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Dancing in the Dark, Literally: Cesena & Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker at BAM….

October 21, 2013
Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas’ Cesena at BAM _l-r Aron Blum, Marie Goudot Photo: Stephanie Berger

Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas’ Cesena at BAM _l-r Aron Blum, Marie Goudot Photo: Stephanie Berger

If I had paid for my ticket for the Belgium based Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas’ performance of Cesena…I would have demanded my money back, not from BAM, but from Ms. de Keersmaeker herself. I have never left a theater so irritated, no, not irritated, I was actually angry…angry for the two hours of my life that had just been wasted, two hours I will never get back.

I applaud innovation, but I have a problem when self-indulgence is labeled as innovation. Cesena, which premiered as an outdoor work at the Festival d’Avignon in 2011, began in almost total darkness. The stage was light by ONE fluorescent light that was at least twenty feet above the stage. Not a lot of illumination for a stage the size of the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Chrysa Parkinson, \a member of Rosas perform Scenes from "Cesena" by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House on October 18, 2013 during a dress rehearsal. Photo Credit:  Stephanie Berger.

Chrysa Parkinson in Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas’ “Cesena” at BAM: Photo: Stephanie Berger

A male performer appears down-stage center, you can barely see him as he keeps bending and rising, bellowing the whole time. He then starts running around the stage, I can’t see him running but I can hear his feet hitting the floor, seemingly in a circular pattern.

The first hour of this excoriating two hour work is performed in shadows that verge on complete darkness. When more performers do come on stage, they walk/march rhythmically in a group to the front of the stage then turn, and walk/march rhythmically to the back, repeatedly, about five or six times. When they are at the front of the stage, you cannot make out anything but bodies, you cannot see faces, you cannot see what sex a person is and when they do start moving you cannot see the movement or rather you see movement but you are unable to distinguish any detail. This is done for an hour. At about the thirty minute mark someone in the audience yelled to “turn the lights up”. They did, they turned on ONE more fluorescent light, now the entire stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music is illuminated by TWO fluorescent lights. Oh, yippy…

But the ONE saving grace about this obnoxious performance was the music.  Cesena is the product of the collaboration between Ms. de Keersmaeker and Graindelavoix, led by Björn Schmelzer. Graindelavoix, a performance art collective, formed in 1999 by Björn Schmelzer, is noted for their early music repertoires. Ms. de Keersmaeker contacted Mr. Schmelzer about a joint project that would unite the music of the late 14th century Ars subtilior and contemporary dance.

Ars subtilior, Latin for more subtle art, is a musical style characterized by rhythmic and notational complexity, centered around Paris, Avignon in southern France, also in northern Spain at the end of the fourteenth century.. Notably created at the court of the Avignon popes (1309-1378), the productions of the ars subtilior are highly refined, complex, difficult to sing, and probably were produced, sung and enjoyed by a small audience of specialists and connoisseurs. They are almost exclusively secular songs, and have as their subject matter love, war, chivalry, and stories from classical antiquity.

Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas’ “Cesena” at BAM: Photo: Stephanie Berger

Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas’ “Cesena” at BAM: Photo: Stephanie Berger

The sound of the polyphonic vocal style was hypnotizing, soothing, beautiful for the first 90 minutes, after that I just wanted them to stop. All of it had begun to sound alike and the jumping, jerking and awkward movement happening on stage was not helping. The production was way too long, what I was forced to set through for 120 minutes could have been done in 70. With serious editing, Cesena could be a brilliant work, but I am talking serious editing.

“Punishingly self-indulgent” is what Mark Monahan of The Telegraph wrote about the Sadler’s Well performances of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Rosas’ En Atendant and Cesena.  Truer words I have never read!

En Atendant is the companion piece to Cesena.

Cesena

Choreography: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

Musical direction: Björn Schmelzer

Rosas and graindelavoix

Concept: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Björn Schmelzer

Created with and performed by Rosas and graindelavoix

Set design: Ann Veronica Janssens

Costume design: Anne-Catherine Kunz

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