Date 1997-11

Publication Ballet International Tanz Aktuell



Company / Organization

Keywords workwaymovementninetiesgrowthworksdancersspirallikepieces

Rosas In The Nineties: The Gesamtwerk as Image of the Body

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker undoubtedly ranks among the most interesting choreographers on today's international dance scene. Born in 1960 in Mechelen in the Flemish part of Belgium, she trained at Béjart's Mudra School with a finishing year at the School of Arts in New York, making her debut as a choreographer at twenty. Three years later, in 1983, she founded the Rosas ensemble, which skyrocketed with their 'Rosas danst Rosas.' Since 1991 Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Rosas have resided at the La Monnaie Opera Hous in Brussels.

Not counting 'Asch', in 1980, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker has been working on a choreographic and theatrical oeuvre for fifteen years, since 'Fase' in 1982. What's more, this period of time has a very distinct presence. The basic motif of the work was described by the choreographer, in the program for 'Woud', Rosas' latest piece, in the following way: "What specifically characterises Rosas' dance language is the inner turbulence of the body, an all-embracing movement that leaves the central point like a wave rippling out, past the dancers into the whole space, as if it wanted to stimulate the rise of an invisible spiral there." A double movement can be distinguished in this description. On the one hand there is the dissonance, elusiveness and 'turbulence' which move the body directly and rouse it to act or dance. This motif is clearly distinguishable in 'Rosas danst Rosas' one of the company's fundamental works, seen in the development from a despondent rolling on the floor into an explosive conquest of the stage. A movement that progresses onward without looking back. But in later years, a second motif appeared, the spiral which is explicitly thematized for the first time in 'Amor Constante, mas allà de la muerte.'

This spiral, a rich symbol, is related to Rosas' work in many ways. It is the encircling of a virtual mid-point, an absent centre, but also a movement that implicitly refers to an endless accumulation, and ever-continuing growth. It is not difficult to see, in this movement from a virtual mid-point, a metaphor for the work of an author of movement like de Keersmaeker. The eye of the storm that moves her, the longing that drives her work, is never explicitly named or shown but repeatedly evoked by the movements she spins around it. The spiral is a rewarding image in yet another way too: As a constant in her work, almost literally, again and again, it returns to her earlier work. In fact in the nineties the succeeding pieces have often been explicit revivals of fragments, or even complete sections, from previous works. Beethoven's 'Grosse Fuge' from 'Erts,' and the choreography from the film 'Rosa', both reappeared in 'Kinok', which was itself a preliminary study for 'Amor Constante...,' to mention only the most striking examples.

In addition to this, from the moment Rosas became the resident dance Company at La Monnaie opera house, earlier pieces were reintroduced into their repertoire, and were thereby safeguarded against oblivion. They remain a living presence in the company's work. Even now, when only a few of the original dancers are still there, the experience of the older pieces retains its influence on the practices of new company members.

The fact that building up this repertoire costs an extraordinary amount of work and effort indicates the importance the choreographer attaches to it. In the same way, film adaptations have also been made of two major Rosas works, 'Achterland' and 'Rosas danst Rosas.' Even the remarkable evolution of Rosas' dance language during the nineties looks very much like a spiral movement: without departing from the basic theme ("the woman torn off her axis," as Laurence Louppe put it so visually and correctly in the text for 'Woud' already quoted), this language moves further and further away from the unique way the choreographer herself moves. As a result of what new dancers contribute, and the exploration of various areas like deaf-and-dumb language, classical ballet and the release technique, the grammar and vocabulary of the language become richer and more complex in structure, more aloof and circumspect, but also more virtuoso.


On this point one can also imagine the true import of the image of the spiral: In contrast to the expansive force flying out from the middle point seen in Rosas' first pieces, in the nineties we see this image turn up again, as well as the practice linked to it, and without disclaiming the earlier work, it aims for a story that establishes unity. All dissonance and disunity, the almost unstoppable estrangement from the choreographer and growth of the dance towards an independent discourse, is reassembled in a metaphor that creates unity and is almost comforting. This is a body of work that 'remains close to itself' despite constant growth and even changes that make it almost unrecognisable. It is also, and this seems to me no coincidence, an image that refers implicitly to other 'great stories' about the evolution of man, the world and nature, and which vaguely refer to classicistic thinking. At the risk of a too forceful interpretation, one can even interpret the movement in the early nineties as being along the same lines as the music of the great classical composers such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Although, of course, Rosas would not be Rosas if it did not immediately afterwards change tack. 'Amor Constante' repeated the experiment made in 'Rosas danst Rosas': in parallel with the generation of a new choreography, a new score was written by the same composer as before, Thierry de Mey. The result of this was a very complexly composed piece, unravelled into countless motifs of movement and sound, which in one stroke mapped out the whole ten-year gap between the two works. 'Woud' also returned to modernist music, and what's more, in its own way it marked out the route the company had followed up to that point. In the film that precedes the performance, we see de Keersmaeker herself running and dancing through a wood. Like a little child, both speaking and singing, she rattles off a children's verse about Tippeke, who did not want to go home unless he was carried. It is an exceptionally lively image for an imagination run wild, a blend of longing and fear that so possesses a childe that it can only just keep all the excitement in, by resorting to the rhythm of a repetitive tale.

