It’s October, New York's fall performing arts season is in full swing, and so is BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Last week saw BAM’s Opera House host one of the year’s strongest offerings, Vortex Temporum, the iconic Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s company Rosas’ collaboration with the music ensemble Ictus – each prodigiously talented in its own right.

© Robert Altman
© Robert Altman

The production takes its name from the eponymous work by the pioneer of the so-called “spectral music”, Gérard Grisey, which the composer completed just two years before his untimely death in 1998, and it offers another fascinating glimpse into De Keersmaeker’s ongoing exploration of a deeply integrated relationship between musicians and dancers, who – much like in her most recent BAM offerings, En Attendant and Cesena – share the stage for the duration of this work.

In Vortex Temporum, the performers’ and the music ensemble’s presence is inextricable. Indeed, while building the work, De Keersmaeker paired each of the six musicians with a dancer – with the exception of the pianist, who boasted one dancer for each of his hand – in an effort to come up with three-dimensional visualization of the music. As a matter of fact, early on in the process, the dancers spent a great deal of time in Ictus’ rehearsal observing the musician’s performance. While the choreography does not in any way mimic the act of playing musical instruments, a sense of deep listening and organic connection between sound and movement is clearly manifested on the stage.

Divided in three sections, the production begins with Ictus ensemble’s vigorous performance of Grisey’s demanding score – which the ensemble impressively executes by heart. Upon clearing the stage, they are replaced by De Keersmaeker’s dancers, who proceed to re-create the score gesturally, to a haunting effect. Performing in absolute silence, save for the sounds of their footwear skidding against the bare wood floor of the Opera House stage, Rosas emulate the dynamic range of Grisey’s sinuous, kinesthetic score. Isolated gestural movement and filigree-like footwork give way to large sweeping movements, sometimes synced up between dancers, at other times cacophonous. Viewing the proceedings from the auditorium, deprived of sonic accompaniment, I find myself leaning in towards the stage. The music may not be audible, yet I feel like I can see it – it becomes visible.

© Robert Altman
© Robert Altman
Yet, it is in its last (and longest) segment that Vortex comes fully into its own. As the performers, now forming one fully unified ensemble, engage in a compelling spiraling movement with musical instruments in tow – including a grand piano – they appear to be spiraling in reverse along invisible orbits. The effect is mesmerizing, as if one suddenly became privy to the complex movement of subatomic particles. Here, as the dancers and the musicians are reunited in movement and breath, the synaesthetic relationship between the choreography and the musical score becomes palpable.

Vortex Temporum is the work of a mature choreographer, who is confidently navigating a highly complex artistic terrain. Seeing this work renewed my appreciation for De Keersmaeker’s staunch commitment to erasing divides between practitioners and striving for deep integration between artistic mediums she deploys in her work. It is a striking accomplishment. 
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