Rosas & Ictus in Drumming. Photo Herman Sorgeloos

Rosas & Ictus in Drumming. Photo Herman Sorgeloos

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; June 25, 2013

David Mead

What an uplifting evening! Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s “Drumming” is an hour of thrilling dance set against the swaying, pulsating rhythms of Steve Reich’s score that moves from African drums through marimbas, glockenspiels, chimes and vocals with everything finally coming together in a rousing finale.

The Ictus musicians play at the back of the stage, coming and going as the score requires. Reich’s tapestry of sound is based on a single rhythmic motif that is developed subtly giving it a remarkable richness. It is beautifully structured and full of subtlety with lots of interplaying or overlapping canons, ideas that de Keersmaeker takes on in the dance. Yet she does not merely follow or reflect the score, she enriches it. Even better, she and her dancers make it look completely spontaneous. It is full of the joys of children at play. There is a wonderful sense of community and a real spirit amongst the ensemble that carries across to the audience. It makes you want to get up and join in.

Proceedings are dominated by an off-white backdrop that suggests linen. The women wear mostly all white, with the men in black and white. Colour comes from the occasional splash of orange and, towards the end, one woman dons a silver dress. The dance is anything but monochromatic, though.

The twelve dancers move smoothly from working against one another to unison. Every moment seems important with not a single second wasted. Like the music, phrases are repeated but with subtle changes. The 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 at speed. They are often interrupted or disturbed by other dancers walking or running through them, performing skimming grand jetés as they surf across the stage on the wave of sound and the energy that comes from the Ictus musicians at the rear. As they do so, the women’s lightweight white dresses in particular flow and billow gently as if caught by a sudden breeze.

De Keersmaeker trademarks are everywhere. There is the stuttering skipping with free swinging arms that she is so fond of, always danced with incredible lightness, and plenty of her favoured swing-arm pivots and changes of direction. Dancers often pause as if to catch the moment, and by doing so ensure we do the same. A single arm or leg angled at 90 degrees at the elbow or knee, often held for a moment is a recurring motif.

It all seems remarkably free. It is as if the stage has no boundaries. All the time the dancers acknowledge each other, often smiling. They look incredibly happy, as if they can hardly believe their luck at dancing such a joyous piece. When not involved they stand at the side, often chatting, probably about the same thing.

Throughout, one strip of dance floor remains rolled, partially revealing a design beneath that suggests some kind of choreographic structure or floor pattern. As the final section reaches its climax it is rolled out. The lights go out. The clue has gone. The performers are no more. But while the music and dance may have stopped on stage, it continues in our minds, the sheer unbridled energy still resonating through the theatre.