The Reich Stuff

Anti-Gravity: De Keersmaeker's company performing Rain at BAM.Photo: Herman Sorgeloos

First of all, I had a horrible cold. Second, it was a night of freezing, blasting wind. Third, I had to walk fourteen blocks to find a functioning subway station. Fourth, when I finally pushed myself onto the train, it crawled downtown only very reluctantly, prey to sudden halts and long waits while I stood so tightly crammed between backpacks I could barely fish out a Kleenex to deal with my streaming nose and eyes. They continued to stream during the entire 70 minutes of the performance for which I had made this heroic schlep, which meant that I was not only a miserable heap of self-pity in the BAM Opera House but thoroughly offensive to boot, constantly blowing my nose and stuffing damp wads of tissue into my purse. And you know what? It didn’t matter (at least to me; I apologize to everyone sitting nearby). The moment the dancers appeared, swathed in the golden light of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s gentle, resplendent Rain, nothing was important except that these ten wondrous beings kept on dancing—forever, if possible.

De Keersmaeker and her company, Rosas, have been working together for twenty years, the last eleven in residence at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. Though she’s known for her powerful sense of drama and has often deployed startling scenic effects as well as spoken text, Rain is a spectacle made from just a few materials. The stage is ringed with a shimmering curtain of hanging ropes, behind which instrumentalists and vocalists are dimly visible as they perform Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. Other than that, it’s light and dancing. According to the publicity material, the piece was inspired by Kirsty Gunn’s novel Rain, which is about a child who drowns. To tell the truth, I couldn’t glimpse a trace of any such crisis in the mesmerizing flow of this work. Yes, the spiderweb cast by the dancers as they scatter and connect, wander and collide, is full of hinted emotions; but the only story in sight is the one that bodies conjure when they move through space.

At first, the dancers simply walk and run. They’re dressed in plain, airy bits of clothing (by Dries Van Noten) that carry swiftly changing shades of beige and pink around the stage. One of the dancers might try out a spin, another a brief shake, or two of them meet for a moment with a slight gesture of recognition. But these encounters fade, and expectations disintegrate, as the dancers keep pouring in and out of the space as if discovering and rediscovering the open air. Occasionally they break into recognizable dance steps—swivels, skips, and kicks in all directions—but the texture remains smooth as butter. Often they line up on the diagonal and sweep across the stage together until a few drop out to explore other ideas: a shoulder shrug that catapults someone into a swirling solo, perhaps, or a quiet stroll to the front of the stage, where a dancer will gaze out at us for an instant before returning to the group.

Don’t these people know what gravity is? Nothing is difficult here, though sometimes the movement becomes determined, ardent, even a little wild-eyed. The members of a luscious trio sidle up against one another, seeming to enjoy the proximity before bouncing away without ever actually touching. There are lifts, but always on the move; nobody bothers to stand around posing. It’s a bit like the teddy bears’ picnic: Maybe this is what dancers do when we aren’t watching.

Toward the end, a somber stillness falls over the group. A lift ends in a collapse on the floor, and the rope curtain casts a hard glitter. The mood is lonely and introspective; a few dancers kneel for a moment, extending their cupped hands as if holding candles. Suddenly there’s silence, and bright light floods the stage and the audience alike. The dancers run away. It’s all over except the ovation, which goes on and on and on.

The Reich Stuff