The tight choreography of Rosas danst Rosas feels like watching a kind of fiercely passionate maths, a lesson in how to use dynamics and breath to create music. It is sharp and strong and beautifully put together.
Even at 22 years old, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker was not afraid of making the audience wait. The young women wait and wait, and the rhythm of the waiting and moving generates a feeling of frustration, a feeling of suppressed energy and potential. Although De Keersmaeker almost never refers to it as such, Rosas danst Rosas is a piece for four women and not just an abstract lesson in dynamic and rhythm and mathematical precision. The sharpness of the head is all about the hair, the baggy shirts slide off shoulders and are tugged back to reveal collar-bones. The dancer’s perform recognisable gestures; their hands skimming hair, thighs and breasts. Charisma and a sense of play lights up the mathematical structure when the dancers have the time to let it. Admittedly some performers were better at this than others, but who can blame them when they are counting like mad for more than an hour and a half. You can’t help but admire them for putting themselves in such an exposed position by performing this piece. One false move and you are out.
Just before the performance began, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker in all her hard-edged glory squeezed past to take her seat a couple of places away from me. One of her dancer/collaborators sat by her taking notes, whilst she sat watching. It was hard then not to think of the piece in relation to this woman’s career and how odd it must be to sit watching a piece you made more than 25 years ago. How strange to see this part of your life performed over and over. Although I feel it deserves its place as a classic, it also does seem like the work of a young choreographer, created for young dancers to perform. The dancers’ playful glances, precise strength, arrested movements, cotton socks and baggy dancer clothes sometimes gave them an air of youth waiting for something to happen. But then I haven’t seen the version with the now middle-aged original cast…
It is difficult to come to this work without expectations. Although I had never seen it, I had been shown clips of the film by die-hard fans, heard people talk about it, met dancers who profess love for it, and heard other work referred to as being “a bit like Rosas danst Rosas”. In the almost thirty years since this work was made, it has slipped into the Contemporary Dance canon and become a kind of classic.
The Sadler’s Wells collection of retrospectives for choreographers such as De Keersmaeker and Jérôme Bel present an interesting opportunity to look at recent dance history. Part of what I love about performance is that it is live and therefore disappears instantly. But this does something strange to the art-form’s sense of history. A lot is forgotten. The classic and canonised work can achieve almost mythological status as they are more read and spoken about than seen. Although there is something a bit romantic about all the myth-making and hear-say, I am glad that I have now seen Rosas Danst Rosas because I liked it, and also to place it as a piece of dance history. Watching fuzzy clips on Youtube does not transmit the experience of a work that was made to be seen live.