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Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker / Rosas

Rosas is the dancers ensemble and organisation of the choreographer-dancer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. De Keersmaeker followed her dance training at Mudra, Maurice Béjart's school in Brussels and at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York. With her dance production Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich (1982), at the age of twenty-one she immediately attracted the attention of the international dance scene. In 1983, she founded her own company Rosas, which debuted with the quartet Rosas danst Rosas. Since then De Keersmaeker's choreographic work has rested on a meticulous exploration of the link between dance and music. With Rosas she has created an extensive oeuvre that uses musical structures and scores from different eras, from old music to contemporary compositions and pop music. Her choreographic practice also draws on the formal principles of geometry, mathematical schemes, nature and social structures, which results in a unique perspective of the body's movement in time and space. Besides the large company productions Rosas also presents smaller productions in which De Keersmaeker herself dances. As well as creating new productions, in parallel Rosas continues to present the repertoire it has built up. Thus its artistic past is handed down to new generations of spectators and dancers.

With Rosas she has created an extensive oeuvre that uses musical structures and scores from different eras, from old music to contemporary compositions and pop music. Her choreographic practice also draws on the formal principles of geometry, mathematical schemes, nature and social structures, which results in a unique perspective of the body's movement in time and space.

Rosas also sets itself an explicit art educational mission, which in 1995, resulted in the foundation of the dance school P.A.R.T.S. in association with De Munt/La Monnaie. Rosas equally initiated other educational and participative projects such as Dancing Kids, RondOmDans and Bal Moderne. Through the book series ‘A Choreographer’s Score’, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, along with the theorist and musicologist Bojana Cvejić, offer an insight into the choreography and the creative process of the successive early works Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich, Rosas danst Rosas, Elena’s Aria and Bartók (2012), En Atendant and Cesena (2013) and Drumming and Rain (2014).

A clip from Fase, Four movements to the music of Steve Reich demonstrates that from the outset, structure and expression, albeit in varying proportions, are simultaneously present, like the two sides of a coin.

Comprising fifty productions Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's oeuvre can hardly be described in a few words, especially since there are shifts in performances that allow us to identify three sub-oeuvres, namely the early works, the period from the late 1980s to approximately 2007 and her work after 2007.

Certainly until 2007 her work was invariably based on a 'contrapuntal' relationship with art music, which was rarely intended as dance music originally. She sometimes opted for a tight, almost mathematical choreographic structure, and sometimes created highly theatrical or emotional productions. However, a clip from Fase, Four movements to the music of Steve Reich demonstrates that from the outset, structure and expression, albeit in varying proportions, are simultaneously present, like the two sides of a coin.

Fase was the work with which De Keersmaeker made her breakthrough, but it is only in her second piece, Rosas danst Rosas, that you fully realise that the pressure the tight, mathematical choreography imposes on the dancers is precisely the source that brings an emotional charge to the surface at unexpected moments.

In ‘Piano phase’ we see two women performing turning steps at the same time to the staccato rhythm of the music. Almost imperceptibly, one suddenly begins to turn faster on her axis than the other, in time to the dephased piano rhythms. It seems like pure mathematics, converted into movement. If you look closer, you notice that the two still produce a true performance, through their furtive glances of comprehension. Unlike the American Lucinda Childs, who imposed an imperturbable stance on her dancers, the effort, but also the pleasure of dancing is actually palpable here in these minute gestures.

Fase was the work with which De Keersmaeker made her breakthrough, but it is only in her second piece, Rosas danst Rosas, that you fully realise that the pressure the tight, mathematical choreography imposes on the dancers is precisely the source that brings an emotional charge to the surface at unexpected moments. In this piece you also see that the movement language does not consist of abstract signs, but is a refined version of everyday, typically feminine, movements.

The following clip comes from Rosas danst Rosas from 1983.

De Keersmaeker often talks of the joy of dancing that combats the chaos and uncertainty of life or even expresses a spiritual principle or life force.

