Steve Reich Evening at BAM

Rosas in Steve Reich Evening, photo by Herman Sorgeloos

Brooklyn Academy of Music presented Steve Reich Evening this past week as part of its Next Wave Festival.  Choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and performed by Rosas, the company she founded in 1983, the performance was a dedication to Reich’s work, which has inspired De Keersmaeker since the early 1980s.  Ms. De Keersmaeker proved that she is not only an ambitious dancemaker – Reich’s work sounds impossible to count and can be irksome for its monotony – but also a brilliantly perceptive one.  I couldn’t have imagined a more accurate dance reflection of Reich’s music, which was performed by the Brussels-based music ensemble Ictus.

The first two sections of the performance were devoted solely to sound, opening with Pendulum Music, in which two suspended microphones swung back and forth over a speaker…and back…and forth…and back.  There was something calming and balancing about the image, but after nearly ten minutes, I was eager for something that reflected the intricacy of Reich’s work.  Marimba Phase was more of the same, with two marimba players in silhouette performing center stage.  After this, however, the performance gained momentum in each section (with the exception of Gyorgy Ligeti’s part silly, part aggravating Poeme symphonique pour cent metronomes, in which one hundred orange mechanical metronomes ticked at the front of the stage…enough already).  In Piano Phase, two women repeatedly pivoted and swung their right arms while advancing downstage and then moving back in different panels of light.  Eight Lines, a piece for eight women, looked random and at times improvised, but there was structure and order within the chaos.  While watching these pieces, I found that there was a fine line between being mesmerized and feeling disengaged.  My eyes tended to glaze over when I watched the whole picture, but by focusing on a specific dancer or group of dancers, I found subtleties that emphasized De Keersmaeker’s pure understanding of Reich’s music.

Four Organs was the low point of the performance, as five men struggled to add energy to the repetition of Reich.  The music and movement never truly connected, and therefore never amounted to anything substantial.  But the finale set to the percussive Drumming-Part 1 was riveting.  Jan Versweyveld’s lighting captured the charted lines on the floor while casting panels of stark light upon the dancers.  With the wings and backdrop stripped away, they moved at lightning speed, often bringing their knees to their forehead and then slamming into the floor.  Along with the four percussionists, the dancers commanded the stage.

This was not the best grouping of Reich’s work, but I respect De Keersmaeker for delving into these selections, and mostly succeeding.  Minimalist music is often considered to be simplistic or mundane, but Steve Reich Evening was a challenging performance that conveyed the complexity and depth of Reich’s music through movement.

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