Rosas dancer taking her place as the latest incarnation of de Keersmaeker and her predecessors.
Rosas Danst Rosas
This year, Anna Teresa did something completely different. She rejoined the production herself and recruited some of her top teachers, dancers from the past, all born about 1970. Her motivation for doing the piece this way is not quite clear.
Is her quest to try to break down preconceptions about the older body and aging? Is she seeking to reveal the difference of time? Is she seeking to immortalize herself before she leaves this earth?
This wouldn’t be the first time a great dancer had such an idea: the very great Russian dancer Maja Plissetskaya had a 70th birthday gala where she danced much of her repetoire from her prime.
Indeed, our generation (I’m about the same generation as the second generation Rosas dancers) is very interested immortality or at least in remaining forever young. The eponymous New Romantic tune of the 80’s foreshadowed our ongoing efforts to stay vigorous and attractive our entire adult lives.
So how do De Keersmaeker and her dancers succeed in their dance with time?
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Cynthia Loemij & Sarah Ludi & Samantha Van Wissen
Rosas danst Rosas begins with industrial sounds and floor work. Eventually the dancers rise from the floor to reveal themselves in grey shirts and leggings, surprisingly contemporary – almost like Japanese school girl uniforms. Dark hair, long legs, slender waists, intelligent expressions: sophisticated European beauty incarnate and quintessential Rosas women. Anna Teresa De Keermaeker herself is very much in this mold. I sometimes wonder if her predelection for this type is narcississtic or just a matter of tast.
The opening section is all about breath. It’s sound, it’s feel. One didn’t notice anything different about these dancers in the dusky light until the first hard falls, which the cast bravely took on at a speed to make the floor crack. All of the dancers showed extraordinary sensitivity to the floor and to weight. There was a great deal of finesse to all of their movement.
In the second movement, the choreographic language becomes more explicit, more about the dancer and less about atmosphere. The movement is predicated on the state of mind of a young woman from the age of 22 to 30. Each dancer revels in the physical magnetism of a woman of that age. During those years of her life, a beautiful woman may struggle with her emotional life but masters her exterior world and basks in her own perfect physical presence.
Alas sometime in the early thirties, this symphony of fertility and time comes to an end and either a woman tends towards too thin or too thick. Her curves become either lines or bulges and her face begins to crease. She wears confidence like a mask rather than as part of her own skin.
That young arrogance and naive joy in her own beauty is so much a part of the movement here that for the most part it seemed very strange on these dancers, all around forty. At one point each dancer touches her chest, her breast repeatedly. In Cynthia Loemij’s movement you could see the inherent self-confident sensuality of the gesture. But in the architect of the movement, De Keersmaeker there was a tangible disinclination to touch her own breast, almost a sort of dislike of her body. Certainly devoid of any sensuality, at best perfunctory.
The dryness of performance almost feels like a betrayal of the original material, which is a celebration of life and sensuality.
Later on the dancers take turns to show the audience first one bare shoulder and then the other. Samantha van Wissen and Cynthia Loemij both invest themselves seriously in the seductive gesture. Again De Keersmaker is reluctant, perfunctory. As she knows the content of the choreography better than anyone else, I am surprised she wanted to appear in it on stage if she did not want to respect its spirit and fulfill its intention.
As the dancers whirled and flirted, one felt in some way like one was watching ghosts of Christmas past twirling on stage.
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Cynthia & Sarah & Samantha
Of all the dancers, only Cynthia Loemij still danced like a Rosas dancer, swift of foot, supremely feminine, assured without arrogance. As Rosas dancers are wont, by the end of the show she had soaked with sweat her long hair, which whipped wet through the air across her shoulders. Her mouth bloomed red with exertion and her eyes flew wild from the passionate movement.
Loemij’s energy, intensity and natural Rosas sensuality only made it more clear how strange it is to resurrect this work on an older cast.
Rosas danst Rosas speeds up enormously towards the final climax. At the end, Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker just couldn’t keep up. The steps created by her 27 years ago overwhelmed her and she fell first a half step and then sometimes a full step behind.
All three of the ex-Rosas dancers enjoyed themselves. De Keersmaeker seemed more than a little dissatisfied at the end. Was she cross over missed steps or with her choreography?
