The Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, as has often been said, has two strong but divergent impulses, one tugging towards plotless dance inspired by music, the other towards narrative, drama and text. Rain (2001) belongs to the former type, and is set to Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (1976). De Keersmaeker has used Reich’s music before, for her breakthrough early composition Fase (1982) and for Drumming (1998), and his rigorous compositional logic clearly strikes a chord with her own tenacious intelligence.
Chords, in fact, are at the heart of Reich’s piece, 11 of them sounded at the beginning and forming the basis of the entire composition. The choreography too begins with “chords”, the ten dancers (three men, seven women) walking across the stage in ragged lines. Fumiyo Ikeda – a prominent and long-standing member of the company, and lovely to watch – breaks away into a flurried, detailed solo, a nucleus of activity that sets the others off on their own separate paths. The choreographic chords disperse, their spatial harmonics unravelling into individual voices.
The choreographic chords disperse, their spatial harmonics unravelling into individual voices.
But composition, not individualism, is the key to this 70-minute piece. Just as Reich builds his music from a series of basic elements, so De Keersmaeker orchestrates the dance from just a handful of phrases, seamlessly woven into a dazzlingly rich tapestry of motion. It’s an enormous pleasure to watch how those motifs shift, interlock or overlap, how dancers on utterly disparate paths are suddenly caught in the vortex of each other’s motion, how they lock legs or skim across each other’s bodies in fleeting moments of connection. And it’s all performed in such a seemingly casual style, full of breath and momentum, that the effect is not at all forced. Though tightly, rigorously constructed, the choreography suggests not static architecture but fluid water. Currents of energy swell across the stage, waves of motion break and disperse over the group’s surging tides of movement. A shudder of stage lightning sparks a wave of lifts that crests across the stage, the dancers suddenly yearning skyward. The stage itself is backed by a semi-circle of hanging ropes, each ending with a splashy tassle, and at times the dancers rush through them, setting them too into eddying motion, like wind gusting through rain.
A shudder of stage lightning sparks a wave of lifts that crests across the stage, the dancers suddenly yearning skyward.
It’s impossible not to be impressed by the sheer skill of the choreographic invention, not to be entranced by the dancers’ ebb and flow. And yet I wanted to love this piece more than I did. Perhaps Rain is too like a reprise of Drumming (which the company took on a UK tour after these performances). Both pieces are set to music by Steve Reich. Each is a perpetuum mobile built from a small set of movements that are played out and elaborated in endlessly fascinating variations, performed with an unforced, carefree style. And in fact, in each piece the germ of those initial movements came from a previous, theatrical work, Just Before (1997) for Drumming, In Real Time (2000) for Rain. Similar though they are in many ways, Drumming left me transported in a way that Rain did not. The earlier piece begins and ends with its germinal phrase, a circular journey that shows just how rich and dense the smallest movement can be – a glimpse of the world in a grain of sand, or eternity in an hour. The composition of Rain is harder to follow, and though it encompasses some gorgeously enlivening moments the piece accumulates a curious sense of stasis. Perhaps that’s an effect too of Reich’s music, with its pointillist sprays of notes scintillating over a hypnotic bassline, generating texture rather than drive, turning time into space. In the end, all the breathless energy and dynamic flux of Rain can either sweep you into the tug and tow of its currents, or can simply wash over you like a tide.