While the film is running, Samantha van Wissen and Cynthia Loemij, two leading dancers in the recent work, appear in the role of doppelgängers on stage. Throughout the piece, through the music of Berg, Schönberg and Wagner, they remain the döppelgangers of that first image of a woman portrayed by de Keersmaeker herself. They take us through the story of enchantment that runs through the various pieces, as if it were a danced opera. A dance that passes from the expressive, through classically-tinted, to elegiac, dance that dies away a pace at a time.


This doubling and unfolding of an 'initial image' is a very pure and clear demonstration of the way Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's oeuvre has developed. This growth and development in her work can therefore be compared to that of a body becoming older. Not a perfect body, clear and comprehensible like a machine, corresponding perfectly to what we expect from it and instruct it to do. Not a body as we may encounter it in art, with perfectly classical proportions or, by contrast, torn apart and consumed by extreme passion and suffering. If the work can be compared to a body, it should be with an ordinary, everyday body, which in itself is not, and does not do, anything spectacular, but at the same time is in this sense very special. It is this body that gives unity to what we call 'I': that strange amalgam of diverse and often contradictory memories, perceptions and longings that crop up in the course of a life, and which without that body could never be seen as a unity. It is also this body that exists as a shady periphery, a mysterious continent located outside the range of our clear consciousness. In that place many vague feelings and indefinable thoughts are deposited like a sediment, only to turn up again, sometimes at unexpected moments, such as when there are strong emotions. Apart from everything we can think of, apart from all the little facts that build up to experience, insight and 'savoir-faire' in our clear consciousness, there are also the things that show and teach us about the body in an almost unnoticeable way: that we are growing older, that feelings and emotions never appear to us in the same way again, and that we can look at and enjoy the image of others is a different way. Without wasting words on it, 'it unnoticeably mixes silent motivations and conceals them in the clearness of the thoughts (B. Verschaffel).'

…and Webs

In the course of the nineties we have seen an ever increasing structural complexity in the work of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, and a great expansion of the number of 'words' in her dance language. The integration of 'foreign' elements, such as existing techniques and composition principles, and the growing influence of the dancers' contributions, make such pieces as 'Toccata', 'Kinok', 'Amor Constante' and 'Woud' more distant and virtuoso than the infectiously direct character of 'Fase' or 'Rosas danst Rosas'. But anyone who watches carefully will notice that this greater clarity is only an appearance. Almost imperceptibly hidden in the folds of the surface of these works there is a world of feeling and emotion. It is true that this builds on the sometimes rebellious, sometimes over-melancholic passions of the works of the eighties, but the original rawness has made way for a much more complex and richer structure. By continually reviving earlier material in new works she is able to perpetuate old experiences and still clear space to take in and combine new experiences and new interpretations of old experiences. Since, when reviving old pieces for the repertory, new dancers replace the original ones, she can again and again investigate and reinterpret the traces that led to the genesis of that work. Now that she herself hardly dances anymore, there is even the possibility of reexperiencing the original commitment of her own dancing through the medium of others' bodies. In this way, there arises between the various new works and the revivals of older works a fine web of subtle distinctions and amendments, structured like and unconscious memory: a mysterious continent where an original passion, a first image, remains concealed but is repeatedly evoked. Even if the dance is no longer visibly and demonstrably built up according to the choreographer's image, it is implicitly, in the growth and duplication of the work, increasingly formed according to her own growth and changes. Like a body. Seen in this perspective, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the recently initiated P.A.R.T.S., a school for young choreographers and dancers (to a certain extent comparable to Mudra, the former school in Béjart's company at La Monnaie), set up under the wing of Rosas. De Keersmaeker has thrown herself into this enterprise with enthusiasm, and her participation in conversations and work sessions with young dancers and teachers is extremely intensive. This shows in a different way how she remains engaged in describing her own world and allowing it to grow, no longer solely on the basis of the possibilities of her own body, but through the work and inspiration of others. This remarkable combination of the sense of adventure and the sense of synthesis means that de Keersmaeker is still one today's most captivating choreographers.