A season of four early works by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has shown that right from the beginning she was a tenaciously single-minded choreographer. Elena’s Aria (1984), the only piece not previously seen in the UK, appears as the missing link between her audaciously minimalist first works – Fase (1982) and Rosas Danst Rosas (1983) – and the later forays into more theatrical, operatic or cinematic terrain.
Elena’s Aria’s framework is sparse and exposed. There is an array of chairs, most facing backwards; a table where each of the four female dancers will read a text extract (in different languages) evoking a departed love; the distant, intermittent sounds of operatic arias; and a restricted palette of moves – high-heeled teeters, skirt-lifts, nervy skitters.
This produces a kind of studied feminine ennui, with the performers holding everything together even if they seem to be imploding inside, like the dynamited buildings that fleetingly appear on silent film footage. But De Keersmaeker’s unwavering pursuit of her own path – her very strength as an artist – can also alienate her audience. Here, we seem to need as much stamina as she has to last the course.
The final work, Bartók/Mikrokosmos (1987), is more rewarding, though no less uncompromising. The musicians’ presence on stage (pianists for the first part, a string quartet for the second) marks out the score as the point of departure, from which the dance builds its own microcosms: first a sparring male-female duet, then a skirted and booted girlie-gang, like an elite squad drilled in flouncy mannerisms. The rigorous clarity is at once dense with suggestion and intellectually satisfying.