Isabelle Beernaert acquired fame as a choreographer through popular tv shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and The Ultimate Dance Battle and became known for her emotionally intense choreographies and her ability to push her dancers to the max (in terms of expressivity). After her tv appearances she brought her art to the stage bringing both her characteristic style and the So You Think You Can Dance dancers with her.

© Bob Karman
© Bob Karman

With her shows she attracted a whole new audience to to theatre. She craftly blended modern dance with other dance disciplines and included dancers from different backgrounds, making dance in theatres more accessible and truly bringing something new to the stage. It was flashy, fast-paced and multidisciplinary. She admirably continued to produce new performances for years to come resulting in 8 successful tours throughout the country with the same concept. She was developing herself as a choreographer. With every show she seemed to be letting go of the So You Think You Can Dance concept more and more; the pieces becoming less fragmentary, stemming from a stronger artistic direction and slowly but surely developing a more focused contemporary dance signature.

After a year of absence Beernaert now returns with Tabula Rasa, a production about new beginnings, Yin and Yang and finding balance. It seems she he has let go of her previous concept and methods. Often portrayed as a passionate, highly dedicated and fierce person, as someone who clearly gives her all and expects the same of her dancers, Beernaert pushes boundaries and uses unconventional methods to get the most out of everyone. She has explained feeling empty and exhausted after these processes and here decided to throw a different tack, doing Tai Chi lessons with her dancers and being more open to what arises spontaneously.

Tabula Rasa consists of several fragments, but with returning elements; Yin and Yang and the relationship between a man and a woman. It is about new beginnings and the fear of them, and has a rather heavy mood. In almost every fragment the pain of a specific dancer is highlighted, and his/her partner is either someone that he or she relies on and literally clings on to, throwing him/herself in their arms or on their back, or someone who seems like a distant and sad figure who needs to be let go of. But do any of the characters ever manage to?

© Bob Karman
© Bob Karman
In almost every fragment the Yin and Yang, dressed in black and white, are present and so is an ensemble of dancers in black. They sometime cause a sense of chaos on stage, perhaps on purpose, to disturb the balance, performing different choreographies at once or simply running past a dancer who performs a well balanced solo. In combination with the busy stage sets this is too much at times. Further, the fragments have little development; the balance of the relationships is lost and not found back, yet the partners don't seem to make a clear choice to leave. Many things are happening on stage, but a lot is unclear.

The stage set features very y prominently: moving images of landscapes (a wild sea, a desert, snowy mountains, thunder, rain and an erupting volcano) portray the mood of each dance fragment. Whilst they definitely enhance the atmosphere, the fragments provide a lot of motion in the background. They are very strong and effective on their own, but unfortunately often take the attention away from the dance.

Tabula Rasa is an intense performance with a whirlwind of emotions and effects, but it doesn’t strike a chord. The emotions feel unnatural and forced. Dancers scream and throw themselves to the floor about 5 or 6 times throughout the performance and wear the same miserable face. Pain is portrayed quite literally through shaking, throwing oneself to the floor or making the gesture of a knife stabbing the heart. There seemed to be little individuality in expressing these emotions and therefore as a spectator I couldn’t relate to them. The dance movements didn't compensate for this either, with little technical highlights and a lack of innovation in the choreographic vocabulary.

Beernaert courageously decided to embark on a new creative path, but in Tabula Rasa it seems that her signature is lost. She is, however a choreographer who always keeps on pushing and developing herself and she will undoubtedly be back with something new next season, hopefully further defining her new artistic mark.