Trying to maximize the minimum: ‘Partita 2’, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Boris Charmatz

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One doesn’t need to do a lot, to make a big impression. Just turn out the lights, for instance. It is the simple but clever way Partita 2 starts, a collaboration between choreographers Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Boris Charmatz, and acclaimed violinist Amandine Beyer, based on a violin partita by J.S. Bach. It premiered at Kaaitheater (Brussels) during the Kunstenfestivaldesarts. For the first part of the piece the audience sits in the dark, listening to Beyer playing Bach in the dark. The beauty of it? You’re in a big theatre, but it feels as if Beyer is playing for your ears only.

In the beginning, there was only sound. Then there was only movement. And then there was sound ánd movement. One could summarize Partita 2 in this way. But then you’re leaving out imagination. Because while Beyer is playing Bach in the dark – you wonder how she pulls it off – you can, for instance, imagine De Keersmaeker and Charmatz dancing in the dark. You could try to just ‘see’ the dance in the music, even when there’s no dance at all.
And during the second part, while both dancers are dancing in total silence (Beyer isn’t on stage accompanying them), you could try to hear Bach in your mind, just as both dancers are undoubtedly dancing to the music in their minds too.

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But anyway: De Keersmaeker, Charmatz, Beyer, Bach, and Belgian visual artist Michel François, who provided decor and lighting for Partita 2. He has collaborated already with De Keersmaeker on The Song and En Atendant, and this time around he leaves the stage completely empty. He just has a small window of light slowly moving from the left to the right of the stage. At the end of the piece, it quickly moves back to the position it started out from.
On the floor, of course, one of De Keersmaeker’s trademarks: white circles. De Keersmaeker and Charmatz met at the Festival d’Avignon 2011, when Charmatz premiered Enfant and De Keersmaeker Cesena.

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For Partita 2 De Keersmaeker wanted to stay close to the idea of minimalism she has been exploring the last couple of years. (‘In his music Bach is maximizing the minimum’, Charmatz adds). De Keersmaeker says both choreographers started off from simple questions such as: What is movement? How can a body, by walking, define movement? Especially as Bach’s Partita is influenced by folkloristic music, instigating dance.
‘With Partita 2 I continue my work of reduction, De Keersmaeker states in an interview with Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique. ‘Not in order to arrive at the essence of things, because that would be moralising, but in order to in intensify our perceptions and emotions.’

‘Bach has obliged us to enter into the structure of the composition’, Charmatz says. ‘How to show the pillars of Bach’s architecture? How to come up with, in a really physical dance piece, an architecture reflecting the architecture of the music?’

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It’s impossible to dance on Bach, is how the saying goes. It’s great to see how De Keersmaeker and Charmatz are trying nevertheless. De Keersmaeker (who used music by Bach for Toccata and Zeitung) elegant and swiftly, Charmatz as if he’s having more difficulties; angular, unyielding, and more desperately, as if his body is refusing the task the choreographer has given it.
It’s nice to see them walk, run and move, in their own way; not really performing a duet, but often following in each others footsteps, and at some moments nevertheless becoming a couple. When she carries him around on her back, or he carries her, for instance. Or when one of them is lying on the floor and the other puts his feet against his or her feet, and, holding hands, they ‘walk’ together.

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All this said: Partita 2 is not an easy piece. It doesn’t offer a choreography that takes you away easily. It’s a piece that requires your full attention. (Are they really repeating the same moves in part two and part three, you wonder?) To some, more inexperienced viewers, it even might look at some moments during the second part (no music, just two dancers moving, sometimes hesitantly, in their own distinct way) as if they’ve dropped in on a rehearsal. Partita 2 tours in big theatres, but it’s the kind of work you’d rather expect in smaller theatres, where the audiences are more used to seeing experimental work.

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It sure is wonderful to witness these two – three (an amazing Beyer), four (Bach) – great minds at work in a sober, almost austere piece, but to me it felt as if De Keersmaeker and Charmatz have been, in a certain way, too respectful while collaborating. You clearly see their signature, but it doesn’t look as if they have been able to push each other a bit further, over a line they would otherwise have never crossed. I was missing the sense of excitement I had expected to get from the combination of these two really gifted choreographers. In that way, I had expected more of this.

Tour schedule here. Short rehearsal clip here.

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