REMARKS ON A REPERTORY CLASS
By Katrin Roschangar
"Desh", a choreography by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker from the year 2005, was at the centre of a one-week repertoire-class by Marion Ballester. More precisely, of a trio within this piece. *) De Keersmaeker and Ballester conceived "Desh" together in 2003, two years later it was extended into a full-length piece in cooperation with the dancer Salva Sanchis, overall lasting about an hour and a half. As participants of the workshop, we had only just learned 7 minutes by the end of our week.
The choreography is danced to traditional, Indian music as well as to the jazz composition "India" by John Coltrane, which bears Indian influences. Our seven minutes included the traditional music of the "Raga Desh". True to her own tradition, De Keersmaeker has created a very mathematical piece, whose key indeed lies within the music. The movement material consists of three different movement phrases, which vary with regard to tempi and space. Over a length of six bars, for example, the trio dances the same movement phrase, which the first dancer performs once, the second twice, within the same period of time, and the male dancer three times. This musical-mathematical principle is repeated in all possible variations. This requires a high musical precision on the part of the dancers.
For this reason, especially the beginning of the workshop seemed the most exhausting, as long as the movement material still had to be learned. Once this was internalised, you only had to dance it in all possible variations: at a fast, normal or slow tempo or with the task of performing the phrase in reverse, i.e. from back to forth, and both in multiple, spatial constellations.
The movements themselves are abstract, even though concrete gestures appear here and there, which, however, as Ballester explains, do not carry any specific meaning. From my point of view, the overall dance idea is reduced to the mathematical principles that De Keersmaeker, in other pieces, not only applies to music, but also to space or light. De Keersmaeker has generated these movements from the aforementioned earlier draft which she then developed into the full-length "Desh". According to Ballester, the further development of movement material from previous works within Rosas' pieces is a familiar procedure, also applied in other pieces.
In the repertoire-workshops, De Keersmaeker attaches great importance to the correct rendition. The teacher cannot simply adapt the level to a group, but the group has to perform it at the original level. By means of the video recording, we could see that we were actually doing that. This requirement restricts the Rosas-repertoires on offer. Some choreographers are simply too difficult to be learned in a one-week workshop.
I found it very interesting to see how the different dancers on the course dealt with the material. Since the pace of the movements is very high in parts, this gives reason to think about the quality of the movement this tempo actually allows. Some dancers tried to perform these movements with force. But this made it look harsh and it would also be impossible to dance a ninety-minute piece at this level, which requires a great deal more energy than dancing on the basis of release. The more relaxed, yet still form-oriented movement language turned out to be the objectively right one. Through the use of the release-technique, the dance seems less rushed and exerted. However, this is in no way contradictory to the exactitude in the body form, which is also important.
You receive the impression - also when studying the video recording of Salva Sanchis, Marion Ballester and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker as interpreters - of unpretentious dancers who just stand there like everyday figures and move. Of course, their dance is highly complex and thus very demanding, but at the same time, it is visibly also not about demonstrating virtuosity. I noticed that so clearly, because, during the time of this workshop, I saw a performance of Akram Khan's "bahok", which serves an entirely different aesthetic. Here, the highly trained body, which performs all kinds of Asian miracles, comes to the fore. That is different in Rosas' case: nothing really spectacular actually happens. This is why the audience is probably much more likely to identify with these dancers than with the high-performance dancers, who are met with greater admiration.
The Rosas-repertoire is well-suited for students or young dancers. You learn a great deal about De Keersmaeker's choreographic principles while experiencing a challenging movement language with a contemporary approach. For dancers, it is important to be able to quickly grasp and process spatial complexity. The musicality is also trained to its finest and the interplay between the dancers in the sense of "dancing in a group" is enhanced. All elements form a complex structure, which makes for first-class practising material, which contemporary dancers should definitely be studying.
However, it does not cover the area where workshop participants learn something about new choreography methods, approaches and functions, which only makes them contemporary dancers. The Rosas-Repertory-Workshop aims for technically good dance and the students receive an almost historical-seeming insight into a certain choreographic way of thinking at the start of the 21st century.
*) "The choreographic vocabulary in ‘Desh' is first revealed in the opening duet. Accompanied by the sound of Raga Desh (sung by Ustad Sayeeduddin Dagar), De Keersmaeker and Ballester dance the two basic phrases. They show the vocabulary, in fragile dancing that is not quite in unison: occasionally they dance together, but more often they dance not quite together, which gives rise to short canons. This results in solo passages with a sort of ‘shadow' behind them; the dance phrases are shown against a background of the same elements, in matching tones. Later, in the core of the performance, the same material is shown in a trio formation. On Indian percussion, the dancers explore the rhythmic potential of the ‘Desh' vocabulary." (Raf Geenens, www.rosas.be)
(July 23, 2008)