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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 13 FEBRUARY 2016 — Three works by the Belgian dancer/choreographer, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, created for her company, Rosas in 1986, 1992, and 1995 respectively, but not performed together until 2006, entered the repertoire of the Palais Garnier in October. The linking feature between the pieces, set respectively to scores by Bartok, Beethoven and Schoenberg, is that they are all constructed around the relationship of movement to music. 
Four musicians take centre stage for the first work on offer, Bela Bartok’s Quatuor No.4, as four women march on, clad in swingy little pleated skirts, skinny black tops and black leather bootees, costumes as well as gestures inspired by the work of Paul Klee. They began to move rhythmically to and fro in silence, in perfect synchronisation, spinning around, flicking their hair, jumping into the air and clicking their heels. Although the piece focusses on the relationship between dance and Bartok, the womens’ short skirts flash higher and higher, increasingly revealing their white-knickered bottoms.

Bela Bartok’s Quatuor No.4
Choreography: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker
Paris Opera Ballet

Backs to the audience, the squad of four remarkable young dancers waggle their white clad anatomy at the forefront of the stage. Erotic?  Not really. The overwhelming feeling is of admiration for these four members of the corps de ballet, and in particular the delicious Laura Bachman, who threw herself wholeheartedly into the piece, forcing the audience into enjoying a work they might otherwise have snobbed. Excellent also were Charlotte Ranson and Juliette Hilaire, two young women who have always been ready to take every opportunity to dance new works, never hesitating to participate in such programmes as Danseurs, Choregraphes with enthusiasm. Only Sae Eun Park seemed ill-at-ease, unused to the fun side of dance, for fun was what this piece was, despite the fact that Keersmaeker’s work is not to the taste of everyone.

The same sense of joy in dancing was given by the softly feminine Emilie Cozette in Verklarte Nacht, who, she told me, had revelled in every moment of the freedom given in dancing Keersmaeker’s unusual and strangely magical work set to Schonberg’s romantic score. He had composed it for Mathilde von Zemlinsky with whom he had fallen deeply in love, and who he later married. Keersmaeker’s piece follows Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name.

Verklarte Nacht, (Transfigured Night), described by the choreographer herself as a piece for six female dancers and eight males, opens onto a forest scene on a cloudless, moonlit night. The men are standing motionless beneath tall oak trees as the figure of a woman, Marie-Agnès Gillot emerges. She stretches, stands upon tiptoe before bending backwards and sideways in an attitude inspired by Rodin’s sculptures. More brutal and angular than Cozette, she confesses her story to her lover, of how she is expecting the child of another man and no longer has the right to happiness. Yet the man reassures her that she must have the child for him and says that "You have brought the glow into me, You have made me like a child myself".

Léonore Baulac and Karl Paquette in Verklarte Nacht
Choreography: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker
Paris Opera Ballet

In this narrative yet abstract work, each woman appears as a facet of the first and one of the most beautiful moments was the duet with the lyrical Léonore Baulac partnered by Karl Paquette.

Die Grosse Fuge, composed by Beethoven towards the end of his life when he was already afflicted by deafness inspired Keersmaeker to create an all male piece. The resulting work was excellently danced by seven men, and by one woman, but why Alice Renavand was present, dressed as a man, was hard to understand. All were clad in ill-fitting, badly cut suits and crumpled white shirts.

The 18 minute work was composed of fast-moving, pounding, acrobatic steps, with the dancers, driven frenetically on by the score, jumping and leaping high in the air to then bang themselves down on the floor. Their energy and commitment was faultless. Fighting with gravity, they must have been covered in bruises the following day.

Possibly, three Keersmaeker works on one programme was one too many as her choreography became repetitive. There was too much head swinging and rolling around on the floor, often distracting from the powerful musical content of the evening. The score, when played alive on stage provided an atmosphere, while the Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris was admirably directed by Vello Pahn.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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