De Keersmaeker should neither be surprised nor cross with herself…we all lose steps. Being fit is not enough. I think nothing of cycling the hundred kilometers from here to St Polten along the Danube. But in dance, I’ve lost a step now. There is nothing I can do, that faster half step is gone. This is the deal with mortality – and there is no other deal on offer.
Strangely as the architect of so much sensual feminine beauty and so much emotion in movement, Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker is severe and often dry in public and even to some extent in life. I don’t quite understand her compulsion to perform her own works herself now.
A years ago in Desh, De Keermaeker and Marion Ballester were able to offer something different from the usual. Desh was an original work, built on their dancing in the here and now. What the reprise of older pieces with herself in the lead means, I am not certain.
The technology and availability of recording images has improved a lot since 1982, along with interest in the Rosas company and their financial support. Perhaps De Keersmaeker is seeking to leave permanent documentation, to fix a record of her own performance as well: images which will live on after she is gone when perhaps even the Rosas company will be dance history and not contemporary.
In artistic terms, I would find these recreations of older works more interesting if De Keersmaeker would rewrite the emotions on the dancers in the here and now: dance for forty year olds rather than twenty-five year olds. That transcription would be far more interesting than this imitation of what was then.
As a reflection on time and mortality, this restaging of Rosas danst Rosas provokes enough to leave no regrets. But that perhaps one has not used one’s short time on this earth as well as Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker, whether she dances on or not.
July 27th, 2009 §
July 27th, 2009 §
The Bagwell in me begins with a man in drag in a bathtub with his/her feet up.
performance begins – man in a bathtub
"Hi my name is Sherry, feel free to stop the show and ask us any questions as we go."
The audience for the most part is quiet throughout the evening despite Young’s attempt to knock us out of our stupour.
Ann Liv Young is hiding behind a white plastic bead curtain at a table with a Macbook Pro on it.
Her opening question kicks us all in the crotch, men and women. "Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who can’t get it up?" The voice is steely and male coming through a distortion filter like the one they use in horror films.
Ann Liv Young
"Have you ever lived with someone you can’t fuck?"
A girl titters. She seems like a plant but promises she isn’t after the show. Young comes after her: "Why are you laughing? What is so funny? There is nothing funny about being horny and not being able to fuck. It’s very frustrating."
This was just the prologue.
Ann Liv Young is a phenomenon unto herself. The Bagwell in Me is the third production I have seen and reviewed. Each year Young takes her on stage shock therapy further. The first year, for Melissa is a bitch it was just fat girls naked dancing to pop songs and a lot of dirty talk. For her last visit two years ago with Snow White it was penetration while Young was seven months and very visibly pregnant.
Ann Liv Young & Michael & Jaguar
In The Bagwell in Me, Young manages to take matters even further. To get our attention and to play out her own peculiar fantasies, this year Young brings a pen camera on stage which is hooked up to a video monitor. That way there can be no mistake about the open legged masturbation, cuninlingus, fellatio, golden showers and full on penetration which takes place on stage. They are not simulating, this is live sex.
Beyond her joy in shocking and disturbing people, what seems to concern Young is hypocrisy and injustice. At a deep level, Young feels life is unfair and she and her friends are getting the short end of the stick. And she will make society pay for her suffering. Here Young is attacking blind American patriotism and its foolish jingoist ideas. George Washington is known as the greatest American president and a freer of slaves. But as Young points out, Washington’s slaves were freed upon his death when he no longer needed them. Which makes Washington first and foremost a slave owner. Young asserts that Washington was the father of one of his slave maids children. Naturally his wife Martha objects. Young’s vision is very dark indeed: the story ends with the maid in prison and George Washington sexually mutilated.
Michael with towel over his head & Ms Young as Martha
The two strongest moments in "The Bagwell in me" are the dialogue between Washington and his wife Martha and the dialogue between Martha and Oney Washington’s slave mistress. Young plays both parts most of the time, switching frenetically between voices. Apparently there is a version of The Bagwell in me with another female performer, who perhaps handles the second role sometimes.
To manage all these impersonations Young has rubber masks, white wigs, black wigs, blackface, frocks and little black baby dolls.
