Dance: Review: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas in Early Works at Sadler’s Wells

Rosas 'Fase', 1982. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos.


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)

Dance: Crafting Ballet

Royal Ballet choreographer and character artist Will Tuckett and principal Zenaida Yanowsky are the latest in a series of dance artists to make work in response to Shadow Spans –  an installation at the Whitechapel Gallery by Claire Barclay.  Ideas about craftsmanship and the process of making things are at the centre of Barclay’s installation  – and Tuckett and Yanowsky have found themselves examining the way that ballet is constructed and ‘worked.’

Lise Smith went to find out how they are enjoying their short term swap of a stage in Covent Garden for a gallery space in the East End…

Will Tuckett is pleased with his audience numbers. ‘Today, I guess about 12 people or so stayed for the whole hour, which is quite unusual in a gallery,’ he says.  It might seem strange for Tuckett, who as principal character artist for the Royal Ballet regularly performs to over two thousand people on the Opera House stage, to be happy with a dozen people watching; but the choreographer’s latest venture in the Whitechapel Gallery is a very different beast from his previous ballet experiences. Working with Royal Ballet colleague Zenaida Yanowsky, Tuckett has created a solo inspired by artist Claire Barclay’s installation Shadow Spans, and it’s quite unlike anything one might encounter on the stage at Covent Garden.

The untitled piece is an hour-long structured improvisation in which Yanowsky repeatedly rehearses and adjusts small fragments of movement. ‘At the beginning there were masses of people,’ says Tuckett of the new piece’s premiere on Wednesday. ‘I think they were all expecting sort of ‘ta-da!’. So at that moment when it hit 3 o’clock and a bunch of people ran in with stools to find a good spot, you think, ‘How do I tell these people that it’s genuinely durational, that it’s not going to be like that’ – because it’s the antithesis of what most people expect of ballet.’

Iwona Blazwick, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, approached three choreographers last year to make work in response to Barclay’s installation piece, which is inspired by the architecture and industry of London’s East End. ‘Claire made this work and she really wanted it to become animated with bodies, so that was one of the starting points for us,’ explains Tuckett. ‘The thing that I was interested in, initially, was the idea of doing something that was not conventionally performative. I wanted to do something that very much was about being in a gallery and about being around the art piece.’

For the performance piece, which is the third in the gallery’s season following works by Dog Kennel Hill Project and Siobhan Davies with Matthias Sperling, Tuckett drew on the idea of crafts and craftsmanship which is also central to Barclay’s installation. Objects in the art piece, including door knobs, bowler hats and gloves, are all made locally in traditional factories using processes that are rarely seen or even thought about by the public who use them. ‘She’s interested in craft, and the idea of the skill and work in craftsmanship, which we thought was really interesting. It’s never occurred to me about how you work the metal of a doorknob. But actually it’s really beautiful – the making of it is in itself a beautiful thing.’

Will Tuckett & Zenaida Yanowsky rehearsing in Claire Barclay's 'Shadow Spans' at Whitechapel GalleryPhoto: Jesũs CorominaThis idea of the craft and work that goes into making a finished product extends into Yanowsky’s working over and over again on minute portions of classical solos. ‘There’s a chunk of Swan Lake Act 2 solo, and there’s a quote from Ashton’s Cinderella,’ explains Tuckett. ‘It’s a condensed version of what you do in the studio; the piece has no narrative, but it’s about watching somebody work something and work something and work something. Here you see Zen do the same step 40 or 50 times –  sometimes on the leg, sometimes off; hips up, hips down; shoulders in, shoulders out more –  and I’m fascinated by that.’

As well as allowing an unusual insight into the process of creating work and perfecting the ballet vocabulary, the unconventional performance space of the Whitechapel Gallery allows audiences a rare close-up view of the dancer herself.  The audience is free to walk around the space as Yanowsky performs, viewing her from any angle.  ‘Classical ballet is about being viewed from a particular direction,’ says Tuckett. ‘The idea of conventional theatre is pros-based [proscenium arch] in the main, and the audience are fixed. In this the audience are moving and there’s no proscenium.’ The audience can choose whether to track Yanowsky around the space, or to stand in one location, losing and regaining a view of the dancer as she moves around the gallery and glimpsing fragments of the movement through the gaps and windows in Barclay’s sculpture.

The experience of being so close to an audience is a new and unusual one for Yanowsky. ‘The distance between an audience and me is very different in this gallery’ she says, “but I quite like the fact that they are so close so they can see the thought process close-up. Since what we are trying to achieve is to become an extra element to [Claire’s] installation, it’s great to have the audience so close, so that they can walk around me as they can walk around the static part of the installation.’

Over the course of the solo, Yanowsky works physically on a set series of small movement phrases, correcting and perfecting arms, head and hips as in a studio rehearsal. ‘The amount of concentration is so heavy because of the detailed movement’ says Yanowsky. ‘It’s very different each time, I will pick different solos or different parts of the solos and I work on them.’ Each investigation lasts just under an hour because, as Yanowsky explains ‘after 50 minutes I find that I start losing concentration and start thinking about the movement as I think on stage – as a performance. And I don’t want to make this a performance but an installation piece.’

Yanowsky and Tuckett developed the piece by working in the gallery space and around the installation; but unusually, the two also prepared by discussing the work rather than moving. ‘The thing that you generally don’t do in classical ballet is talk about it a lot, and we talked about it a lot,’ says Tuckett.  ‘We also knew that if we worked on it physically too much on it, we’d make something and then we’d perform it, and that was the thing that we were trying not to do – do a big solo and perform it.’

The piece is far removed from a typical classical performance – rather than sustaining the illusion of an effortless performance from a distance, Yanowsky reveals the effort involved in preparing a solo with tiny variations on each repeated movement, tangibly close to her audience.  The result is not a series of virtuoso variations but rather a fascinating insight into the craft of ballet, just as Barclay’s installation reveals the craft involved in making the everyday objects often taken for granted. ‘Classical ballet is a vocabulary’ says Tuckett, ‘but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to work it. It’s just a different kind of work.’

Performance: 3-6pm Wed 6, Thu 7, Wed 13, Thu 14, Sat 16 and Sun 17 April.
In conversation: Will Tuckett, Zenaida Yanowsky and Clare Barclay, 5pm 14 April.
Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High St; London E1 7QX.

Originally posted at