sat 18/05/2024

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Jérôme Bel, 3Abschied, Sadler’s Wells | reviews, news & interviews

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Jérôme Bel, 3Abschied, Sadler’s Wells

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Jérôme Bel, 3Abschied, Sadler’s Wells

A fascinating failure: death and dance transfigured

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and IctusAll photos: courtesy Sadler's Wells

When the subject of funding for the arts arises, the phrase “allowed to fail” is frequently heard: artists must be enabled to try new things, press against the outer edges of what they know. Enter Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Jérôme Bel, two of contemporary dance’s thinkers. They have tried, and failed, to choreograph the final section of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, and in that attempt, they have produced an extraordinary evening: the anatomy of a failure.

As much discussion as dance, it begins with De Keersmaeker playing the famous 1950s Kathleen Ferrier/Bruno Walter recording. Halfway through it is stopped, and De Keersmaeker talks about Ferrier singing this farewell to life, this transcendent evocation of the eternities of nature and the acceptance that all that lives must die, even as she herself had already been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She talks about how much that moved her, both song and story, and how somehow this became entwined in her mind with a piece she wanted to do on how not merely man, but now the earth, too, is dying.

So, now, half an hour into the evening, we get to the nub. Can Abschied be choreographed? Ictus, the ensemble which works with De Keersmaeker’s Rosas company, with the English contralto Sara Fulgoni, perform. De Keersmaeker darts in and out among them, her characteristic swinging arms and hitched step, normally so formally structured, here appearing lost and shapeless. De Keersmaeker has worked extensively with early music and contemporary music, but apart from one foray with Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, the emotional resonances of the Romantic movement have not been the sound world she inhabits.

The end of the piece indicates its level of failure: the audience is uncertain – to applaud? Not? What has just happened? Then Jérôme Bel appears on stage. He too acknowledges failure: Anne Teresa, he says, was trying to give the music choreographic form (my emphasis, but his word). They knew it didn’t work, so they tried following the example of Haydn’s Symphony No 45, the Abschied. There (although Bel does not explain the motivation behind it), Haydn indicated to his patron, Prince Esterházy, that his musicians had been kept at the Prince’s summer palace too long, by having each musician walk off stage as his part ended, until finally only Haydn and his concertmaster were left.

Ictus then repeats the final section, the last four lines, written by Mahler: the beauty of the earth will go on for “Ever…ever” (Ewig, ewig), as each of the 14 people on stage leave one by one. Despite it being sketched out programmatically for us beforehand, it actually works quite well. But not well enough. Version 2a has each of the musicians “dying” melodramatically in situ. A disaster.

Finally, version 3: De Keersmaeker and the pianist alone. De Keersmaeker sings – not well, and mostly at half-voice, just sketched out. She again attempts choreography, and again fails, filling the stage with short runs, pushing, reaching, never finding a shape for her emotions. But out of her failure here comes something fascinating. This most cerebral, most rigorous, most thoughtful of choreographers turns into us, into Everyman. Faced with the immensity of death, and with music that expresses transcendent joy and sorrow simultaneously, her inability to express what the music does to her echoes ours. We, too, cannot express what art means – that lack of ability is why we go to theatre, dance, opera, concerts, look at pictures – we need artists to express these things for us.

And yet, not every artist can achieve his or her ends every time. They must try, and if they fail, so be it. As Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail better.” De Keersmaeker fails better.

Faced with music that expresses transcendent joy and sorrow simultaneously, her inability to express what the music does to her echoes ours


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Dreadful! Embarrassingly painful to watch. The worst thing I have seen this year! How could she get away with that?

funny you saying that: It's one of my favourite pieces ever. (the article sums up why pretty well)

Favourite pieces ever??? Please send me you details I would like to perform for you, for a fee of course.

Yes, I agree. What a silly show. There was nothing in it. How embarrassing her dancing besides the musicians was. She looked like a silly girl, wanting something which just doesn't work and has nothing to do with the body and its expression. She should have listened to Daniel Barenboim. RK

Artistically bankrupt

A fascinating failure? Probably its because they are big names.This is no doubt favouritism. If done by lesser known artists, the headline might have been horrible disaster. And please, no more "collaboration" or "cross-over" of big names, its getting more and more like marketing strategy and publicity stunts. This is not show biz or fashion world.

Ridiculous. I felt quite insulted by the fraud of it, why doe smodern dance choreography think it can get away with churning out this rubbish by calling it art. She talked for 30 mins building up an image of a creation that would be grand and fitting of a musical classic but the music which coul chave been pleasant lacked any impact (no reflection on the musicians but there were not enough of them as they explained it was writen fro 85 musicians but they were performing it with 13 because musicians are "expensive". I thought, "so are these tickets!" ), they looked, behaved and performed as if we had walked in on a college drama practice; the first dance by rosas reminded me of when small children break away from there parents and mess around near the stage at a wedding. The finale where she "sang" and "danced" was excrutiatingly bad and the only part of the entire night which had any kind of emotion and essence linked to the message of death that they were trying to convey in the music was when she finished her (hilarious) final song and dance and was met with complete silence from the audience...she died on stage at that point. I was quite angry up to that point, then I actually felt a bit sorry for her (for a split second).

Is it not possible that the 13 musicians were playing the Schoenberg chamber arrangement - perfectly legitimate in many chamber concerts these days? It was made because more musicians were indeed 'expensive' and the Viennese society in question wanted to promulgate the work? In spite of all the pros and cons here, it sounds fascinating - I can well see it would be either inspired or disastrous. Either way, it's unique.

Yes, it was indeed the Schoeberg, and very beautifully played. I'm sorry I failed to mention that.

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