Good Dancing! Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker at the Walker

Listening to the early music of minimalist composer Steve Reich is a bit like standing next to a mechanical device that hums and bangs in repetition and just happens to sound a little bit like beautiful music. Watching Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker dance to that music is a little bit like lifting the lid on that mechanical device and peering in at the spinning and pounding parts. If you ever wondered how a person sits through a Steve Reich composition--and you know who you are--Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker has the answer: watch her dance to it.

It’s not that she makes it any less raw. She’s an incredibly raw performer. Her eyes dart about and her brow furrows when the rest of her is still. She hisses and punches the air when the rest of her is unmitigated grace. It’s like Lionel Hampton groaning and grimacing his way through Flying Home or the torn and bent cover of a perfect book.

Good Dancing! Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker at the Walker

Photo: Tina Ruisinger

If, at the Walker last week, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker seemed to own this dance piece called FASE: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich its because she does--and she has for more than a quarter of a century. She was barely 22 when she choreographed Violin Phase, one of four parts that she would assemble into FASE at the end of a transformative year at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts. It was 1982. She took it home with her to Brussels. Jean-Marc Adolphe, editor of the French magazine Mouvement, writes of her return home with the seed of what would be her career-defining masterpiece: “A year, fifteen minutes; what was in Anne Teresa de Keermaeker’s luggage when she came back from New York? Undetectable at customs control, in her muscles was a quarter-of-an-hour solo, constructed on the music of Steve Reich.”

What Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and did at the Walker Art Center for three nights last week was exactly what she did on a Brussels stage almost 26 years ago, when she first performed FASE : she animated the rote patterns of early Steve Reich compositions with deceptively complex movement. And she had a partner--dancer Tale Dolven, who was just one year old when FASE premiered and earned Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker an international audience.

The two, looking every part the teacher and the pupil as they stood still and the music of Piano Phase started. The moment they began to move they were a mechanically perfect match--it looked and sounded like this:

The next piece, Come Out, had them stomping to their positions dressed in what can only be called a fascist contrast to the pale sanitarium gowns of Piano Phase. Reich composed Come Out for the Harlem Six in 1966. It was a commission by a civil rights activist consumed by the cause of the six black youths arrested during the Harlem Riots of 1964 and charged with murder. The piece Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker picked for FASE is a loop of excerpts from a taped interview with Daniel Hamm, one of the Harlem Six. “I had to, like, open the bruise and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them,” he says. “Come out and show them” is looped and eventually piles upon itself until his voice is virtual static. All the while, this is happening:

The contrast and mystery and repetition of it all is cold chaos. Then comes Violin Phase. It’s Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker dancing alone to the brisk bowing of a violin. She dances around and inside a circle. It is a childish dance--she slaps the floor and nearly skips. Then it is a playfully seductive dance--she dances away from the audience and repeatedly, maybe even spontaneously, flips up her gown to reveal her silken underwear underneath. Then she is the child again. She is so comfortable in this piece that she seems to be making it up--there is no suggestion at all that this is a creation jotted down in a notebook (it is).

Photo: Herman Sorgeloos

All night there is a man seated somewhere in the middle of the dark theater who grunts and coughs as he applauds longer than anybody else between the pieces. At one point, when the rest of the theater is silent, he growls: GOOD DANCING!

He has said it all.

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