Kept in the dark
Originally created by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker to be performed outdoors at dawn during the 2011 Avignon Festival, Cesena picks up directly where its sister work, 2010’s En Atendant, leaves off – with a naked man lurking in the gloom.
Cesena is an extraordinary piece, distinctly unusual and unflinching in its commitment to presenting dance in its sparsest form. A great deal of it is cloaked in darkness, with bodies barely distinguishable and voices spinning out of thin air. In two lines the nineteen performers march creepily to and from the front of the stage to the insistent clang of someone hammering metal. In a vaguely militaristic fashion they then whistle amiably around the arena only to be shockingly interrupted by a rogue runner with a knack for kung-fu drop-kicks.
Sixteen of the cast are male and Keersmaeker’s choreographic tone is mostly aggressive and violent. Sandy Williams, in particular, is astounding; he hurtles and throws himself about, crashing painfully to the floor and twitching with spasmodic fits of inner conflict. For everyone else there’s a constant sense of things about to go out of control; they slip, trip and regularly loom over the audience at the very lip of the stage (indeed, one chap is pushed off and falls with a thump into the stalls).
Conversely, the mediaeval music is gorgeous. Entirely a capella, the superb graindelavoix collective are an integral part of the action, to the degree that initially it’s virtually impossible to tell them apart from the dancers. In turn, the Rosas dancers also sing and the harmonies fathered bring attention crashing onto the stage. There’s a delicious song when all the performers string themselves along the front of the stage and just sing beautifully at the audience. The cross-centuries divide is later bridged when Matej Kejzar, sporting a fine purple hoody, spits out his 14th century lyrics with all the swagger and bile of Oasis’ Liam Gallagher.
As the stage brightens, representing the return to daylight, the mood softens, the three female performers come increasingly to the fore and in the end everyone dashes playfully off the stage, leaving things feeling rewardingly incomplete.