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Arts: Dance: The structure of emotion

HOW EXHILARATING it must be to be one of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's 12 dancers, pitching into reckless criss-crossing, with Steve Reich's percussion throbbing in your ears. When in 1971 Reich wrote Drumming for bongo drums, marimbas and glockenspiels, he considered it a culmination of his musical processes. When last year Keersmaeker used it for a dance piece of the same name, she was casting her gaze at her beginnings and revealing how far she has moved.

Those beginnings were Fase in 1982, the second work of a 22-year-old Belgian choreographer. Also set to Reich, it was so fresh, so rigorously intelligent, it immediately put her in an international spotlight. It could have been a fluke, but it wasn't. Her prolific output continues to be exceptional in its distinctiveness and profound musical intellect. Her group, Rosas, performs around the world; in 1992 she became resident choreographer of the Monnaie opera house in Brussels.

As with most choreography to minimalist music, Fase glued its steps to Reich's shifting repetitions, although it had autonomy through its own dramatic shading. Drumming adopts a more sophisticated structural rapport, fluctuating between matching the score's rhythms and disregarding them; in the music's third section, the andante glockenspiel and whistle sounds are contradicted by the serene poses of the dancers, time-suspended like sleeping figures.

Like the score, the dance is a single basic phrase, but patterns gel, then melt away. Solo dancers dart and weave, while groups wheel round like flocks of birds, collecting extra dancers or discarding them. It's a piece about fragmentation and proliferation as well as about unity and individuality within collective contours. Dries Van Noten's gorgeous white costumes, all different but with a family air, reinforce the idea.

And rarely has the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage looked so spacious and beautiful. For the set, Jan Versweyveld erects a white screen that shimmers softly at the back. He suffuses the performers in calm, pale orange, or in pools of light and shade as if they were travelling in and out of autumn sunlight.

They slice the air with arms as clean and spiky as stars; couples interact in glancing duets, their movements slotting in briefly like jigsaw pieces. One dancer constantly asserts her own dance, imploding on to the stage, ending the piece at odds with group configurations. But the sudden coalescing into exquisite harmonies acts as a reminder of the choreographer's tight structuring hand.

This humanity of the performers, of course, is not stifled. "I'm obsessed by structures," Keersmaeker says. "But the most beautiful experience is to see such a construction generating something intangible, elusive - an emotion."