Mystery Sonatas/for Rosa review – prayers, patterns and a sudden loss of trousers | Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker

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This show is dedicated to women of resistance, specifically four Rosas – Parks, Luxemburg, Bonheur, and a 15-year-old named Rosa who died in Belgian floods last year. But it couldn’t be less strident or less vocal in its intentions. It’s also inspired by roses – their petal formations – and rosaries, via the 17th-century music of Heinrich Biber.

Biber’s Mystery Sonatas were written to accompany rosary bead prayers, a ritual that might lull one into a trance-like state – one that’s suggestive of the effect of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s choreography in this work that contains plenty of its own mysteries.

There is much beauty in Biber’s music (recorded, not live, sadly) – the sweet, keening melodies, the minor harmonies resolving to major, the essential lightness of its dance rhythms. The dancers carry themselves with that same lightness, bodies neutral, no unnaturally pulled-up ballet poise, no dramatic reach and stretch. There’s an artlessness to their simple moves: walking steps, light leaps, arms roving around them. De Keersmaeker crafts with rigorously worked out forms and repetition. The dancers don’t copy obvious shapes or rhythms in the music, but they are tied to it with internal logic. Some systems reveal themselves (like a series of rotating circles), some don’t.

Mystery Sonatas/for Rosa.
Rigorous forms … Mystery Sonatas/for Rosa. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

There is some stunning lighting by Minna Tiikkainen, including a scene where it looks as if light beams are being poured from a giant jug on to the stage. The flip side of other subtly dramatic light washes is a general level of dimness that’s intensely soporific when stretched out over two-plus hours (way too long, with sorely diminishing returns). But there are surprises, too, as when suddenly the stage is flooded in fuschia light, an old country song strikes up and a man walks steadily towards us with zero expression and one arm held at 90 degrees in front of him. Then he takes his trousers off. Funny old contemporary dance.

Question marks are followed by divine moments, the same dancer launched on the swell of the music and gently folding to the floor; tableaux of tangled bodies that look as if they are lifted from a canvas. We can only watch the patterns play out and wonder while the dancers talk wordlessly to themselves, praying to the god of Anne Teresa.



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