Date 2001

Publication Flanders



Company / Organization

Keywords movementskeersmaekermusicproductionsdancestructurewomenchoreographyyearsdancers

Rosas celebrates its twentieth anniversary

Choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker set up her dance company Rosas twenty years ago. For the past ten years it has been the company in residence at Brussels' (Brussel) National Opera De Munt. Rosas has been a trend-setter throughout the world from its very beginnings - with Fase/Four movements to the music of Steve Reich - and has continued to be so, with all of 28 productions. De Keersmaeker's name is bracketed with other big names in choreography such as Pina Bausch and William Forsythe. It comes as no surprise therefore that she was recently asked to usher in Belgium's Presidency of the European Union with Drumming at De Munt.

De Keersmaeker has also been setting the trend in the teaching field. Ten years after MUDRA, Maurice Béjart's choreography academy in the bosom of De Munt, she set up P.A.R.T.S., a school of contemporary dance, in Brussels in 1995. Within this short time, P.A.R.T.S. has developed into a point of reference for the whole of Europe. The fact that over the past ten years Brussels has emerged as one of the liveliest dance scenes in Europe is partly due to the presence of De Keersmaeker's company and school.

Pure dance and expression

At first glance De Keersmaeker's work is highly diverse. On the one hand there are her productions of pure dance, such as her early Fase and her more recent Rain. Some of her other work, on the other hand, is almost expressionistic in character and makes frequent use of other media such as text and image. Despite her preference for the music of Steve Reich, Béla Bartók and Thierry De Mey, she has worked with a range of music by the major composers, from Bach to Wagner to Ligeti. Her achievements also include two theatre productions of Heiner Müller and two opera productions of Monteverdi and Bartók. De Keersmaeker's language, i.e. her 'dance language', has also slowly evolved from short, angular, endlessly repeated movements to a flowing, rich and complex fabric. Upon closer examination, however, it becomes apparent that behind this seeming diversity lies a strong unity. De Keersmaeker's 28 works make up an oeuvre that continues to unfold and develop, but also regularly harks back to previous achievements.

One could even say that Rosas's first three productions already encapsulate all the characteristics of form and content of the entire oeuvre. De Keersmaeker herself once remarked about her early work that it was comparable to a modest form of music such as chamber music or at the most a string quartet. At that time she had not yet reached the complexity of a symphonic structure. Later works like Drumming and Rain expressly show this symphonic multi-layering. Fase for instance introduced a very specific relationship between music and dance in her oeuvre. Although the dance does not illustrate Steve Reich's music, there is a very intimate bond between the two through the structural analogy between the musical composition and the choreographic writing. This is shown very clearly in a sequence where De Keersmaeker and Michèle-Anne De Mey initiate a movement in synchrony and then continue it with a very small and very gradual time difference. This 'dephasing' fits in perfectly with the phase shift in Reich's music.

Dancers made of flesh and blood

What struck the press and the public about Fase at the time, was the way in which the clear staccato structure of the dance gave the simple movements of the dancers an unseen impact. Since Rosas danst Rosas, however, it seems that De Keersmaeker is not concerned with the structure in itself. The approach is very different from that of American minimalist choreographers such as Lucinda Childs. In Rosas danst Rosas, just as in Fase, four women perform an almost endless repetition of a few short movements, in four movements and a coda. But the movements are no longer purely abstract. Recognizable, typically female gestures appear here and there. At the beginning of the performance the four women roll slowly to and fro across the floor, as if they had fallen prey to great languor. The structure is still tight and, oddly enough, appears to be a way to show the dancers' individuality. Furthermore De Keersmaeker does not camouflage the performers' physical exertions and exhaustion. They sweat, they are out of breath, they make minor mistakes during their synchronized movements and nothing is hidden. Indeed, the lack of concealment emphasizes the reality of the women on stage. However tight the composition may be, the women on the stage are made of flesh and blood; they are not unreal, perfect mechanisms. The choice of tempo and movements also reveals an emotional content in this piece. But De Keersmaeker is still rather reticent when it comes to making this explicit. She intimates the emotion through the structure, the 'real' bodies and the choice of movements, but she does not directly portray it.


Elena's Aria from 1984 marked another important step. Here there is no longer any sign of a tight choreographic structure, or even of a harmonizing musical score. On the contrary, the production is a friable collage of very diverse material. The soundtrack is a montage of old recordings of Verdi's aria of the same name and a speech by Fidel Gastro, interspersed with long silences. There are also film images and Fumiyo Ikeda from Japan reads passages from Leo Tolstoi, Botho Strauss and Bertold Brecht in broken French and German. The dance itself is simply a stylized version of girls' playground games, followed at the end by a series of synchronized gestures. Unlike in the previous productions, there are long dead moments in which the aimless passing of time is almost painfully tangible. With the unusual collage format of the production and the almost brutal negation of theatrical conventions (the dancers do not 'dance', the passages are 'badly' rendered and 'nothing' happens for minutes on end) De Keersmaeker manages to evoke an extraordinary atmosphere. The air in Elena's Aria is full of melancholy, nostalgia for a lost childhood and/or a longing for an absent friend. For the first time, De Keersmaeker shows her intuitive insight into the workings of theatrical conventions here. By 'abusing' them, she manages to reveal emotions in an oppressing way, without directly showing them. And she continues to do this in her later work.

New sources

De Keersmaeker s first productions introduce her basic armamentarium, which she later expands and refines. New themes and motifs appear without repudiating the old ones. When De Keersmaeker steps down as a dancer to focus her attention on choreography, it leads to a significant shift. She now enriches the language of movement, which was initially just right for her, with material from the dancers. With Mikrokosmos her work also stops being exclusively a women's affair. Jean-Luc Ducourt is the first man to enter the De Keersmaeker universe. Mozart/Concertaria's in fact revolves around the man-woman relationship. The shape of the stage — an ellipse, a circle with two focal points - illustrates this in a symbolical way. From then on De Keersmaeker's fascination with harmonious figures grows; a counterweight to the bittiness of her earlier work. This fascination reveals itself in the meticulously planned compositions built up around harmonious series of numbers and the sectio aurea. Rain, a recent choreography, is an excellent synthesis of this evolution. Her surprising latest choreography Small hands (out of the lie of no) (a duet with Cynthia Loemij), however, shows that De Keersmaeker continues to re-create herself when it comes to 'dance language' and choreographic writing. And even after twenty years, it looks as if there is plenty more to come...

Rosas twentieth anniversary is being extensively celebrated. September and October 2001 saw the repeat performance of four recent creations, which are all about the relationship between text, music and dance. A new creation to the music of Thierry De Mey, composer in residence, and Stravinsky a repertory evening with highlights from the oeuvre and a repeat of Rain are planned for April 2002. And the season will conclude in May 2002 with an exhibition placing the oeuvre in a wider context. Thierry De Mey has also turned Fase into a film, the première of which is due to be held in March. Further information about theprogramme is available on