The second part of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s latest work inspired by French music from the 14th century begins in the darkness before dawn. A man arrives at the front of the stage and begins to howl and whistle in a vocal performance of anguished, elemental fervour that is almost aboriginal. As the other members of Rosas - augmented by the Antwerp early music ensemble, Graindelavoix - assemble in the gloom, there is a sense of feverish expectation. They walk around the stage to a beat and rhythm only they can hear until the steady tock tock tock of a hammer on stone signals the first of many songs that punctuate this elusive, allusive work.
Where En Atendant suggested a group of peasants on a pilgrimage, Cesena is more tightly focused. The basic movement premise is the same with each dancer locking into one element of the complex polyphonia of the songs that derive mainly from a 14th century manuscript the Chantilly Codex. Dancers sing and singers dance in a cross-fertilisation of disciplines that improves as it goes on and the stage lightens. As always, the cohesive structures of the group are intermittently exploded by a dissident individual breaking out to flail around in a manner suggesting some kind of daemonic possession or, possibly, religious ecstasy.
De Keersmaeker draws on details of mediaeval life in the depiction of lepers, cripples and plague victims without dwelling on them and there is an overall mood of celebration that climaxes with the male members of the ensemble singing a Kyrie Eleison that is transfixing. The slow surge and sweep of the three female dancers as they circle the ring of sand builds to a ritualistic invitation to the day that leads to a wonderful group huddle in which the entire company moves around the stage as one organic entity, following the rhythm of the music they are barely whispering.
Outstanding among the performers are dancer Marie Goudot, whose late solo is a shapeshifting thing of beauty, and singer Olalla Aleman, whose extraordinary voice dominates the unaccompanied songs. But why employ harsh neon light when the warm ochre of a sunrise can be easily created on stage? It is this sort of decision that I find pointlessly alienating.