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© Rosas, Gérard Uféras, Paris

Rosas

'Once'

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

October 18, 2003
Robin Howard Theatre
/London



The first expression performed in silence displayed a particular kind of bodily narrative. Was this a device to allow the audience to look closely at minute details containing head slowly moving side to side, shift of eye balls, down turned month and drift into hip that could signify a number of dispositions including the portrayal of a child day dreaming, whiling the time away? Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker is a person who in the passage of the dance becomes the body upon which angst and cherished life experiences are witnessed and lived through. The movement text ranges between stillness and explosive gestures portraying desolation, being in a state of lost, a kind of reminiscent longing or an indulgence presented as a laughable distraction. Each movement is a rendition of several songs from “Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2”. Baez is a folk singer closely associated with the 1960’s, a pacifist whose crooning seeped of unbridled affection with abhorrence for killing of any sort for any reason. Baez was political in her pacifistic tendencies for her songs spoke of the pain caused by mistrust and disillusionment as well as the injustices heaped out by man’s inhumanity to man. Anne Teresa resonates all these varied emotions in an outpouring of movement sequences that mime passages of the songs as well as devise movement metonyms and metaphors portraying an essence of what the song is about or adding an additional comment.

Entering by kicking off her shoes, the audience is drawn into a world that can be read from many perspectives giving an individual audience member’s history with each song, their individual experience with dance, their experience with the art of Anne Teresa. The audience snickered during Anne Teresa’s singing of “We Shall Overcome”. It seemed she turned her head to check the words of the song that were being projected on the brown cyclorama upstage right. Or did she? Was she being a child not knowing the words to the song or was this a metonym for a society that knew the cost but never quite paid the price for injustices of inequality. Personally I was appalled at the giggles. First Anne Teresa’s stance was indicative of those opening gestures, similar to the first stance at the top of this work. There was nothing funny about that stillness and her head gesture from right to left added to the sense of desolation. Also the song - this is a song that black and white people sang during sit-ins and rallies to get equal rights for African Americans. This is a song that people would sing as police beat their heads and torsos before throwing them in the back of vans to be transported to jail. This is a song not to be laughed through no matter what the circumstances. But then not everyone has the same experiences and so those who snickered thought one way while I thought something else. There were many of these political, cultural undercurrents and juxtapositions but there was also those whimsical moments like the lullaby done with rhythm in the feet and hips with different arm, head and voice differences that characterised each animal named in the song or finger gestures that indicated “you” and ”me”. The song “When Gods on Your Side” had a certain poignancy all its own.

Monotones of black white and beige with the wooden boards that bordered the black lino gave the performance space with the audience seated a close feel. It became even more so when Anne Teresa became naked, aside from a pair of black knickers, changing this world into a very private room. It was a room we had invaded, where the world of hate and killing and lost-ness had invaded and striped this lithe creature of most of her beliefs and challenged her human-ness. Was she a child dancing in her bedroom to a song she liked? Moving downstage left the video projection inscribing the horrors of the civil war on her skin that also cast a shadow on the cyc where the rest of the projected image fell. Anne Teresa dancing the sorrow of “Once”, a song of a lost sweetheart now become emblematic of the sorrows of war. Standing striped Anne Teresa’s emotions like Baez’s singing is laid bare. Naked except for those black briefs, every move reveals a crease, a twist of skin, wrinkle and tightness, those visible signs of aging and exhaustion, all that has been lived and what has been imagined.

 

Edited by Stuart Sweeney

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