Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; May 27, 2014
Musically, the late Gérard Grisey’s “Vortex Temporum” is a taut and sophisticated composition. Most obvious are the recurring and spiralling phrases that De Keersmaeker and her Rosas dancers so neatly pick up on in the subsequent dance. But it’s also music full of contrasts. Huge gusts and swirls of notes come and go, often fading away almost naturally to moments of peace. It’s not the easiest of works to listen to, but once my imagination started to take over, I couldn’t help thinking of an autumn gale, of great gusts of wind and leaves blowing, the latter settling as the weather takes a breath before being scooped up once more.
About 12 minutes in, the Ictus musicians depart. When the dancers then arrive, De Keersmaeker pairs each with a member of the ensemble, even placing them in approximately the same position on stage. Although this second section is in silence, the dance constantly reminds one of the earlier music. It seems as if every beat, every spiral and every breath in the score is playing out in the dancers’ heads as they give them exact physical expression. Sometimes the dancers also appear to be taking on the movement of the musicians as they play.
When the two ensembles then come together, that unity is even more apparent. The dancers and musicians (and even the grand piano itself – with Jean-Luc Plouvier still playing) wheel through the space in arcing lines of movement and sound. little duets and groupings appear briefly, before melting quickly away again. There really is little variation, and although time passes, it starts to do so more and more slowly.
In the final section, the musicians retreat to a more conventional back of the stage position, leaving the bulk of the space to the dancers themselves. It closes with the dancers drifting away, and a final small light shining on the conductor’s hand, allowing a final moment to take it all in.
“Vortex Temporum” is a very real coming together of music and dance, which is hardly surprising given that De Keersmaeker approached the music like a scientist, meticulously picking it apart and placing the dance around it. As an experiment, it’s interesting, but as a fully-fledged theatre piece, I’m not so sure. Although I found it fascinating, I don’t think I’d want to sit through it again for a while.