writers on dancing


Resisting Mozart

Mozart/Concert Arias, un moto di gioia
La Guardia Concert Hall
(presented as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival by Lincoln Center)
New York, NY
August 27, 2004

By Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2004 by Leigh Witchel
published August 30, 2004

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s choreography in “Mozart/Concert Arias, un moto di gioia” is at its best when she’s working with the smallest, humblest elements. She can take a line of men stepping and bending and fascinate you with it. Ms. de Keersmaeker’s company, Rosas, has been the resident company of the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels since 1992, replacing Mark Morris’ group. “Mozart/Concert Arias” was created that year for the Avignon Festival.

The biggest treat of the evening is the music and the musicianship: two hours of Mozart, both instrumental and vocal, beautifully played by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s under Gregory Vajda and sung onstage by sopranos Patrizia Biccirè, Anke Hermann and Olga Pasichnyk. A great treat indeed. Much of the orchestral work is lighter Mozart (the Cassation in B-Flat Major, K.99 forms the bulk of it). New Yorkers will recognize the Gigue in G Minor, K. 574. Tchaikovsky orchestrated it for his fourth orchestral suite, “Mozartiana”. The Concert Arias are more substantial, mostly dealing—inevitably—with love.

There’s no plot to the evening, but love and the relationship between the sexes are the topic. The men preen in elaborately embroidered 18th century cutaway jackets, designed by Rudy Sabounghi. The women wear black jackets with their legs bare, a sort of post-modern version of Judy Garland’s outfit in “Summer Stock”. They don’t wear them for long; their outfits change continuously between 18th century dress and simpler contemporary wear. Through it all, the singers in simple blue velvet dresses walk and interact with the dancers; one even carries off a man at the end of her aria. Like a tightrope walker who juggles as well, their wonderful singing is all the more impressive.

The clever set design by Herman Sorgeloos puts us in many places at the same time. An ellipse of parquet flooring and the onstage pianoforte evoke a ballroom; lacy white lawn chairs and ivy trellises remind us of the outdoors. All the while the bare black walls of the theater are visible. It’s simple, but feels elaborate. Ms. de Keersmaeker’s choreography is intelligent, especially in the way she moves her dancers about like chess pieces on the floor. The work is more than minimal.

Despite the strong production values, it’s still a tough evening. The musical selections are wonderful as music, but as theater they have no build. One has no sense of where in the piece one might be listening to aria then instrumental piece then aria; the beginning feels like the middle feels like the end until the final bows. At two hours without an intermission, that’s a long time to be at sea wondering where you’re headed. Ms. de Keersmaeker has a postmodernist’s daring, repeating simple walks insistently to the point were they go from repetitious to acquiring force. But once she gets there, she just keeps repeating from force back to tedium.

Ironically the place that Ms. de Keersmaeker uses ballet vocabulary is the “Mozartiana” Gigue. She sets a solo variation for a man; classroom steps that he doesn’t have the facility or technique to do. With modern choreographers rightfully carping that ballet dancers don’t perform modern dance with the proper weight or sweep, it would be nice if modern choreographers realized their dancers don’t look any better doing ballet.

Ms. de Keersmaeker loads the piece with rough humor, dancers having theatrical crying jags and scurrying across the floor like dogs. A woman in one of the more elaborate 18th century gowns comes to the front of the stage to moonwalk or disco à la “Saturday Night Fever.” Most of it isn’t very funny or original and the dancers aren’t compelling enough actors to put it over. I laughed once. It’s a shame that her view of the music, the time, and Mozart himself seems to be taken from works like Peter Schaffer’s “Amadeus”; she’s fascinated by the vulgar. Maybe she thinks it makes Mozart more like the rest of us. Yes, that’s a part of Mozart, but listening to the two hours of heavenly music, it’s regretful that there were so few times that she allowed us to be overcome by its beauty.

Both photos of Rosas by Herman Sorgeloos.

Originally published:
Volume 2, No. 33
August 30, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Leigh Witchel


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