A simple projection of white Helvetica text on a black screen precedes Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s 1982 piece: Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich. Functional yet elegant in its form, this title projection is analogous to the work it announces. Fase, De Keersmaeker’s first professional work, takes the very simple concept of responding in movement to the looping iterations of Steve Reich’s minimalist compositions, and develops this seeming simplicity into a work of spare beauty.
Just as Reich’s music eschews excess and builds complexity and interest using very little material, so De Keersmaeker echoes this efficiency of construction with short, simple repeated phrases reflecting the rhythmic detail of Reich’s scores. Opening section Piano Phase has its two female dancers (Tale Dolven and De Keersmaeker herself) parallel Reich’s cyclical composition in which two piano lines gradually fall in and out of phase. There’s an absolute purity to the movement: simple arm swings and step-turns performed in precise unison and with an undulating pulse throughout the twelve-minute composition. When the two fall out of phase, in time with the pianos on the soundtrack, it’s a moment of light-bulb-on revelation, the structure of the score made manifest in movement.
Nothing in the music, movement or stage presentation is extraneous. For Piano Phase, Dolven and De Keersmaeker wear plain off-white dresses and plimsolls with ankle socks, and are lit by two footlights casting a pair of twin shadows on the bare white cyclorama behind. For Come Out, performed to a looped spoken-word soundtrack, the dancers wear functional shirts and trousers and are seated beneath two sinister overhead lamps. The hard wooden chairs and swift, angular motions suggest oppression and brutality without creating an overt narrative.
Violin Phase is a minimal yet lyrical solo for De Keersmaeker, her arms wrapping around an erect torso as she shifts and skips lightly over the stage, tracing circles with her feet. Clapping Music is the crowd-pleaser of the night: Dolven and De Keersmaeker’s syncopated hops and funky toe-rises picking out the complex but ordered structures of Reich’s clapped rhythms.
De Keersmaeker’s work, like Reich’s, explores the capacity of the simplest structures to suggest an atmosphere without using explicit codes. Provocative but also pleasurable in its rigorous minimalism, De Keersmaeker’s first offering is a perfect marriage of sound and vision, and is still a thrill to experience today.
Rosas Early Works season continues with Rosas danst Rosas (Tue 12 Apr); Elena’s Aria (Thu 14 Apr) & Bartók / Mikrokosmos (Sat 16 Apr) www.sadlerswells.com