DANCE / Working up a fever: Stephanie Jordan reviews the Rosas at work in Leicester

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
A civic sports stadium charged with the spirit of a weekend roller-disco sounds an unlikely setting for one of the world's most prestigious dance companies. But Leicester's third International Dance Festival makes an issue of spreading into unusual venues, and for Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rosas, the decision to use the Granby Halls was wise.

Eleven dancers furiously devouring space, the Duke String Quartet and a big set by Jean- Luc Ducourt - platforms and a dozen or so armchairs around a portable wooden dance floor, a cinema screen, television monitors bordering the seating - all this needs a vast, plain arena.

In Erts (which means 'ore'), one of the 'characters' cleverly alludes to context in a show-off speech about his muscle power and physical fitness: 'I do some rollerskating over there . . .' He is foil to a modern-day, mini- dressed Blanche Dubois figure (Nathalie Million), who provides the thematic kernel of the work: a woman, with her outer, stylised facade straining against the intense inner reality of erotic needs and hunger for human relationships, and at the same time desperately self-regarding.

The piece works from and back to far less certain human situations, stutterings, screams, weeping, half-murmured utterances. The Berio Sequenza for voice, sung by one of the dancers, Johanne Saunier, becomes a logical extension of spoken stream of consciousness and non sequitur. Highly articulate physical behaviour takes over from words: fever-pitch facial expressions, fiery probing eyes and shivering lips.

Likewise, there is dance and music, a feast, often competing and resonating with video and speech, and urging several viewings. At the start, the seven women line up across the front of the space in black tunics, sheer tights and ankle boots, intent upon their own sensuality, standing with one leg slightly bent to press upon the opposite thigh, working through a ritual of hand gestures, circlings, pulling apart from across the mouth, hugging the body, pushing out against the surrounding air. A sudden flip of the wrist or shift of arm position breaks the calm, even flow. Schnittke's Second String Quartet adds emotional intensity. Unisons that disintegrate and sharpen up again become a feature of the piece, the call to formality and its distancing effect also serving to resist the chaotic, cacophonous qualities of the work.

But there are also solos, several volatile sequences for one small woman who, of anyone, could be the dancing equivalent of the actress Dubois. And there are terrific, exhilarating ensembles, again high formality mixed with vivacity and abandon - men and women racing round each other, individuals peeling off to join the opposite band.

De Keersmaeker's style has been emboldened here by a richer, multi-layering of text and screen imagery and a larger number of dancers. Erts represents a peak of maturity and collaborative skill.