The distinguished choreogapher Anne Teresa De Keersmaecker presented an adaptation of her acclaimed piece Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich in the Tate Tanks last week. Our writer-in-residence who saw it many times reflects on how the Tanks space can change our perceptions of live events
It is not so usual to see a performance in an art context more than once, but this past week I have seen one part of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich three times, another part twice and the whole piece run through in its entirety.
Iteration and shelf life are not often a consideration of performance art, whereas dance is much more closely aligned with theatre in this sense. The reproducibility of dance is inherent within its ontology, whereas historically performance has allied itself with the ‘uniqueness’ of the artwork, and reproducibility has often been considered too close to commercial over-productivity and subsequently avoided like a verruca. It follows, though, that as visual art has admitted reproducibility and quotability, so should performance, and that an equivalent drop in demand for ‘authenticity’ should also be applied to live work. Personally, I welcome this departure from the one-off, ephemeral event because, if nothing else, we all become better at things when we repeat them – performers improve through honing of course, but we become better viewers too.
What multiple viewings of something as precise as Fase makes apparent is how much latitude there is within this rhythmic, abstract choreography for improvisation and figurativeness. There were instances when de Keersmaeker’s mask seemed to slip and a mischievous self-aware performer became apparent among the automotive austerity. In ‘Violin Phase’, between regimental movements into and away from the centre of a chalk circle on the floor, she mimes smoking a cigarette, as if a teensy bit bored; towards the end of the long diagonal pan of ‘Clapping Music’, during which she falls in and out of phase with the deceptively simple toe-hopping movements of the dancer in front of her, de Keersmaeker acts the clown, as if lampooning her partner and pivoting the impetus of the piece from austere imperative to peculiar self-imposed feat. And then there is the inherent violence of the ‘Come Out’ phase, where the words of civil rights activist Daniel Hamm – a snatched phrase about letting the bruise blood out – are steadily shunted into abstraction by Reich and become the engine for a series of repeated jerking, whip-lashing movements performed by the two dancers on stools. A distinct Ballardian accent curdles the relationship between body and machine – already problematised through the sublimation of romantic individualism in previous phases – into a distinctly dystopian proposition, which the tanks amplify four-fold.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see how gallery-neutral the backdrop of the tanks can be in future performances, because in this instance it is difficult to untangle the influence of the space from the reading of the work. Although Fase was originally choreographed in 1982 counter to romantic notions of human creativity, this was heightened in this iteration of ‘Come Out’ in particular, where inferences of crash-test dummies in a multi-story car park surely lifts a hazard-taped barrier to all manner of posthumanist, technoscientific cultural theorising.
Sally O’Reilly is a writer and curator. She is the author of The Body in Contemporary Art and is currently writing a novel Crude about art, flirting and the oil industry.