Approaching HAU, I expected, somehow, a casual evening. Maybe it is the slightly unkept atmosphere of HAU – honestly how many performance venues do you know with a taxidermic fox under their bar counter?

© Anne Van Aerschot
© Anne Van Aerschot

But by the end of the evening, it is clear that there is nothing casual about the performance of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Rosas' interpretation of six Cello Suites by J.S. Bach.. As we get seated, the cuurtains are open with the working lights on the stage. Three figures, De Keersmaeker, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Michaël Pomero walk on. As De Keersmaeker and Pomero put tape on the floor, Queyras sits with his back facing the audience, with his cello. De Keersmaeker makes a casual sign to the audience – or maybe to the technicians – and then disappears behind the wings. The music and the dance start. Just like I have observed before, Pomero appears, towering over the audience. His movements are in dialogue with the music and De Keersmaeker joins in for some of the movements. The same ritual is repeated for all of the subsequent cello suites. The musician plays from a different position each time and then a new dancer comes on to interpret the suite, with De Keersmaeker giving the start – at this point we understand that she is not communicating with the technicians – and joining in once in a while. At times there is dance but no music, at times music but no dance. Each of the dances follows, however, the structure of the suites, with a slower introduction, a quicker middle section and a slower ending. As we go along there are moments when we see commonality between the different sections danced by the dancers but we do not see the overall effect. The more we see of the piece the more we understand or start understanding that there is logic behind it.

© Anne van Aerschot
© Anne van Aerschot

It is only during the last suite, that the full piece falls into place as we see the whole group perform their sequences simultaneously. At this point De Keersmaeker’s high level of craftsmanship and musical engagement become clear. What seemed like casual movements, in relation to music, are in fact one whole group sequence that makes the “rhythmic vitality and melodic intricacy" of Bach’s music visible. The movement material, casual everyday movement, gestures and more abstract movements, is precisely embroidered on to the music. There is, for example, a section where the dancers are simply walking but each of their movements has a clear relation to the music. The music is almost emanated from their breaths. Notable was Marie Goudot’s interpretation. Her delicate yet strong movements and her limber articulation perfectly matched De Keersmaeker’s movements. Also beautiful is the Caravaggesque image of Queyras, alone on stage playing with a light illuminating him from above. This is then followed by another chiaroscuro in which De Keersmaeker herself dances lit only by a sidelight, the open back of her dress (design by An D’Huys) accentuating the contrast between the blackness of the stage and her white skin. The work could have benefited though from another space, as from my seat in the parterre, the design drawn with the tape stayed somewhat a mystery. And also mysterious were the tapes some of the dancers were wearing – were they injured (K Tape?) or were these decorations? Once you let go of your desire to understand exactly everything that is going on, you enjoy the interplay between the movement and the music, and your experience of the piece changes. It almost becomes meditative, so much so that some people in the audience felt they had to leave the room to cough. Still, the mystery surrounding the piece is not completely lifted. But there is no way to solve it.

It was wonderful to see De Keersmaeker dancing in person. She is a beautiful dancer and her interpretation, between deadly serious, casual and clearly humorous is not to be missed. Her dancers are exquisitely down to earth and Queyras’ interpretation of Bach’s music not to be missed. The work has something Berlinerish about it: it's is a little raw but at the same time very sleek. De Keersmaeker’s Bach6Cellosuiten are the thing for you if you want to have a minimal yet meditative experience observing a work of art growing in front of your eyes. If you get the change, go and see it.

Katja Vaghi
Bachtrack 11/12/2017