On Sunday night a videographer Jaguar in a zipped up purple jumpsuit filmed the entire performance. Her prim suit and hairdo was a striking contrast to Young’s open legs and wild flying hair. Young told us that Jaguar was only there that night – but an integral part of the performance. Young’s work seems to follow a rough scenario but with episodes which can change as it strikes Young’s fancy. She plays off her own mood and that of the audience.
Ann Liv The Bagwell in me
The contrast between her controlled reasonableness when she comes out of character and her frenzy in character is exceptionally Brechtian. Young lets us lose ourselves in her experiential world and then knocks us out of it and asks us to consider seriously her ideas on subjugation of races and women.
Someone at the end of the show asked why so much sex?
The show is about an illegitimate child, Young explained. Contempt and quiet rage slips into her voice as she explains the obvious. "How do you get a child? Only by fucking, so if that’s what my show is about, why should I hide the fucking? Of course there is sex. You would have to be really stupid or really naive to make a show about an affair and hide the sex."
When I asked her why she wanted to treat this particular theme, Young went into the ramble you can read in the program about her forefathers being slave owners and visiting distant aunts living in southern estates in Virginia with what are now called black maids instead of slaves. Hogwash, I say. There are deeper reasons Young is obsessed with sexual hierarchy and legitimacy. I’d like to know what they are. Young also seems obsessed with infidelity and the pain of women reluctantly sharing a man both want.
While to retell it all of this sounds merely sordid, Ann Liv Young is a consummate showman now and the show rarely flags. She skips from one hysteria and pop song to another bringing out the voyeur in all of us. You don’t want to watch but you must as she commits one effrontery after another and orders Michael her common-law husband and father of her child around with despotic nonchalance.
The show alters between explication and explicit sex to karaoke numbers as varied as "Billie Jean" to "Slip Sliding Away" to disco to strange cute pop songs from the 1920’s. Young doesn’t sing too badly considering the limited attention she pays to her singing.
But after The Bagwell in me what is there left for Ann Liv Young to do on stage? This time we had bondage, urination, fellation, cuninlingus, full penetration with a dildo, genital organ mutilation. All that remains are anal sex, rape, eating of feces.
While The Bagwell in me didn’t perturb me much, I’m not sure I will be able to handle Young’s next show.
At the end, Ann Liv Young seemed very concerned that we felt we got our money’s worth. Her question set me thinking on what terms? I once heard live sex acts in the New York area run about a $100/head admission so at 25 euros perhaps The Bagwell in me is excellent value. On the other hand, there was scant little dance or much uplifting. Ann Liv Young is a sexual enigma wrapped in scatological mystery. Be glad that she is selling visitors passes to her world and not one way tickets.
July 26th, 2009 §
A new piece from Ultima Vez is always a big event in the dance world since Wim Vandekeybus first set the European dance world on its head with Les porteuse de mauvaise nouvelles and his physical theatre in 1989.
The last few years have been a bit strange, with a reprise of Les porteuse de mauvaise nouvelles in 2005 and the creation of a greatest hits piece Spiegel 2007. On the film side, Vandekeybus did find time for more original work in the full length piece Blush in 2005 (partially based on the stagework of 2003).
At the root of Vandekeybus’s creative process has been a group of longtime dancers making up Ultima Vez, fellow travellers with Vandekeybus himself. The original Ultima Vez lived together, slept together, created together with Vandekeybus as a kind of Faustian overlord, an object of love and hate, respect and loathing. One could feel the intense group dynamics on the stage. You can see these deep relationships work themselves out in both Vandekeybus’s films Blush and In Spite of Wishing and Wanting.
Nieuwzwart – The New Black is a bit of a double entendre. The group of dancers for Nieuwzwart are all new. No one remains from the original Ultima Vez (as late as Les porteuse de mauvaises nouvelles there were some original cast members in the shows). After an intense audition period, Vandekeybus gathered a new group of seven dancers and set to work for four months.
The work is based on a poem by Peter Verhelst about his experience at the end of the world along in Alaska. The poem is an existential lament about the sky and solitude and travel. Kylie Walters alternates from reading, chanting, singing and reciting the sombre lyric. Often she appears as a an early 90’s David Bowie in white shirt and short blonde hair and mature elegance.