Also during the 1990s, De Keersmaeker would never use more than a relatively limited number of movement motifs, even in her most complex works. From this period she forged (often disparate) movements to create increasingly longer, complex phrases. These were subsequently permuted in all kinds of ways, according to, at times, extremely complicated spatial and temporal figures. Drumming (1998) or Rain (2001) are prime examples of this. The material from these dance productions also cropped up, almost unaltered, in works where it was given a more theatrical and more expressive treatment. De Keersmaeker's oeuvre as a whole also balanced on the divide between abstract dance and emotional theatre. Sometimes the personal dominated, sometimes the structure, but all the works originate from the same source. De Keersmaeker often talks of the joy of dancing that combats the chaos and uncertainty of life or even expresses a spiritual principle or life force. In a duet such as Small hands (out of the lie of no) (2001) both these aspects came together beautifully.

Sometime around 2007, the exalted tone of the 1990s made room for a great sobriety. Stages were empty and bare, the dancers acted demure. Not that the movements were simpler, on the contrary.

The dancer as a living and inspired body is key in this recent work. He/she represents the spectator's first access to the musical and choreographic structure. This also explains the incredible austerity of the work: less music and more silences, fewer swirling group scenes and more delays, less virtuosity and more movements that evoke the everyday.

The previous film clip from Zeitung (2008) demonstrates that the movement phrases are so long drawn out that it becomes virtually impossible to remember. In its fickle development the dance appears to be the physical manifestation of thoughts running through someone's head. Keersmaeker set the tone for this evolution in the solo Keeping Still part 1 from 2007. This performance revealed a longing for a more open, even more intimate, and thus certainly not spectacular, relationship with the spectator. Just as there was a clear desire to say more with less. This ambition was fuelled by the collaboration with minimalist visual artists such as Ann Veronica Janssens or Michel François, but also arises from a deep ecological awareness. Since then the scenography of the productions De Keersmaeker created were extremely austere, as a result of this awareness.  

The dancer as a living and inspired body is key in this recent work. He/she represents the spectator's first access to the musical and choreographic structure. This also explains the incredible austerity of the work: less music and more silences, fewer swirling group scenes and more delays, less virtuosity and more movements that evoke the everyday. This sometimes extreme soberness literally creates more white spaces, emptiness around the dance. The choreography isolates individuals and focuses the attention on the smallest details of their movements.

Yet De Keersmaeker does not portray a natural body. Her dancers are not blank pages but are marked by a history. They carry not only a biological but also a cultural DNA. In all the recent work the dancing and singing body is the place in which both the potential of a cultural and personal history resonates. Music activates this potential. Despite (or perhaps because of) its abstraction music is contagious, incites one to move and sing. De Keersmaeker highlights this resonance between music and dance in Rosas’ recent work, which turns the body into a 'musical instrument', 'musicalises' the body.  

De Keersmaeker does not portray a natural body. Her dancers are not blank pages but are marked by a history. They carry not only a biological but also a cultural DNA. In all the recent work the dancing and singing body is the place in which both the potential of a cultural and personal history resonates.

De Keersmaeker also searches more intensely than ever for new movement material for each production. Gestures and looks play a key role. The choreographer talks of the vertical and horizontal axis here. While the vertical axis organises distance and time, the horizontal axis determines the relationships between the dancers. She defines these principles as “My walking is my dancing” and “My talking is my dancing”. She recently added, “My breathing is my dancing”. This is almost a declaration of principle, the idea that precedes the other: breathing is the symbol of life and vitality. Thus about life and how it permeates the art (and vice versa). The outcome of this process has a fundamentally open meaning. It is a multifaceted palette of movements, which reaches for expression and communication from the introspection of the dancer and the music.

Author:
Pieter T’Jonck

Pieter T’Jonck is a civil engineer-architect and publicist for De Morgen newspaper and diverse publications at home and abroad. He writes about dance, theatre, visual art and architecture. T’Jonck is also an adviser to DasArts in Amsterdam.