I imagined that the newly-opened Tate Tanks would be further underground: the sloping of the Turbine hall fools you into not realising that you've already gone far below street level. The entrance to the Tanks is just off on the right at the bottom of the slope. As you enter through the glass doors, you find yourself in a concrete cave-like corridor of concrete columns; deeper in are sealed doorways coming off the main chamber, and projections showing the titles of other performances, exhibitions, screenings and happenings with visiting artists who will be residing in The Tanks for some of the next 15 weeks of its Art in Action program. At the very back at the lowest point is a closed door with a header written in capitals above the entrance: ANNA TERESA DE KEERSMAEKER - so, we've come to the right place...
The series of movements here is minimal, yet as they are repeated something changes in the repetition. After seemingly falling out of time with each other the dancers somehow fall back in pace again. More pianos join the music and the layers of the same tune become a second rhythm to the piece. The dance behaves in the same way - we become accustomed the movements of the dancers, their shifts, turns and spins, but never quite know what the new variation is going to be; this is what keeps this piece so captivating. The minimal movements and music becomes not individual tunes, or stand-out gestures, but instead a mass of repetition and rhythm that pulses as a great hypnotising wave.
The second Movement is called Come out (1967); after a 5 minute break, De Keersmaeker and Dolven re-enter the square, dressed in plain button-down work shirts, grey slacks and shiny leather heeled ankle boots, and carrying two stools. They sit down on the stools, facing away from where I am sitting. A recording starts up, crackling and fuzzy, and a voice starts speaking, "I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them"; this is repeated, looped while the dancers sit and move. From behind, their gestures resemble something like Janet Jackson circa 1989 in Rhythm Nation, driving a car and doing sign language at the same time - fast, strong, angular arm movements. The work-wear costumes and the repetitious actions speak of the daily monotony of the factory worker - the same movements over and over. The recording continues to loop, becoming distorted and bassy, until all that can be made out is "let some of the bruise blood come out to show them", and then "...blood come out to show them", and then "...come out to show them...come out to show them...come out to show them", over and over, becoming a warm blanket of fuzzy human tones. (After this performance I found out that this recording came from the trial of six black teenagers, termed the "Harlem Six", who after the Harlem riots in 1964 were tried for a murder that happened during the rioting. The recording is of Daniel Hamm, who is explaining his injuries from being beaten to the disinterested police). This combination of recorded accounts of police violence done to the body, along with the enactment of bodies put under the stresses and strains of manual labour performed to the dense noises of the sound-art-track, feels so contemporary - these tropes and themes are very close to the surface today.
In the fourth and last part of the performance, De Keersmaeker is joined by Dolven and they have both changed back into their grey slacks and work shirts; I'm happy about this as somehow the dance is more impressive and unusual when the women are dressed in normal clothing as opposed to the standard dancing frocks. Women in trousers and silver trainers is much more fun. For this Clapping Movement (1972) the women dance in line, one in front of the other (see the above photograph). This is the most minimal of the dances so far, its movements comprising hopping, lifting feet, heel-toe, ankle-toe and going up onto the toes Michael Jackson-style; once again, it veers from perfect synchronisation to movements bleeding out of time with each other, then back once again to being in synch. The clapping does the same thing. The minimalism of sounds and movements here is neither cold and alienating, nor slow and tortuous, but dynamic, pulsing and very human. It is also very moving that De Keersmaeker is dancing her own choreography from the early 1980s. Both her and Dolven are different ages - De Keersmaeker is now in her fifties, while Dolven is in her thirties - and both women have very different body shapes and express movement and style differently, which is one of the things that makes this sparse performance so human. The differences between the dancers, the repetition of sound and movements that are somehow never the same twice, the variations and mistakes when gestures and noise are perpetually blurring and clarifying, amounts to a strange kind of harmony and unity.