Cesena is choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s sequel to En Atendant, with which it has much in common. It begins as En Atendant had ended, with a naked man in darkness. Echoing the unnerving sounds opening the earlier work, he heaves eerie noises from his body: foghorn brays, wind-filled wheezes. The live music, from vocal ensemble Graindelavoix, is in the same medieval style, and again there is a long walking section, the plainly clothed dancers matching the score note-for-step. There is a circle of sand on stage rather than a line of soil, and the lighting, instead of dimming to nothing, starts low and gradually brightens. Some fragments of En Atendant are quoted direct.
But there are many departures, most strikingly in the integration of music and dance. Where earlier they were united by compositional structure, here they come together performatively, the singers and dancers mixing seamlessly on stage, and often intermingling roles. One transfixing moment sees the chorus chant as they clump and crumple with the dancers, then lie slowly down to earth, as if singing while dying.
Some scenes are maddeningly inaccessible – there’s a nagging feeling that the lyrics are the key – but others are mysteriously enthralling, sometimes ritualistic, often heart-catching. Chrysa Parkinson lies and leans close to the floor, then lets herself be manipulated through the exact same sequence: a double vision of the same solo, one animated, one lifeless. Sandy Williams twists and tumbles, a vortex of turbulence like the seed of a storm, making the others eddy about him.
With its string of scenes and songs, the whole piece feels like weather: gusts and clusters of activity; changing atmospheres. That also makes it strangely arbitrary, full of numinous images but lacking the compositional coherence that had sustained En Atendant over its considerable length. Like many a sequel, Cesena doesn’t quite muster the force of its predecessor.