On stage we begin with what looks like huge piles of leaves rustling on stage. Out of nowhere we hear a huge sonic explosion. A few figures appear on stage in blue uniforms with flashlights. They search the stage and find naked creatures under the leaves. They stand over them and shine lights in their eyes, force them to move about the stage. For all the world, the uniforms, the flashlights, the naked victims, reminded me of nothing more than the awful photos out of the Abu Graib prison a couple of years ago.
naked creatures under the leaves
© Pieter JanDePue
Eventually this prologue comes to an end and some real dancing begins. For some reason, the dancers dance away from the stage and we see their faces very little. There is some solid solo work in here from the long limbed Tanja Marin Fridjosdottir and the astonishingly acrobatic Olivier Mathieu. A little bit later an unknown dancer hits the center of the stage wrapped in the golden heat blankets of the beginning, raging about the stage in a sort of blind frenzy. This golden apparition looked like one of the dragons from a Chinese New Year and seemed desperately out of place from the naked bodies of the prologue and the pure dancing in between.
wrapped in the golden heat blankets
© Pieter JanDePue
Eventually we return to high speed Ultima Vez dancing. Vandekeybus has a penchant for hard bodied men with long curly hair and beautiful women breaking their bodies at high speed. Ultima Vez 2009 is no exception. Ultima Vez is famous for their casualty lists, with more dancers knocked out of commission on a per capita basis than any other company before or since. And one sees why. Over the head foot flips at speed, high speed body slams, running spins from the opposite direction.
Tanja Marin Fridjosdottir & Olivier Mathieu
© Pieter JanDePue
It’s all very spectacular, but we’ve seen it before. And one seeks a higher sense to the madnessm an artistic motivation to all the music and movement.
I had trouble finding it.
The music varies between Jim Morrison’s American Prayer, David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus. The music was originally created by Maruo Pawlowski for Nieuwzwart and performed by him and the Belgian rock ban dEUS. Often in spite of chameleon-like changes, the music was very good. With her Australian/British accent and Bowie look and the dark atmosphere and naked bodies, one feels that one is in an extended outtake of Tony Scott’s The Hunger’s nightclub scene.
I don’t mind as The Hunger is one of my favorite not serious films: The Hunger is more an exercise in style than a serious treatment of immortality.
And so is Nieuwzwartz an exercise in style.
At the end of the piece, more sonic booms and the dancer reappear naked and scuttle across the ground like crabs into the darkness as Kylie Waters wanders among them with a flashlight.
The whole theme appears to be you are born naked, you struggle a great deal and then you return naked to this earth. A timeless and honorable enough theme – but still something is missing here.
Perhaps Nieuwzwartz would work better with just two or three more outstanding choreograpic moments and a few less stage tricks. The golden heat blankets just don’t make any sense in apposition to the wilderness theme – they look more like something out of a space story. Five huge panels for generating thunder sounds on the left hand of the stage go underused. Either they should be integrated into the story or removed. One often feels music or sound is used for effect and not purpose.
For me the biggest issue with Nieuwzwartz is the dancers. They are just not at the level of past Ultima Vez groups yet. They seem a junior company just getting into the flow of it. With few senior hands around to help them develop their numbers and no past historic relationships to develop further through their stage partnerships, they only seem to touch the surface of what they are doing.
The oustanding flips and high speed enthusiasm of Benedicte Mottart left an impression, particularly in her short duets with Olivier Mathieu, as did Tanja Marin Fridjosdottir in her frenetic solos. For some reason in her duets (most often with her fellow red clothed partner Mate Meszaros), Fridjosdottir did fine but not on the same level as her early solos.
Otherwise, the dancers disappeared into a kind of anonymous obscurity. In earlier, Ultima Vez shows one could remember each of the dancers for days afterwards, their individuality seared onto one’s visual memory.
Vandekeybus appears to be at a creative crossroads, not having found the new nor having abandoned the old. His recent film work has been more spectacular and original than his stagework and he is still in development of a full length feature script with Verhelst.
Nieuwzwartz is a well-made show and not one to regret seeing. For the moment, it is not at the hauteur of Vandkeybus’s previous works. The greatest rival of the master is often not other artists but his or her earlier self. And so it is here with Vandekeybus.
Tanja Martin Fridjosdottir, Dawid Lorenc, Olivier Mathieu, Mate Meszaros, Benedicte Mottart, Ulrike Reinbott, Imre Vass, Gavin Webber, Kylie Walters