Remarkable for its fusion of European Tanztheater intensity and American post- modern formalism, Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's "Rosas Danst Rosas" opened the "Explorations III" series at the Japan America Theatre Thursday with a rigorous commitment to a somber vision.
In her first two sections--one with the four women of her company stretched on the floor, the other with them seated on chairs--De Keersmaeker shaped dance motifs from movements suggesting emotional qualities: the action of doubling up as if in pain, for instance.
Structured in cycles and performed in shifting patterns of unison and counterpoint, either unaccompanied or set to the whip- cracking dynamism of music by Thierry De May, these motifs evolved into dance designs without losing their expressive content.
Indeed, in these pantomime-based sections "Rosas Danst Rosas" became rather like a film or videotape loop of documentary footage--actions of individual female anguish carefully isolated, repeated, multiplied and ritualized into a formal universal statement.
Nobody else has brought minimalism to a boil quite like De Keersmaeker in the first parts of her 90-minute work. Unfortunately, the last, dancier half proved inferior, less minimal than rudimentary in the flat, semaphoric arm emphases and constricted footwork that both accompanied and absorbed little mime-solos about covering and uncovering.
Admittedly, the dancers met the daunting energy demands admirably but, as with Molissa Fenley's "Hemispheres," bad choreography protracted into an exhausting hard-labor experience is still bad.
In making a test of dancer stamina yield a sense of metaphysical drama, De Keersmaeker seemed utterly outclassed by Laura Dean (in "Dance"), Twyla Tharp ("Fait Accompli") and Bill T. Jones ("Fever Swamp"), choreographers who simply created more original and sophisticated movement on which to base formal manipulations evoking powerful themes or feelings.
This new "Explorations" season is dedicated to Yoshiyuki Takada, the dancer who fell to his death Sept. 10 when a rope broke during Sankaijuku's "hanging dance" in Seattle. Before the De Keersmaeker performance Thursday, Robert Fitzpatrick--Sankaijuku's booking manager and director of the Olympic Arts Festival--revealed privately that the Japanese company intends to begin performing again in the spring.
There will, however, be no "hanging dance" scheduled in the foreseeable future, Fitzpatrick said, and, as yet, no decision has been made about whether Sankaijuku will replace Takada. (For related news about the Sankaijuku incident, see the "Dancewatching" column in Calendar on Sunday ).