Twilight in black and white: ‘En Atendant’ (Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas)

When I close my eyes, I see that ghost disappear in the dark. Again. And again. To start with the end for once: the last scene of En Atendant, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker‘s new performance, left me breathless, at De Munt/La Monnaie (Brussels). The austerity and quietness that hangs over this performance – originally created for this summer’s Festival d’Avignon – may not be to everybody’s liking, but Rosas fans will, once again, find it hard to shake off En Atendant‘s spell.

‘Since making The Song in 2009, a performance in which silence reigned, I’ve become quite attached to that notion of fewness.’ Indeed, once again: don’t expect lavish costumes, a ravishing musical score or choreography for En Atendant. You’ll see just a straight line of brown soil on that stage and a bench for three musicians to sit on. The eight dancers are wearing black skirts and trousers. The only touch of colour you’ll find is the green or blue in their sneakers. A lot of the time they are dancing in silence, during other parts they are dancing to music from the 14th century, played by those classical musicians: Ars subtilior, a genre that originated in that French city of Avignon.

Some will undoubtedly find this soberness and this deliberate abstinence of all things spectacular hard to bear. For my part I admire the Belgian choreographer for sticking to her view. As a performance that is confidently taking its time, En Atendant becomes, for the viewer, an exercise in looking, listening and focusing. It sharpens your senses instead of numbing them. Do watch closely and you’ll see some amazingly choreographed scenes. Does that mean that it’s all good? No. There are parts in this performance that are taking too long, and some of the solo’s and duo’s aren’t up to par. A lot of the group scenes on the other hand are just too beautiful to be true.

And just when you’ll think that En Atendant has given you everything there is to offer, you’ll notice a slight shift. Those white lights that throughout the performance have tried to make you believe that the dancers are dancing in broad daylight, slowly start to fade. Evening falls over this performance and all of a sudden En Atendant almost becomes like a painting in movement. The black of the costumes mixes with the black of the stage floor and the walls. That brownish tint of those legs, arms and torsos mixes with that brown soil that is no longer a straight line, but has in the meanwhile covered large parts of the stage. And yes, as you expect, in the end, that last, naked dancer, vanishes as a ghost in the darkest night.

What does it all mean, one might ask. For me En Atendant came close to some sort of lament. The black costumes, as if those dancers were all in mourning. That one face, covered by both hands, as in grief. That opening scene, with that flute player slowly making his tone ascend, higher and higher. And in the end, that one last guy, almost as someone’s soul dissolving. But that’s the impression those different scenes made on me. En Atendant luckily doesn’t push you into seeing it that way.

One last, small remark though, coming from the sucker for style that I happen to be. Although most of the dresses were really beautiful, the overall ‘look’ of the performance could have been just that tiny bit better. All those different sneakers didn’t match with the costumes and made for a slightly unkempt look (although: maybe it was the right choice for Avignon). And why not give those three musicians something nice to wear too? Now it looked as if they’d woken up right before the performance and had quickly grabbed some clothes before walking on stage. It’s all in the details, and even though this might be an austere affair, we do expect nothing but classiness from a Rosas performance, don’t we?

You’ll find a short clip from ‘En Atendant’ (in Avignon) here. Tour schedule here and an interview with De Keersmaeker about the performance here.

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