Maximum minimalism

A Belgian company's performances are packed with surprises.

The Belgian company Rosas opened On the Boards’ 21st season like a meteor—bright and fast. Anne Teresa De Keers-maeker’s “Drumming,” set to the Steve Reich score of the same name, is so densely packed it really couldn’t be any longer, but when the house lights came up, only an hour had gone by.


On the Boards, October 27


Reich’s music is a classic of postmodernism, with a stringent, accumulative structure and methodical rhythmic shifts. Many choreographers would attempt to illustrate that construction in their work, designing movement phrases that add bit to bit, rather like building the Eiffel Tower with a box of Legos. Like the composer, De Keersmaeker rings a series of changes on a core phrase, but this main theme seems to come from the propulsive quality of the score rather than its clockwork nature. Her performers add a level of kinesthetic immediacy to the underlying architecture of the work.

When the dancers enter before the house lights go off, the stage has been stripped of its curtains and rolls of orange flooring are still sitting around, leaving the whole space open to view and curiously unfinished. As we see part of the cast dancing while the rest are waiting for their cues, we begin to wonder where the actual edges of the performance are, whether the leg crossing and costume adjusting along the sides is as carefully scripted as the gymnastics in the center.

De Keersmaeker’s movement style often punctuates fluidity with a series of abrupt shifts in direction and focus. This can be exhilarating as well as unsettling, as you’re never quite sure where the phrase might go. At one point in the dance, when a tightly packed group suddenly expands into the rest of the space, they seem like a Hoberman’s sphere, mimicking the infinite expansion of the universe. They toss themselves through the air as often as they jump, leaping backwards in tight spirals or loping ahead. They seem heedless of the consequences of gravity.

In the past, De Keersmaeker has used the minimalist’s tool of repetition to almost hypnotic effect. In “Drumming,” she seems to leave that to the score, playing with phrasing and dynamics until the choreographic patterns are covered several layers deep.

At the end of the dance, one of the performers unrolls a section of flooring, filling in the last gap in the space like completing an oversized jigsaw puzzle. As the audience gathered up their belongings, I half wanted to stay in my seat to see if there might be another dance coming from that new pattern, one as mercurial as the first.