‘3Abschied’ (Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Jérôme Bel): an unusual evening full of surprises
Warning: if you’re planning to go to 3Abschied, don’t read this review. Not a single word. Stop. Here. Because everything you’ll read, will spoil your evening. Go there. Know nothing. Just let yourself be taken away by this unusual, radical, honest, strong and touching collaboration between Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Jérôme Bel, both trying to find an answer to Gustav Mahler‘s legendary piece of music Der Abschied.
‘They aren’t even dressed properly’, I overheard somebody saying, as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and the musicians from the chamber orchestra walked on stage, during the world première of 3 Abschied at De Munt/La Monnaie (Brussels). That’s the first surprise of the evening: they’re all casually dressed, as if they’re just going to a rehearsal. Then the second one: it’s De Keersmaeker herself who dims the lights in the theatre, from a small mixing desk. Then she picks up a cd, puts it in the player and before we know it, we are all listening to a fragment of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, audience ánd orchestra.
Next surprise: when De Keersmaeker puts the music off, she starts to talk. She explains why we’ve just listened to a legendary recording of this piece of music (Kathleen Ferrier/Bruno Walter). She tells us why she wanted to create a choreography to his music, how she met with the great Daniel Barenboim to discuss this project. She even throws a few jokes in. We all laugh, although by then, everybody in the audience is slightly puzzled. But we haven’t had the last of many surprises: before De Keersmaeker goes on, she wants everybody to read the lyrics to Der Abschied, the last part of Das Lied von der Erde. And she switches the lights back on.
A bit later the orchestra finally sets in. They start playing Der Abschied. As they are sitting center stage, there isn’t much room for De Keersmaeker (jeans, sweater, work boots) to move around. So she dances in between those musicians; cautiously at first. Later on she finds more room at the back of the stage. It’s gripping, because you feel thé question hovering over this evening: is it possible to dance to such a legendary piece of music, that talks about death, the acceptance of it and transcendence? It looks as if she fails, but then suddenly it’s as if the fact that she’s dancing lifts that music up in the air. It becomes something else. At some moments I was really moved by it. And then it’s over. You think.
Because then Jérôme Bel walks on stage. He explains why, already during the rehearsals, he didn’t think that what we’ve just seen is an entirely satisfying performance. He shows us some other things he tried during those rehearsals (what happens next is hilarious) and then he introduces his and De Keersmaeker’s third version of Der Abschied: one for solo piano and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who – from her first introductory words you already felt this coming – starts singing, and starts dancing again.
‘Singing is like a very intimate dance with yourself’, she explained when I interviewed her, recently. But nevertheless you cringe. Although you admire her courage. This isn’t working. Once again, they fail, at finding something that fits Der Abschied. You think. But then, she nevertheless pulls it off. What she accomplishes, when you think the performance is over, is breathtaking. At least, for me it was. Just by some simple movements, by clearing the stage, by walking towards the audience, by the way she looks at you. You immediately get why Jérôme Bel, although he is an entirely different choreographer than De Keersmaeker, is so fascinated by her. It’s as if her movements originate right there, right then. You can feel the tension in the air. Between performer and audience.
Watching 3Abschied completely silenced me. It’s one of those performances that make you want to go home, drink a glass of wine and silently think it all over. I admire both choreographers (and especially De Keersmaeker) for their audacity. For the fact that they’re not afraid so show their vulnerable side. You feel the clash of both Bel’s and De Keersmaeker’s styles but nevertheless they find a way to do this together, a way that surpasses their differences.
By showing that it’s impossible to do Mahler’s music right, they pull off the impossible: I will never be able to listen to Das Lied von der Erde again without thinking about 3Abschied.