Rosas in 'Drumming' (here with Ictus live, 2012) Photo © Herman Sorgeloos

Rosas in ‘Drumming’
(here with Ictus live, 2012)
Photo © Herman Sorgeloos

National Theater, Taipei, Taiwan; March 15, 2015

David Mead

The title tells only part of the story. Yes, Steve Reich’s swaying, pulsating rhythms do have plenty of bongo drums in them, but the percussion is richer than that, and also includes great use of marimbas and glockenspiels, plus the occasional distant vocals.

It’s a powerful tapestry of sound that Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s “Drumming” takes on. Her choreography is similarly structured and jam-packed with subtlety, and lots of interplaying and overlapping canons. It looks incredibly complex, but in fact arises out of a single long base sequence (almost two minutes long) to which endless variations in time and space are applied.

Danced against an off-white backdrop that suggests linen, and on a mysterious graph partially uncovered on the floor (set and light design by Jan Versweyveld), there is an endless interplay of canons, each reflecting the other. It’s like everyone has put all their cares aside. The movement has a lightness and buoyancy to it that is in total contrast to “Rosas danst Rosas” seen a couple of days earlier. This time it’s also all about using the space above and around the dancers; there is no floor work at all. The dance is soft, fluid and streams seamlessly for the whole hour. The cast of twelve make it look completely spontaneous. Throughout there is a great sense of community and spirit that brings to mind the early postmodern dance of the Judson Church.

Dancers move individually, coming together for a moment as if by chance, before peeling off to find other playmates. Shapes and formations come and go, often interrupted or disturbed by other dancers walking, running or skipping through them, performing skimming jetés as they surf the wave of sound. Paths crisscross constantly. As they do so, the Dries Van Noten’s lightweight white dresses worn by the women flow and billow, adding to the sense of lightness and abandon, although quite why one changes to a more restrictive silver dress towards the end is unclear. They acknowledge each other, often smiling. They frequently pause, as if to catch the moment, and when standing at the side, often chat. They look incredibly happy, as if they can hardly believe their luck at dancing such a joyous piece.

Rosas in 'Drumming' (here with Ictus live, 2012) Photo © Herman Sorgeloos

Rosas in ‘Drumming’
(here with Ictus live, 2012)
Photo © Herman Sorgeloos

And yet, there’s a problem. As much as all that carries across to the audience, the attention wanders time and again. Free and playful it may be, but it’s also relentless. You can see the dancers are having fun, but it’s also all so very abstract. There isn’t anything to actually grab hold of. There is no depth, no goal, no meaning. I suspect strongly that doing this dance is considerably more satisfying that watching it.The lack of the wonderful Ictus musicians upstage, playing, and coming and going as the score requires didn’t help. Here, “Drumming” was danced to a recorded score.

After a slow movement danced largely in unison that acts as counterpoint to the glockenspiels of the score, the tempo ups suddenly to the virtuosic, free end. Then, just as it seems the whole really might just lift off the stage into the air, the graph on the floor is covered over, the dance stops and the music dies. And everyone catches their breath.