Rosas incarnate Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

Photo © Anne Van Aerschot. Interprètes José Paulo dos Santos, Jason Respilieux, Thomas Vantuycom, Bilal El Had.

It’s not often that you get to see what music would look like if had a three-dimensional visual form. Sure, music is used to support images in film and dance and theatre, and architecture has been called frozen music, but to actually see the essence of a particular interplay of sound come to life in motion turns out to be  quite a transcendent experience, especially when the music being enacted in space is John Coltrane’s 1964 landmark work A Love Supreme.

In creating dance for this iconic musical prayer, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Salva Sanchis of Rosas were hoping to explore the creative possibilities of choreographic improvisation. But they also succeed in adding another dimension to Coltrane’s ecstatic expression of gratitude to the divine.

The work, perhaps ironically, begins in silence. The four male dancers move individually and in tandem, often falling onto each other, supporting each other, lifting each other. Eventually three of the four leave the stage, and the remaining one spends a rather discomfiting amount of time either standing and staring or simply walking aimlessly around the stage. He seems perhaps to be listening, waiting. Eventually he leaves the stage, then Coltrane’s music finally begins.

It quickl becomes apparent that each of the four dancers—Thomas Vantuycom, Bilal El Had, José Paulo dos Santos, Jason Respilieux—is linked to each of the four musicians—Coltrane on sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Jimmy Garrison on bass, respectively. Although the dancers obviously know the music extremely well, their movements don’t necessarily reflect exactly what the musicians are playing. True, during the drum solo, dos Santos’s hands or feet might move with a snare or bass drum syncope, but in general the connection is expressive rather mimetic. Oftentimes the bass, drums, and piano are moving together while the sax is in his own world; other times the four of them are riffing off each other. The drum and bass seem often to be sharing a private joke, smiling at each other after particular moves or passages or near collisions (much the same way that drummers and bassists often do on stage).

Given that much of the movement is presumably improvised, the moments when the dancers come together in a synchronized, more composed way have a huge impact, not unlike when musicians are improvising freely but then fall into a groove together. Also like musicians, the dancers are both fundamentally alone but also extremely connected through non-verbal communication; there is truly a sense of communing through creative expression. At any given moment they are expressing something individually while also responding to the other artists.

Most impressive of all is how they manage to communicate the ecstatic joy that Coltrane expresses in A Love Supreme, joy in the divine, gratitude for being able to channel the creativity that springs from the divine, and the vulnerability that comes from creative self-expression as well as profound communication with fellow artists and the audience.

Rosas dances A Love Supreme at Cinquième Salle 29 January-2 February, 8pm. Tickets here.