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Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker directs her own successful troupe, resident at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels; heads the huge Performing Arts Research and Training Studio (PARTS); and has even been made an honorary baroness. Yet her new dance-theater creation explores a veritable angstfest. Woud ("Forest") -- a dark and mysterious place to get lost in, or worse -- is packed with ravishing moments of delicious dancing but not a trace of joy. The production formed part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival.

The two-hour work is set to the twelve-tone music of Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg, and Richard Wagner's dense chromaticism, performed live by. the Duke Quartet (plus extra viola and cello) and mezzo Ursula Hesse. And the first of its four sections -- a black-and-white film of the choreographer running, distraught, through a stark birch forest, chanting a repetitive, accumulative child's story -- is accompanied by Thierry de Mey's dissonant sound, augmented with live cello.

Unusual lighting has a gritty, cinema verite look. Harsh scoop lights, set at odd angles, cast ominous shadows from the sides and overbead and reflect like moonlight off the white backdrop, graying the tones of Rudy Sabounghi's streetwear costumes.

To the sparse atonality of Berg's Lyric Suite the nine adventurous, proficient dancers, five women and four men -- whom the choreographer credits as her creative collaborators, but about whom no program biographies are offered -- grimly pursue their unrequited search for romantic love.

The women -- Marion Ballester, Iris Bouche, Sarah Ludi, Cynthia Loemij, and Samantha Van Wissen -- are strong, aggressive, persistent; the men -- Farooq Chaudhry, Kosi Hidama, Martin Kilvady, and Oliver Koch -- vaunt their prowess in bounding barrel turns and bravura jumps that spiral into rolling falls. If the group interplay that melds occasionally into unisons and solos seems long, it's because, even though tempo and dynamics are skillfully modulated, emotion remains static: unabated desperation.

In part three, birch tree trunks by Gilles Aillaud crowd stage right, thinning into a clearing. To Schoenberg's lushly astringent Transfigured Night the women fling themselves onto the backs of unresponsive partners, or spring nimbly to crouch on their shoulders. Even crotches in their faces fail to arouse the impassive men.

As the music climaxes, dancers collapse, punishingly, to the ground again and again. Ironically, even when airborne or sprinting around the big stage, the women most often carry their shoulders and arms with a defensive stiffness that armors them against the very tenderness they seem so desperate to find.

In the last section Wagner's Wesendonck Lied No. 3, Im Treibhaus, accompanies filmed birches speeding by, as a single woman onstage dances among fallen tree trunks. Finally, from the enveloping darkness, blinding onscreen headlights hurtle toward us.

If the unrelenting hopelessness of the work leaves you numb, upon reflection you must appreciate De Keersmaeker's enormous artistry. Albeit emotionally gloomy, Woud is choreographically inventive, artfully structured, kinetically vivid, and visually rich.
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Title Annotation:Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House, New York, New York
Author:Solomons, Gus
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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