De Keersmaeker keeps her hand in

Anne De Keersmaeker has swapped roles: rather than direct, she's now part of a powerful duet
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The Independent Culture

"I find it essential to dance again, despite my work as a choreographer," says Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the Belgian choreographer, who has a huge following among the fashion crowd because her dancers wear designs by her fellow Belgian Dries Van Noten.

De Keersmaeker returns to Sadler's Wells after choreographing her company, Rosas, in Rain last October, set to music by the minimalist composer Steve Reich. Her dancers received rapturous standing ovations. But now De Keersmaeker herself will take centre stage in a duet with her principal dancer Cynthia Loemij.

"It is very intense and intimate," De Keersmaeker says of the piece she created two years ago. This duet is on a much smaller scale than the lavish productions she has made over the past few years, such as In Real Time (2000), in which the relation between dance, music and acting came across powerfully. But this duet enables her to dance freely - and without having to oversee dancers.

De Keersmaeker has been keen to dance with Loemij, a principal member of the company since 1992, who has performed in most pieces, both in the early period (Rosas danst Rosas, 1983) and in the more recent phase, such as Drumming, 1998. Small Hands (Out of the Lie of No) sees De Keersmaeker and Loemij jump, run, jerk, fling and roll themselves down on to the floor and bounce back up again.

Set to music by Henry Purcell ("Hail! Bright Cecilia!", "Welcome to all the Pleasures", "Music for a While" from Oedipus Z583, and songs from Orpheus Britannicus) it is far more joyous than the often repetitive tones of Reich. "Music is always my first partner," says De Keersmaeker, who has a sophisticated understanding of complex musical scores that combines with an inventive choreographic style. "My work is always characterised by the tension between being formal but extremely expressive and emotional. In this case, I searched to find the dance vocabulary in silence - silence is important - then by improvisation, and afterwards I merged it with music." But it could all have been very different. Initially, the couple wanted to dance to Bluebeard's Castle by Bartók, but they couldn't get the rights to use that music for a dance piece.

De Keersmaeker made her British debut as part of Dance Umbrella 1982 with Fase, her first piece set to a Steve Reich score. The following year she founded her own company, and then made an international breakthrough with Rosas danst Rosas, set to new compositions of Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersh. In 1992, Rosas became the resident company of Brussels' Royal Opera De Munt/La Monnaie, and in 1995 De Keersmaeker set up a new international dance school in Brussels. She also performs an emotive solo, Once, at The Place directly after the Sadler's Wells season, to the melodies of the folk singer Joan Baez.

'Small Hands', Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (020-7863 8000) 15, 16 & 17 Oct. 'Once', Robin Howard Dance Theatre, The Place, London WC1 (0207-387 0031) 18 & 19 Oct