Montréal's Theatre Maisonneuve was packed almost to the gods for the opening night of Rain, performed by Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker's renowned Belgian company Rosas. The performance marked the first time that Danse Danse has presented Rosas within its programming, ending the 16/17 season on a high note. 

Rosas in <i>Rain</i> © Anne Van Aerschot
Rosas in Rain
© Anne Van Aerschot

The 70 minute piece was choreographed (by De Keersmaeker) to music by Steve Reich, set and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld and costumes by iconic designer Dries Van Noten. 

The convergence of this strong minimalist aesthetic is understated without ever feeling stark; Rain is a decidedly human endeavour that still retains a certain freshness even after 17 years. 

The piece is inspired by Kirsten Gunn's novel of the same name, and offers the quintessential choreographic qualities that audiences have come to expect of De Keersmaeker's work. As always, there is a lightness and precision on display - the jetés executed perfectly suspended in midair without travelling at all, the supple curves buttressed up against the spareness of a straight-armed port de bras thrown behind the body, a hard sprint around the stage before melting into a disaffected pose. She allows us to read her work as either a joyous ode to the intricacies of life or a dense mathematical treatise. Or, perhaps more accurately, both. 

"Form," she's been quoted as saying, "is never a goal in and of itself. A gothic cathedral also has a sophisticated design but its ultimate goal is that you experience it with a kind of self-evident admiration and allow yourself to be swept away by it."

The movement phrases are built around the Fibonacci spiral, a ratio often seen in classical theories of beauty and proportion. It's also incredibly common in nature as well - in the branching of trees, for example, or an uncurling fern, the fruitlets of a pineapple or the inner curvature of a nautilus seashell. 

Steve Reich's music follows a similar trajectory; starting with simplistic phrases that spiral out and layer upon complexity as the piece unfolds. The Grammy award-winning composer has been at the vanguard of minimalism for decades now, and his approach feels right at home in the universe of Rain.

<i>Rain</i> © Anne Van Aerschot
Rain
© Anne Van Aerschot

Equally, Jan Versweyveld's warm soft lighting and curtains of "rain" made from fine transparent threads hanging down in a curved formation around the perimeter of the stage deserve to be highlighted. 

These elements pair well with Dries Van Noreen's soft palette of nudes, neutrals and pinks in stripped-back silhouettes. 

The dancers are immaculate in both timing and presence. No one dancer stands out - nor are they meant to. They are all beautiful cogs in a well-considered wheel. 

The one criticism De Keersmaeker tends to draw from people is that her minimalist sense of restraint can freeze into a certain detachment - that the work can feel emotionally cut-off. That stance is understandable: her work is not a portrait of passion or strife. This is not a place for the messiness of big emotional displays.

But once you understand the rules in her playbook, there is an intense oulipian joy to be had here. Restraint, in the end, can be oddly freeing and irrefutably human.